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Denise Eby Konan, dean of the UH Mānoa College of Social Sciences, and Minister Juan Manuel Calderón Jaimes from the Mexican Foreign Service display a proclamation recognizing September 15–October 15, 2013, as Hispanic Heritage Month in Hawaiʻi.

The Mexican-origin community in Hawaiʻi represents a small but growing population in this multi-ethnic state, rising 165 percent since 1990, according to a new report by the Migration Policy Institute, an independent think tank in Washington, D.C., that analyzes immigration trends and policy in the U.S. and internationally. The report presents a unique demographic, socioeconomic and cultural profile of a Mexican-origin population that, in many ways, has different outcomes than Mexican-origin counterparts in the continental United States.

The report, Newcomers to the Aloha State: Challenges and Prospects for Mexicans in Hawaiʻi (PDF), draws on a qualitative survey, in-depth interviews and analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data to examine the state’s growing population of residents of Mexican origin, which stood at approximately 38,700 based on analysis of 2009–2011 American Community Survey data.

While Hawaiʻi’s Mexican-origin residents (foreign-born as well as the U.S.-born of Mexican ancestry) have higher employment, reduced poverty, higher levels of English proficiency and educational attainment, and lower incidences of unauthorized status than their Mexican-origin counterparts on the U.S. continent, they fare less well than the overall population of Hawaiʻi across a range of socioeconomic metrics, found researchers for MPI and the ethnic studies department in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Social Sciences.

Mexican-origin civilian workers work primarily in Hawaiʻi’s tourism-related industries and construction—the two industries that felt the impact of the 2007–2009 recession earlier and harder, leading to higher unemployment than the state average. Residents of Mexican origin are also more likely than the overall population to be in poor or low-income households, and are less likely to live in their own homes.

“Our research suggests that many Mexicans, especially those who are immigrants, occupy the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, along with three other traditionally marginalized groups: Filipinos, Native Hawaiians and Micronesians,” said report co-author Monisha Das Gupta, associate professor of ethnic studies and women’s studies at the UH Mānoa. “Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through October 15, is a timely moment to examine the state’s largest newcomer Latino population.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including that the state address the integration prospects of this steadily growing community by expanding language access for Spanish speakers so they can interface meaningfully with schools, state and local government and courts, and law enforcement; plan for age-appropriate services for young children and elderly residents of Mexican origin, particularly those with limited English proficiency; and work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ensure its enforcement is directed at its priority targets.

Although Hawaiʻi has a long history of incorporating ethnic groups and immigrants, the report concludes that, with respect to newcomer Mexican-origin residents, “neither the group’s needs nor prospects have been noticed and addressed at a policy level.”

For more on the report’s findings, read the UH Mānoa news release.

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