Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hispanic Assimilation and the Immigration Debate

Yesterday over at Powerline, Paul Mirengoff posted a concise entry on Mexican anti-Americanism. First, it turns out, much America-bashing sentiment was on display at the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Mexico City (the crowd booed Miss America). But Mirengoff shifts his focus from the anti-Americanism in Mexico to that displayed by Mexican immigrants in the United States:

In his post from earlier today, John comments on the anti-Americanism on display in Mexico City during the Miss Universe pageant. But one need not journey to Mexico to find displays of anti-Americanism among some Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. One can find it at soccer matches here in the U.S.

It's probably unrealistic to expect illegal immigrants and even first generation legal immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, etc. to root for the U.S. when they play the immigrant's native country. And, given the intensity of the soccer rivalry between U.S. and Mexico, the vehemence of the pro-Mexicans who live here isn't surprising either. But mass booing of our national anthem and harassment of U.S. fans, as
occurred in a U.S. - Mexico match in Los Angeles, is going too far. It was also discouraging when, here in Washington D.C., Salvadoran fans booed our anthem and turned against the local team because it had been forced by salary cap considerations to trade a star player from El Salvador.

One cannot base public policy on what happens at beauty pageants or soccer matches. Better instruction can be found in statistics about drop-out and graduation rates, participation rates in violent gangs, teen-pregnancies rates, and the like. Unfortunately, as Heather Mac Donald shows, the picture of our Hispanic recent-immigrant population that emerges from this data isn't pretty either.

Living in the Washington, D.C. area, I have regular contact with members of the recent-immigrant community, and have provided free legal services to several illegal immigrants. It would be a mistake to demonize these people, but just as big a mistake to
romanticize them, or to label as "know-nothings" or "nativists" those concerned about some consequences of their mass influx into this country.
It's an important topic and a good post, although the example Mirengoff cites on the soccer matches is practically ancient (he links to a sports writer's post from 1998). In fact, Samuel Huntington, in his article, "The Hispanic Challenge," mentioned the soccer matches as an element of the phenomenon of Mexican-American cultural fragmentation in the United States (with Mexican-Americans as the major force of the broader Hispanic challenge). As Huntington notes, "Mexican Americans booed the U.S. national anthem and assaulted U.S. players." Huntington enumerates more examples, but it's worth reviewing his major thesis:

In the final decades of the 20th century, however, the United States' Anglo-Protestant culture and the creed that it produced came under assault by the popularity in intellectual and political circles of the doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity; the rise of group identities based on race, ethnicity, and gender over national identity; the impact of transnational cultural diasporas; the expanding number of immigrants with dual nationalities and dual loyalties; and the growing salience for U.S. intellectual, business, and political elites of cosmopolitan and transnational identities. The United States' national identity, like that of other nation-states, is challenged by the forces of globalization as well as the needs that globalization produces among people for smaller and more meaningful “blood and belief” identities.

In this new era, the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America's traditional identity comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico, and the fertility rates of these immigrants compared to black and white American natives. Americans like to boast of their past success in assimilating millions of immigrants into their society, culture, and politics. But Americans have tended to generalize about immigrants without distinguishing among them and have focused on the economic costs and benefits of immigration, ignoring its social and cultural consequences. As a result, they have overlooked the unique characteristics and problems posed by contemporary Hispanic immigration. The extent and nature of this immigration differ fundamentally from those of previous immigration, and the assimilation successes of the past are unlikely to be duplicated with the contemporary flood of immigrants from Latin America. This reality poses a fundamental question: Will the United States remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant culture? By ignoring this question, Americans acquiesce to their eventual transformation into two peoples with two cultures (Anglo and Hispanic) and two languages (English and Spanish).
I think the cultural angle is actually one of the top issues in the current immigration reform debate. Yet, many immigration enthusiasts (especially those arguing the smooth Hispanic assimilation line) dismiss Huntington's thesis. However, as Mirengoff cites above, Heather MacDonald and a number of conservative writers have chronicled the problems of integration within the Hispanic community, especially in Southern California. See, for example, MacDonald's City Journal essay, "Seeing Today's Immigrants Straight" (scroll down particularly to her discussion of the crisis of academic failure among Hispanics in the Los Angeles Unified School District). Victor Davis Hanson make some similar points in his article, "Mexifornia, Five Years Later." (See also Business Week's cover article from 2004, "Hispanic Nation.")

For balance and comparison, though, let me also cite one recent author, Tomas Jimenez, who argues the pro-assimilation case. Jimenez had a lead essay on "
The Next Americans," in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times opinion section (which I didn't find particularly persuasive). But see also his longer policy paper from the Center for Immigration Studies at UC San Diego.

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