Whiteness is not a genetic category, after all; it’s a social and political construct that relies on perception and prejudice. A century ago, Irish, Italians, and Jews were not seen as whites. “This town has 8,000,000 people,” a young Harry Truman wrote his cousin upon visiting New York City in 1918. “7,500,000 of ’em are of Israelish extraction. (400,000 wops and the rest are white people.)” But by the time Truman became president, all those immigrant groups were considered “white.” There’s no reason to imagine that Latinos and Asians won’t follow much the same pattern.
In fact, it’s already happening. In the 2010 Census, 53 percent of Latinos identified as “white,” as did more than half of Asian Americans of mixed parentage. In future generations, those percentages are almost certain to grow. According to a recent Pew study, more than one-quarter of Latinos and Asians marry non-Latinos and non-Asians, and that number will surely continue to climb over the generations.
Unless ethnic identification is defined in purely racial—and racist—terms, the census projections are straight-out wrong and profoundly misleading. So is the assumption that Asians and Latinos will continue to vote at an overwhelming clip for Democrats. This view, which underpins the whole idea of a “new American majority,” ignores the diversity that already prevails among voters lumped together as “Latino” or “Asian.” Cuban-Americans in Miami vote very differently from Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles; immigrants from Japan or Vietnam come from starkly different cultures than those from South Korea or China. While more than two-thirds of Asian voters went for Obama in 2012 and Clinton in 2016, they leaned the other way in the 2014 midterms: National exit polls showed them favoring Republicans by 50 to 49Then again, there is California, where demographic change has helped to wipe out the GOP on the statewide level.