By, Jose Antonio Vargas
January 2, 2011
“Where did my country go?”
It’s a familiar question heard from many Republican voters in this first-in-the-nation caucus state, and it’s asked in varying degrees and varying combinations of anxiety, confusion and exasperation. The question’s unmistakable undertone – reverberating not just in predominantly white Iowa, but across the American heartland – is the country’s irreversibly changing demographics.
Iowa looks different than it did 10 years ago. Though the state’s white population increased by nearly 2% in the past decade, that’s no match for the dramatic growth of its minority groups. African Americans are up by 44%, Asians by 45% and Latinos by a whopping 84%, according to latest census figures. The numbers are evident not just in schools and businesses in Polk County, which includes Des Moines, the state’s largest city, but also in the rural counties of Crawford and Buena Vista, both home to meatpacking plants.
The Hawkeye State’s demographic transformation mirrors an unprecedented and culture-shifting American makeover. Whites are a shrinking share of the total US population. Slightly over a third of Americans belong to minority groups. What’s more, their offspring make up nearly half of America’s children. Every 30 seconds, a Latino in our country turns 18 years old. And there’s a good chance that that new eligible voter is a first-generation American born to immigrant parents: most of them citizens, but many without their papers.