I can’t remember how long I’ve subscribed to Smithsonian magazine. It seems like it’s been ages since I opened that first glossy cover. Smithsonian is my window to the world without having to leave the comfort of my own home. At $34/year, it’s a cheap way to travel to distant lands…and I don’t have to worry about my luggage being lost!
The July/August issue (Volume 41, Number 4) marks the 40th anniversary of Smithsonian. To commemorate, the editor and staff compiled the “40 things you need to know about the next 40 years”. Drawing from known and unknown experts, this issue highlights the challenges we currently face and will face over the next 40 years and beyond. Some of it is brooding, most of it is exciting. In reading, I could not help but feel a sense of hope that great things are on the horizon for this country despite the many quagmires this country currently finds itself in.
While the 40th Anniversary issue of Smithsonian touched upon many facets that affect our lives, it was the articles on the population changes this country will face in the next 40 years which caught my attention the most. Researchers project that during this time, the U.S. population will increase to approximately 400 million people, which is 100 million more than today (Kotkin, 2010). By 2050, over half the population will be Latino, and for the first time in this country, whites will no longer be the majority (Kotkin, 2010).
It goes without saying great societal changes will also occur as our population increases and becomes more diversified. One only has to look at the current immigration battle between the state of Arizona and the federal government to see the strife these changes can and will create. Granted, this particular battle relates more to illegal immigration. However, the relationship between illegal immigration and population increase/cultural diversification is a close one. In the long term, I believe this battle will set the tone for the future cultural battles this country will inevitably experience.
According to a poll conducted by the Smithsonian, 42% of those polled believe population increase will harm this country. This is compared to the 16% that believe an increase in population will be beneficial (Frail, 2010). I too believe things will get worse before they get better. In order for this “new world order” to be ultimately beneficial, I believe two key things need to take place.
First, the current majority in this country, whites, cannot continue to regulate based on fear and stereotypes. Enacting regulations at the local, state, and federal level that stymie cultural diversification and solidify existing power will only serve to exasperate cultural differences. History has proven time and time again that a majority that operates primarily to preserve its status ultimately fails.
Second, the current minorities in this country must do a better job embracing their national identity as passionately as they cling to their cultural identity. This especially true of the Latino population, which I believe is more passionate and more willing to flaunt their culture, than whites. This passion creates a perception that Latinos are “lazy” and would rather be “Mexicans (or Puerto Ricans, or Cubans, etc) living in America” rather than Americans with a Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban heritage. Whether correct or incorrect, this perception is very much real and alive. The only entities that can fix this perception are those most responsible for portraying it.
Despite my belief that things will get worse before they get better, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hope as I turned the final page of my Smithsonian. Despite a lot of bad things going on in this world, there are a lot of good people that are doing a lot of good things that will positively impact our very existence in the near and distant future. Changes to our population will bring about great diversity. To tap into this diversity, we must open our minds and put aside preconceived stereotypes and historical prejudices. Changes must be made in the way all of us think about each other. Successfully doing so will not only make our national identity strong, it will guarantee our nation remains strong in the near and distant future.
Frail, T. (2010, July/August). Americans Look to 2050. Smithsonian , p. 71.
Kotkin, J. (2010, July/August). Ready Set Grow. Smithsonian , pp. 61-63.