Latinos’ bicultural, transnational identity and strong relations to Latin America can help forge a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship in the years to come. As President Barack Obama gets ready to travel to the region this weekend, the growing Latino community in the United States should be viewed as an auspicious and overdue opportunity to foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and stronger U.S.-Latin American relations.
The Latino community’s growth in the last decade is unprecedented. Results from the 2010 Census show the actual U.S. Hispanic population outstripped Census Bureau estimates. The 2010 Census counted a higher number of Hispanics in 23 of the 33 states where Census figures are out. The profile of Hispanics by country of origin remains largely the same. The vast majority of Hispanics are of Mexican origin followed by Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, and Cubans. The Brazilian and Colombian populations are far smaller but have strong presences in the Northeast and Florida.
Latin America is slowly emerging as an important market and key player in the global economy as the U.S. Hispanic community grows. Many Latin American economies weathered the global economic crisis better and emerged faster than the United States. Central and South America’s gross domestic product grew 6 percent in 2010, and it is expected to grow 4 percent in 2011. Chile and Brazil have increasingly formed investment and trade links with China. Chile’s trade with China is now more than double its trade with the United States, and China also has overtaken the United States as Brazil’s top trading partner. Argentina also has benefited from China’s investment. Last year it agreed to a $10 billion package with the Chinese to renovate its aging railway system.
The upshot: The United States can no longer afford to treat Latin America as an afterthought.
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