History is made by two kinds of events. There are the overt events that everyone sees and understands as they happen. A man lands on the moon; two planes crash into the World Trade Center. Then there are events that are only understood in hindsight and which then begin to take on a mythic quality. A tired maid refuses to sit in the back of a bus; customers riot when police raid a New York gay bar.
Only two months have passed since up to 500,000 Hispanics marched through the streets of downtown Dallas (though that number is suspect, as we report here). Organizers would like us to believe that it was a turning point in Dallas history.
It won’t be, at least not anytime soon. The reality is that Hispanics are far from becoming a power in this city, even as they go from being a plurality to a majority of its population. The reason is simple. They don’t vote. In 2004, only 39 percent of Hispanics in Texas even registered to vote, and barely 19 percent actually did.
The march won’t change that. But in time it won’t matter.
The reason is revealed in the state’s latest demographic studies. Here’s how Dallas-Fort Worth will explode—and change—over four decades: whites, blacks, and “others” (mostly Asians) will continue to flow into the region, mostly from the north, in what has been called the largest north-south human migration in history.
The huge Hispanic surge—more than 8 million new residents—assumes that late 20th-century rates of migration will continue. It also assumes that Hispanics will continue to reproduce at rates outstripping whites and blacks. Neither of those assumptions can be carved in stone. But even if the demographers are off by a million or two, the handwriting is on the voting booth curtain.
At that point, turnout percentages won’t matter. Sheer numbers will.
That’s when April 9, 2006, will enter into legend. Looking back, babies carried in their mothers’ arms on that day will tell their grandchildren that the march is when the fight for Texas began.
The fight will be a classic rematch of the haves versus the have-nots. The suburban party—now called Republicans—will try to stem the flow and hold down taxes. The urban party—overwhelmingly Hispanic—will demand more state services and the revenues to pay for them. Mediating between the two will be a business community desperate for public schools and a higher-education system that can produce skilled workers.
Those battle lines will quickly erode. Hispanics share values, religious and familial, with conservatives. Mexican-Americans in particular exhibit a work ethic that would exhaust any Puritan. As more Hispanics prosper, they will move into the nicer suburbs and assume the attitudes of their white and black middle-class counterparts.
When suburban Hispanics reach critical mass is when they take over the Republican Party. Their first act will be to make April 9—date of the largest march in Texas history—our newest state holiday. History, it is said, is written by the winners.