More Mexicans are returning to their home country than coming into the United States, resulting in a negative net migration that is likely to continue as Mexico’s economy improves, a sociologist said Thursday at a program focused on Latino issues in Sonoma County.
“If we build the wall, we’re just pinning Mexicans in,” said Manuel Pastor, a professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, drawing a laugh from an audience of about 600 at Sonoma State University.
“Which I’m pretty sure is not the intention,” Pastor added in his reference to the border wall President Donald Trump has pledged to build.
Pastor was the keynote speaker at the fourth annual State of the Latino Community in Sonoma County program sponsored by Los Cien, an organization of Latino community leaders.
The crowd, including students and public officials, filled a ballroom in SSU’s Student Center for the event put on by 500-member Los Cien, which seeks to be a bridge between Latinos and the wider community.
The day’s topic was “Looking Forward: Demographic Change, Economic Shifts and the Future of Sonoma County.”
Citing an array of statistics, Pastor said the “era of mass illegal immigration is over. Despite what some people say, it’s over.”
The nation’s undocumented population has dropped since 2007 and held steady at over 11 million people since 2009, he said. Two-thirds of that population in California have been in the state more than 10 years, he said.
“It’s simply a matter of people staying here and getting older and more embedded into their communities,” Pastor said.
But there is a rising ethnic tide underway in Sonoma County and the nation, he said.
The U.S. population will have a majority of minorities by 2044, with more than half the workforce made up of nonwhites by about 2035.
Sonoma County is expected to become a majority Latino community by 2050, according to state projections, Pastor said.
That ethnic shift is far less prevalent in other parts of California, Pastor said, noting that Los Angeles was the nation’s only large metropolitan area to record no increase in the number of Hispanic children in the past 10 years.
It’s also noteworthy, he said, that 80 percent of Latinos born in California have remained in the state, compared with 60 percent of whites.
“Diversity is coming to a theater near you,” he said.
Instead of the traditional bottle of wine given to guest speakers in Sonoma County, moderator Oscar Chavez handed Pastor a bottle of tequila.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, a panelist at the event, noted the county’s shift toward a Latino majority.
“I look at those numbers without fear,” he said. “We look to you to be the leaders of the future in business, entrepreneurship, tech, job creation, all areas of our economy. That is the future, ladies and gentlemen.”
Former Supervisor Efren Carrillo, another panelist, said Sonoma is a county “of haves and have-nots. We see it in our schools, we see it on our streets ... and we see it in employment.”
Carrillo, now an official with Burbank Housing, said he was bothered by the paradigm that views the booming population of young Latinos as people “who can work for and help those aging white people live a good quality of life.”