WHITES of European ancestry now represent less than half of all births in the United States. In many Oklahoma counties, at least 25 percent of children younger than 5 are minorities, due largely to American Indians and Hispanics. U.S. Census Bureau numbers indicate that immigration isn't the main cause of the change, however. Instead, differences in birthrates explain the shift.
The figures verify a May 2011 analysis by The Oklahoman that determined minority children were the majority among kids in 11 Oklahoma counties. Overall, 44 percent of Oklahoma children were minorities in 2010. Those demographic changes could have a significant impact on government services, especially education, and already are.
In some rural areas, minorities are a substantial share of the total population. Local schools have growing demand for bilingual teachers. In Texas County, in the Oklahoma Panhandle, around 42 percent of residents are now Hispanic.
The Tulsa World, citing figures from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, reported that Hispanic enrollment at Oklahoma public institutions increased from 3.4 percent of all students in 2005 to 4.1 percent in 2009. From 2006 to 2010, Oklahoma State University's Hispanic enrollment increased by 11.4 percent, and it doubled at the University of Oklahoma over 15 years.
Overall, the U.S. Census reports that Oklahoma's 2011 Hispanic population makes up 9.1 percent of state residents, while American Indians account for 8.9 percent and blacks are 7.6 percent.
Some will see these changes as a worrying trend, but history suggests those fears are overblown. First, most Hispanics are legal residents and the educational system is a key part of the assimilation process. In the long run, those children will be as influenced by Oklahoma's culture as the state's culture is impacted by their addition.
Concern about associated impact on government services should be balanced against greater contributions to our tax coffers, economic growth and culture.
Minorities are keeping some rural communities alive, such as those in the Panhandle. And it's estimated Hispanics buy about $5.8 billion of goods and services annually in Oklahoma and own nearly 5,500 businesses. Those aren't bad things.
Illegal immigration and associated lawlessness are a problem, but simple demographic changes are just a sign of life. Officials once worried about the impact of European immigration on American culture. Irish and Italian immigrants were stereotyped as people destined to become violent criminals. Today, they're among those worried about the impact of Hispanic growth on their neighborhoods.
In Oklahoma, it was once scandalous for a white girl to date an Indian boy. Today, many people try to claim even the weakest link to American Indian heritage. Those who were considered mysterious “others” in the past are today called “neighbor” or even “grandson.” That will continue to be the case as our state's population changes.
Oklahoma's history was built by people unwelcome in other states who came here for land runs. Our heritage isn't based on ethnicity, but a pioneer spirit. That won't change, even if our demographics do.