In the mid-1960s, Ray Gonzalez was one of just a few Hispanic instructors at Bakersfield College.
"I was one of the very few," said Gonzalez, who taught English and Spanish.
What a world of difference a few years can make. Today, not only is there a significant increase in the number of minority faculty, but also at the leadership level. Sandra Serrano is chancellor of the Kern Community College District. Horace Mitchell is president at Cal State Bakersfield. Christine Lizardi Frazier is Kern County Superintendent of Schools. And Dr. Robert Arias is the recently named superintendent of Bakersfield City School District, the largest elementary school district in the state.
No doubt this change is partly due to the increase in the minority population in the nation, the state and the county as revealed last month by the U.S. Census Bureau. For the first time in the nation's history, racial and ethnic minorities made up more than half the children born in the U.S., meaning that children born to Latino, Asian, African-American and mixed-race outnumber white births. Census officials use terms such as "landmark" and "tipping point" to describe this revelation.
This event can be seen in several ways. To be sure, it is significant. But people can be resistant to change and it needn't be the case. Politically, the rise in minority birth rates will pose a challenge to the Republican Party, which is largely white and male dominated. The party of Lincoln struggles to attract blacks and Hispanics. This has long been the case in California and Republicans will have to come up with a new strategy besides blaming immigrants for everything that ails the Golden State.
Starting with California, minorities now make up 60.3 percent of the population and Hispanics easily dominate the rest of the field with 37.6 percent. There are plenty of examples right here in Kern County where Hispanics either dominate or have a sizeable population. Arvin is 92.7 percent Hispanic; Delano, 71.5 percent; McFarland, 91.5 percent; Lamont, 94.5 percent; Shafter, 80.3 percent; Wasco, 76.7 percent. And oh yes, Bakersfield with 45.5 percent.
How Hispanics are racially categorized can be confusing. Contrary to popular belief, Hispanics are not a race but rather an ethnic group. Hispanics can be of any race. Think of Laker center Pau Gasol or baseball great Sammy Sosa. One white, one black, both Hispanic. And there can be any combination thereof with other races that produces all sorts of in-between shades of skin color. The Census racial categories are American Indian and Alaska Natives, Asian, black, Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, and white, while Hispanic is an ethnic one.
The Census Bureau projects that minorities will become the nation's majority by 2042. Other demographers believe it will happen closer to 2050. But there is no disagreement America's white population is older, grayer and not growing as fast as others. The median age for whites is 42, while the Hispanic population is younger, with a median age of 27.
This shift in the nation's demographics brings about a number of questions that have social, economic and political implications. According to the Pew Research Center, a rising number of multiracial babies is being born to couples that include one white parent. Intermarriage continues to take off. The Pew Center found, for example, that among newlyweds nationwide in 2010, 9 percent of whites married someone who was Hispanic or of another race. That was nearly triple the rate in 1980. You could call it progress in the sense that it wasn't that long ago that it was against the law for whites to marry people of other races.
No one is denying there are still challenges that could seriously hamper advancement, especially given the cuts to education over the years and a never-ending rise in college tuition and related costs. The rise in the number of minority births must ultimately transfer into registered voters to truly make a difference in electing whichever candidate best meets the community's needs.
The numbers reflect that we in fact continue to evolve into a multi-racial and multi-ethnic nation. And we can embrace that reality in a positive way for everyone's benefit starting with mutual respect, without fear or suspicion of others. That would truly be a landmark.
Jose Gaspar is a reporter for "KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News" and a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are Gaspar's opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Email him at email@example.com.