Growing Hispanic Population Will Result in "News U.S. Culture" in Next 50 Years, Professor Predicts

Release Date: October 28, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Alfredo Matilla, Puerto Rican scholar and professor and chair of the Department of American Studies at the University at Buffalo, predicts a marriage "in flesh and bone" of North America's Anglo and Hispanic cultures within 50 years.

Hispanic groups from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to comprise 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2020, but Matilla says the merger of which he is speaking will produce more than numbers.

He predicts the emergence of "new U.S. culture," one distinguished by new ways of using and understanding the English language and of experiencing the world itself.

In addition to manifesting the European Zeitgeist as it does now, Matilla says the new America will deeply reflect the world view of the telluric, or earth-centered, traditions of the Western Hemisphere's Hispanic cultures, which incorporate Indian and African sensibilities and values.

Matilla made his prediction recently as one of the principle presenters at the respected summer university program held at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in El Escorial, Spain. His comments, which attracted considerable attention from the Spanish press, specifically predict the evolution of a "vast, new U.S. culture with a different world view -- one that melds the African-Hispanic-Indian rural, agricultural tradition with that of America's currently predominant Anglo culture."

Enormous changes will result, Matilla said, as ascendant Chicano, Cuban, Central American and Caribbean cultures begin to enrich American life through the vehicle of language.

"Language encodes culture, and so each language offers a different cultural perspective -- each language, if you will, opens a different window from which to consider the world," says Matilla, a former Fulbright fellow. "The United States has a constitution that is notable for embracing different points of view. But the country has one major language, and so Americans look out upon the world through one window. To speak or write another language is to comprehend things in a different way, to see the world and its people with a fresh understanding.

"This doesn't guarantee peaceful coexistence," Matilla says, pointing to multi-lingual Europe and its ongoing wars. "It takes centuries for cultures to accommodate one another, but that process of assimilation or amalgamation, or whatever we choose to call it, has already begun and we will be a new nation because of it."

He says important Latino and American-Latino writers already are producing works in English that reflect this change -- works that show that they understand and use the English language in entirely new ways, works that "open up" the English language in a way that augurs the "opening up" of the American culture.

There are writers who write within the English tradition, but with a Hispanic frame of mind, says Matilla. Their work has earned critical acclaim and public popularity. This, he says, represents an acceptance of both their ideas and their ways of using language into the mainstream body of literature in English. They are forging a new Anglo-Hispanic consciousness.

He calls poet William Carlos Williams one of the founders of this tradition. The son of a Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican mother, Williams' fresh, clear, discrete images of the sensuous world dramatically influenced American writing in this century.

More recently, Matilla cites the 1990 Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love" by Oscar Hijuelos, and "Bless Me, Ultima," a trilogy by Chicano writer Rudolfo Anaya, as examples of the new Hispano-Anglo consciousness.

"Mendoza's Dream," by Puerto Rican author Ed Vega, and "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents," by Dominican novelist Julia Alvarez, also are cited by Matilla as examples of this new way of articulating American culture.

"There is also Colombian writer Jaime Manrique's book, 'Latin Moon in Manhattan'," says Matilla, "and Puerto Rican poets like Pedro Pietri and Victor Hernandez Cruz have attracted the attention and critical admiration of America poets like Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley."

The Chicano writing is particularly richly imbued with this telluric sensibility, says Matilla. It is based on an understanding of agricultural labor and the belief in the possibility of the myth of Aztlan, which says the Aztecs occupied the American Southwest long before the conquistadors arrived, and so have an ancient connection to that place on earth.

"Like the other Indian-Hispanic-African cultures of this hemisphere," Matilla says, "Chicanos tend to consider all of the Americas as one continuous space and have a very fluid sense of political borders.

"The peoples of Central and South America and the Caribbean have always moved back and forth, into and out of various nations in this hemisphere, including our own, for many years, without regard for borders," he says. "But now they are staying in larger and larger numbers, bringing their culture with them, and because of this, in the next few decades, we will become a different nation."

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