El Nuevo Normal

By Jennie Rothenberg Gritz

In his 1982 hit "Allentown," Billy Joel sang about the Pennsylvania workers whose lives were being turned upside down by the decline of the Bethlehem Steel Company:

Well, we're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line.

A generation later, the children of these white laborers are still struggling. But another group has been steadily moving into their communities, opening new shops and raising new families. By 2030, demographers predict that Spanish-speaking immigrants and their descendants will outnumber white people in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley -- and soon afterwards, in much of America.

This video by Andrew Hida and Bob Miller, masters students at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, captures some of the Latin-inflected sights and sounds on the streets of Allentown, Bethlehem, and other towns in the steel country of Eastern Pennsylvania. (The video is a companion piece to a story by Caitlin Dewey on TheAtlantic.com's National channel.)

Also see:
Latinos Transform Pennsylvania Steel Country by Caitlin Dewey
TheAtlantic.com, August 17, 2011

Ten or 15 years ago, residents of the Lehigh Valley would rarely, if ever, hear Spanish on the street. The suddenness of that change frightened some blue-blooded, long-time city residents, and it certainly explains some of the white flight in all three cities. But as Smith, the immigration researcher, cautions, Hispanic assimilation is only mid-cycle. The majority of Hispanic families have only lived here for two generations, and a Pew study found that the median age of second-generation Hispanic immigrants is only 14 years old. In other words, the Lehigh Valley and places like it still hang in limbo between first-generation immigrants and their second-generation children, who socialized in American schools, learned the English language, and grew up on Disney and MTV.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2011/08/el-nuevo-normal/243775/