The study of human populations comes with challenges in understanding the rationale behind population distribution in various places around the world. Across the world, various people have found residence in different geographical regions due to certain factors. Besides economic and social factors, legal factors are also mentioned to be part of the reasons behind population distribution across the world. In the historical times, population distribution resulted due to search for resources, differences in ethnic alignments and social relations among others. In the contemporary times, similar factors result in population dispersion yet in different ways and in different measures. For instance, among various ethnic groups, population distributions come about due to the quest for resources as in the old times. However, the resources sought in this context include employment opportunities and education among others. Similarly, social relations such as interracial marriages have also resulted in population distributions to a large extent. In each of these aspects, the specific motivations behind population distribution can be linked to particular persons.
Through the years, various rationales have been used to explain the phenomenon of population distribution. Social theories have taken the forefront in providing explanations for population distribution. Such theories attribute the dispersion of people across spatial locations to similarities and differences in cultures and relations. In particular, social theories hold the argument that since human beings are parts of social constructs; their spatial distribution follows the relations between them. Although this may have been true traditionally, changes in times have led to variation of factors that influence the distribution of particular groups of people. Because of this, understanding why a particular group of people is distributed in a particular manner requires an in-depth understanding of the history of that group of people, and the present day activities of the group. In this way, the population distribution patterns can be understood and subsequently applied in determining the reasons for distribution.
The Latinos are considered to be the largest group of minorities in the U.S today. There have been various studies conducted on the historical migration of the Latinos into the country, most of which categorize the populations as either illegal immigrants or legal immigrants. Despite the presence of a diverse range of studies, the role played by social relations in the distribution of Latinos across the U.S is still unclear. However, there is undeniable evidence that the social relations played a crucial role in population distribution among the Latinos particularly in the early days following their immigration. On the other hand, available evidence showed that the present day population distribution among the Latinos is not solely the result of social relations.
In the present study, the key objective was to understand the metamorphosis of population distribution drivers among the Latinos in the U.S. It was believed that conducting this study will help add to the already available information on the distribution of Latinos across the country. In particular the study will help readers to fully comprehend the patterns of population distribution among the Latinos. To fully understand this concept, an exploratory study will be conducted under the guidance of the following research questions:
- What are the prevalent patterns of population distribution among the Latinos in the U.S?
- What are the projections for future distributions of Latino populations in the U.S?
- To what extent have social constructs directed population distributions of Latinos across the country?
The paper is divided into five different sections. The first section of the paper is the introduction which provides a background to the study as well as the objective and the research questions. In the second section which is the literature review, various past studies were analyzed to determine what they reported concerning the subject of study. In addition to this, the literature review section also offers an overview of the social theory which was applied in the study of the Latino community in the U.S. The methodology section describes the approaches to the study undertaken from the geographical perspective. In the discussion section, the study goes back to the research questions to expound on the findings obtained through literature review while the conclusion recaps the entire paper.
According to Bell, social theory entails consideration of individuals as being part of societies (113). In the description given by Bell, the relations between people influence their behaviors to a large extent. In this regard, people are more affected by changes in their social systems and may be faced with challenges that require various forms of intervention to be assisted. While Bell explains the social theory from a multi-disciplinary perspective, the emphasis placed on the role of interpersonal relations in the construction of the society is evident. A similar view is held by Unger who also asserts that social constructs influence personal behaviors to a large extent. Unger provides examples of behaviors attributed to social influence and to reactions of others. In his view, Unger asserts that in the historical times, social constructs affected even the individual behaviors of others in terms of economic activities and movement from one place to another (Unger 10).
In the field of Geography, social theory is used to explain population distributions across various nations. Bell for instance, posits that the relations between people may influence their choice of residential areas (115). This can clearly be connected to the historical characteristic of cities in which residential areas were designated for different social classes. Although the social stratification was not predesigned and legally expressed, it came automatically due to the segregation of people on social basis. Other forms of discrimination such as racial and economic status also contributed to the formation of residential clusters in the historical cities (Gutierrez 7). The lack of preset arrangements to which people were to adhere did not impact the choice of residence immensely. Various factors must therefore be considered in order to satisfactorily apply the social theory to the spatial distribution context in the contemporary times. It is recommended that factors such as human agency, the social context of population distribution and the power relations among people should all be considered prior to concluding on the role of social relations in population distributions.
The role of human agency in spatial distributions of populations is best explained by Bell and Unger. In Bell (116), historical applications of social theory were confined to the roles played by social relations in constraining the decisions and behaviors of people in a society. However, Bell suggests that in the contemporary times, ideologies have to shift from such perceptions since people have grown to be more autonomous. As a result, the application of social theory should be more focused on emphasizing the importance of personal choice, subjective reasoning and unpredictability of events in influencing personal decisions. In the distribution context, this implies that the increased freedom comes with increased opportunities which influence people’s decisions as opposed to the historical times when personal decisions were influenced mainly by inter-personal relations. Similarly, Unger (17) suggest that contrary to the traditional times when making all encompassing conclusions sufficed in explaining behaviors, the contemporary times demand that social scientists should focus more on exploring how things fit together. It is only in this way that an understanding of phenomena such as migration can be accomplished due to the variation of motivations in the current times (Unger 17).
Distribution of Latinos in the U.S
According to a report by Brown and Lopez, the Latinos are the largest group of minorities in the U.S today (4). This is based on past census reports which indicate that the population of Latinos in the country has been growing steadily over the past years. From the study carried out by Gutierrez (6- 8), the increase in the population of Latinos in the U.S was first driven by political and economic strains in their countries of origin. This coupled with the loop holes in the legal system which somehow allowed cross border migration resulted in the influx of many Latinos into the country especially from Puerto Rico and Mexico (Gutierrez 7). The population of Latinos in the country has continued to grow due to various reasons, particularly increased demand for labor in the industrial cities and recognition of legal Latino migrants in various fields such as medicine, economics and engineering (Gutierrez 8). The distribution of the Latinos in the country has also changed significantly over the years as they continuously move inwards into areas that previously harbored no Latinos. The reasons behind this are still incomprehensible despite evidence that social relations may have played a role in the population distributions particularly in the early years.
From the analysis of a census report presented by Brown and Lopez, most of the Latinos in the country reside in eight states of the country. 74% of all the Latinos the Latinos in the country reside in California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois and New Jersey. Among these, more than 52% of the Latinos are located in the first three states (Brown and Lopez 1). According to Brown and Lopez, the observed population distribution is a result of alignment with the diversity in the countries of origin of the Latinos. The two authors assert that among the Latinos, the Mexicans form the largest groups and reside in Los Angeles and the Long Beach area. A similar observation of population settlement patterns is made by Metcalfe who also describes the population of Latinos in the U.S according to their places of origin. From the report of Metcalfe, Mexicans are the largest group of Latinos and tend to settle in Los Angeles and California. In addition to these places mentioned by Brown and Lopez, Metcalfe also reports that Mexicans reside in parts of Phoenix, Western Denver and Chicago (par. 4). The Mexicans are also the largest population percentage in the Long Beach and Los Angeles areas in which their population density is highest. In these areas, the Mexicans comprise of more than 78% of the total populations (Brown and Lopez 2).
According to census reports described by Brown and Lopez, Columbia District also hosts a high percentage of Latinos, mostly of foreign origin. More than half of the Latinos in the district (54%) are foreigners who come in either legally or illegally. Similarly, North Dakota has approximately 6% of the foreign born Latinos while California has 37% of them (Brown and Lopez 4). Metcalfe further distinguishes the Latinos into Puerto Ricans and Cubans. The Puerto Ricans are reported to reside around the areas of New York City, 1-95 corridor and various cities within the state of Florida. Some of the cities include Orlando, Tampa, Miami, the Hawaii Islands and Chicago (Metcalfe par. 5). The Cubans on the other hand are reported to reside in Southern Florida. In total, Metcalfe reports that there are a total of 22 ethnic Latino groups that are distributed across the country in different patterns (par. 5).
Although the Latinos in the country can be said to be distributed following the geographic origins, Gutierrez reports that the numbers and the population distribution of the Latinos in the country will probably not change in coming years. From the findings of Gutierrez, some of the reasons behind continued growth of the Latinos in the country include increasing recognition of Latino specialists in areas such as medical practice, computer engineering, economists and physical scientists. The recognition and their role in these sectors play an important role in preventing their reduction. Furthermore, increasing competition in the international markets has also led to increased demand for immigrant workers. This has seen the population patterns of the Latinos shifting as more Latinos move to the Southern Industrial regions where few of them resided initially (Gutierrez 6-10).
In order to fully understand the phenomenon under study, the research was conducted using an exploratory approach grounded on the social theory. The main objective was to determine the influence of social relations on the Latino population distribution patterns in the U.S. To achieve this, a combination of social theory and the spatial analysis perspective was adopted. This helped to consider the population distribution of Latinos based on the factors of Human agency, power relations and the social context. Successful geographical studies demand the application of a combination of approaches since no singular approach to study is effective. As such, the study can be described as qualitative in nature, based on secondary information. The spatial analysis approach is suitable for understanding population distributions as it relies on statistical information, which forms the basis of comprehension on this study. However, its key limitation is that while it provides statistical values, it does not provide explanations on how distributions come into being. This is achieved by consideration of the social context of the population under study. It is thus perceived that this methodological combination was the most appropriate for accomplishing the objectives of the study.
The distribution of the Latino populations across the country can be explained both from a social theory perspective and from the behavioral perspective. In terms of social theory conceptualization, the population distribution follows similarities in geographic origins. On the other hand, the behavioral perspective indicates patterns that follow various factors such as economic activities. The first research question was aimed at understanding the present distribution of Latino populations across the country. To answer this question, it has been found out from the literature review that most of the Latino populations around the country are more aligned to their origins. For instance, in some geographical locations, majority of the populations are Mexican Latinos. In other areas, the Cubans or the Puerto Ricans form the greatest percentage of the populations. This indicates that the settlement systems of the Latinos were most probably determined by their social relations, since people from the same origin are more likely to be socially related. Considering the initial reasons for the immigration of most Latinos into the U.S, this argument can be supported. Political unrests which caused most of the Cubans and Puerto Ricans could have resulted in massive crossing over of the citizens. In such situations, people are more likely to team up following social constructs hence the observation made of people from same origins settling in some areas. Similarly, the loop holes in legal restrictions that saw most Mexicans immigrate at almost similar times led to their settlement within the same regions. In the present days however, the populations are increasingly extending settlement to other areas in spite of social relations.
As Gutierrez reports, the population distribution of Latinos are slowly changing due to different factors as previously mentioned. This indicates that the distribution patterns at present times are affected by factors other than social constructions. This goes hand in hand with the social theory findings as reported by Unger, which indicate that historically, social theory was considered in terms of social constraints that limited exploration. In the current times, the outlook on social theory has changed immensely, leading to the exploration of phenomena rather than making all encompassing claims (Unger 16). From this point of view, it can be argued that factors such as economic responsibility, labor laws and market competition are increasingly playing important roles in the determination of population distributions. Other factors besides those mentioned by various authors may include education opportunities. From this, it is expected that the future distribution of Latino populations in the country will follow more complex constructions that will not be comprehensible from the social theory perspectives.
Based on the findings of the study, the third research question can be answered through deductions from the answers of the first and second questions. With respect to this, it has been observed that spatial distribution of populations depends on the social context within which those populations exist. For instance, in the traditional settings, social relations played a crucial role in determining settlement patterns among the Latinos hence the observed origin alignment. On the other hand, changes in the social contexts have seen similar changes in population distribution patterns for the Latino communities. The role of power relations in either context is not clearly visible from the literature review.
The Latino community is a perfect representation of the applicability of social theory to geographic studies in the past and in the present days. By answering the research questions, it has been established that the settlement patterns for the Latinos were more influenced by social relations in the past than they are now. Due to this, it is predictable that the population distribution patterns for the Latino communities will continue to change as more motivations emerge for movement. This implies that the role of social relations in spatial distribution is limited to the confines of human agency, social contexts and power relations. However, the role played by power relations in the settlement of the Latino communities is not clearly discernible in this study. While the research has satisfactorily addressed all the research questions and achieved its purpose, it is still limited in scope as it does not conduct a primary study to determine the perceptions of the Latino immigrants concerning their culture and family value.
Bell, David. Constructing Social Theory. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.
Brown, Anna and Mark Hugo Lopez. Mapping the Latino Population, By State, County and City. Hispanic Trends. Pew Research Centre, (2013).
Gutierrez, David. An Historic Overview of Latino Immigration and the Demographic Transformation of the United States.
Metcalfe, John. Mapping 22 Different Latino Populations across the U.S. Web. 18 October 2013. Accessed 06 December 2016.
Unger, Roberto. Social Theory: Its Situation and its Task. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.