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Latinos Climb the Ladder

Good News (buenas noticias) is not always noticed. Amid the swirl of controversy over bilingual education, school dropout rates, and illegal immigration, the considerable achievements of Hispanic-Americans are often overlooked.

Herewith, two items to close this noticias gap:

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* The number of American businesses owned by Hispanics grew 76 percent - from 490,000 to 863,000 between 1987 and 1992 (the most recent Census Bureau statistics). Total receipts from those businesses rose 130 percent - from $33 billion to $76 billion - during that period.

That's just the outdated census figures. Since then, growth has accelerated. The US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce estimates that today there are 1.3 million Hispanic-owned firms earning some $200 billion in annual revenues (163 percent growth).

Writing about this surge of enterprise in a group many Americans view as mired in poverty, welfare dependency, and barrio separatism, Tyce Palmaffy, of the conservartive Heritage Foundation's Policy Review magazine, punctures many stereotypes.

He finds, for instance, widespread willingness to sacrifice, work hard, and take risks to build an enterprise. Latino firms are founded with relatively little dependence on government assistance. Latino business growth outstripped that of Asian-Americans, long noted for business savvy. (But Asian-American firms still earn much larger revenues.)

Mr. Palmaffy concludes that there are "deeply encouraging signs of [Hispanics'] desire to join preceding waves of immigrants in pursuit of the American dream."

But he cautions against overinterpreting this surge. Only 15% of the firms hired paid workers beyond the owners. Just two made the Forbes list of the 500 largest private companies. But even small firms make an impact. Latino businesses are dramatically revitalizing blighted areas in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.

* At premier scientific university MIT, professors note that, with little fanfare, Hispanics are compiling a success record. They thus follow the pattern of earlier immigrant groups, mastering difficult subjects with few of the tutorials used to bring ethnic minorities up to speed. Mexican-American Nobelist Mario Molina is one of several role models speeding this trend.

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The Latino business and college success stories are not yet mirrored at the secondary education level, where truancy, dropout rates and poor academic performance must be changed.

In his entrepreneurship study, Palmaffy raises two points that should spur rethinking among lawmakers. (1) Many recent immigrants succeed despite the fact that they are learning English simultaneously with learning business smarts. (2) Political leaders from President Clinton down should be wary of patronizing Hispanics by assuming that they can only succeed through government programs.

As California's recent vote to curtail bilingual programs showed, a majority of Hispanic citizens want to enter the American mainstream. And above all they want their children to learn English and participate fully in American culture and its rewards.

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