Coming to Our Census-The Progressive- 5/1/2011

Scientists and archeologists recently reported exciting new findings on ancient human migration streams in the journal Science. Think of it as Census 13,500 B.C., with crosshatched, not byte-sized, data tagged in #2 charcoal on cave walls next to the horse picture.

Archeologists digging in the Buttermilk Creek excavation site forty miles northwest of Austin, Texas, found carved tools of an older design than those discovered in 1929 at a site in Clovis, New Mexico. The fluted and notched spear points of the Clovis people were estimated to be from 13,000 years ago. Archeologists estimate the recently uncovered smaller, fluteless arrowheads predate the Clovian find by 2,500 years.

Of course, there is some vicious archeo-bickering and snark—“The Clovians are so last millennium.”

Nonetheless, the Buttermilk Creek discovery has lead to an exciting rethinking of how the first humans actually got here. For years, scientists had thought that the first people came to the Americas from northeast Asia, when lowered sea levels exposed the Bering Land Bridge. But scientists were always mystified that the Clovis artifacts had no connection to Asian artifacts. With the new discovery in Texas, scientists think that the technology was invented here.

The discovery also suggests that because extensive glaciers could have closed off interior travel corridors, an earlier migration might have meant that humans traveled along shorelines or used small boats. Since people settled as hunter-gatherers sooner than first thought, they could have invented new tools. This also explains the relatively rapid movement of people as far south as Peru and Chile.

Ironically, the same week the pre-Clovian discoveries were revealed, the Census Bureau released the 2010 national headcount done by thousands of Census-takers (who also improved employment figures for a few months). The information is a fascinating portrait of contemporary migration streams.

Census figures reveal that many black Americans are leaving Northern urban areas and moving to Southern suburbs. Blacks who’ve moved south were disproportionately young, and one in four have college degrees.

The Hispanic population grew faster than expected—from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010—and accounted for more than half the nation’s growth over the past decade. Births and immigration both accounted for the increase. The number of Hispanic children rose sharply, while the number of white children fell. Latinos now account for about one in four people under the age of eighteen.

The Census also recorded a huge shift in the number of people who self-identify as multiracial. That population is young, and among the races, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are the most likely to report being of more than one race. Blacks and whites are the least likely.

I like to think of Census 2010 as a wonderful opportunity for progressives to rethink organizing strategies. The way we identify, the way we relate, the new places we live all open up avenues for building political power. And both the pre-Clovian discoveries and the new Census data bear out the truth that we are migrants by nature. The rightwing whitewing can keep denying that and keep clinging to their fading power, but the writing’s on the wall.

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