Older Whites, Younger Latinos: One City’s Changes Mirror the Nation’s
“YAKIMA, Wash. — Dulce Gutiérrez heard the angry voice as she was speaking in Spanish to a group of students who had volunteered to hand out leaflets for her City Council campaign.
It came from across the street, where an older white woman stood on her front porch. Ms. Gutiérrez had endured the taunt before, but this time, in front of hopeful teenagers, the words felt like fire. They actually made her hot.
She wanted to scream back. She wanted to call the woman a racist. She wanted to let her know how hard she, a daughter of migrant farmworkers, had worked to be here, offering Latinos the chance to have a say in a community where they had felt shut out for so long.
“Go back to Mexico!” the woman had yelled.
“Ouch,” was all Ms. Gutiérrez remembers being able to muster in response. “That hurts.”
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Ms. Gutiérrez went on to win a seat on the Yakima City Council and become among the first Latino politicians ever elected in the Central Washington community of nearly 94,000 where the number of Latinos has doubled in just one generation, now making up almost half of the total population.
The changes in this farming valley, known as the nation’s fruit basket, mirror demographic trends in numerous U.S. cities where the population is becoming increasingly less white. Ms. Gutiérrez represents a major shift not only because of her ethnicity, but because of her age — she was 26 when first elected. In Yakima, young adults are nearly twice as likely to be Latino as older adults.
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In most diversifying American cities, the age dynamics are just as striking, a New York Times analysis has found. In nearly 100 U.S. metropolitan areas — from Santa Fe to New York and dozens of cities in between — whites comprise the majority of residents over the age of 45, and the minority of adults younger than that.
Demographic changes like those are defining a political moment in America where the president stokes tensions along racial lines with immigration crackdowns, plans to build a wall along the Mexican border and disparaging comments, like telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to their “home” countries.
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On a local level, the demographic changes are leading to political changes too. In Yakima, the same year that the first Latino City Council members took their seats, the community also voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, though Washington State went for Hillary Clinton. This year, a heated debate broke out over Immigration and Customs Enforcement jets landing in the city. On Election Day, Yakima County joined the rest of the state in rejecting a measure that would have restored affirmative action, and fewer Latinos will sit on Yakima’s City Council come January.
Five days a week, Dave Ettl, 67, offers a running commentary on the transformation in Yakima, where he has lived since the early 1980s. He is the co-host of a popular conservative morning radio show, which he describes as “good conversation wrapped in our tell-it-like-it-is kinda style.” Lately, the discussions are centered on “politically driven social justice warriors” and “certain values we hold dear.” He thinks a lot about how quickly life in Yakima is changing.
“Old dinosaurs like me and our ideology may or may not have to change, and I do think there is a time for it,” Mr. Ettl said. “The far left — they’re pushing too fast too hard. Things might be sliding this way, but they’re jumping out too far ahead. Our current scenario is getting too far, too left, too soon.”