Friday, February 27, 2004

Wow – this is Samuel Huntington, the “Clash of Civilizations” guy. Looks like American civilization is under attack again – but not from Islamic fundamentalists. Nope, this time it’s Mexicans – hordes of ‘em. Their seditious plot? Well, just to chase the American Dream, really, only en español.

According to Huntington, “American values” are actually - as maintained by anti-American conspiracy theorists all along - “Anglo-Protestant values”. Originally, he says, Americans defined themselves through “race, ethnicity, culture and religion”. The drive to independence produced the need to define America “ideologically”, to distinguish it from (also Anglo-Protestant) Britain. Thus were produced the Declaration of Independence and so forth. Which would in future allow commentators, in endless scholarly articles featured in Arts & Letters Daily, to contrast American belief in “universal values” with irrational European “blood and soil” nationalism – a useful distinction to make whenever France or Germany are being intransigent about something.

Then, with the conquest of the American West producing surplus land (allowing future scholarly conservatives to talk about how the US is the “only Great Power in history to have no imperial ambitions”), and the drive to develop industry, the Anglo-Protestants were good enough to let in a whole bunch of Krauts, Polacks, Paddys, Eyeties, and even eventually let black people have the vote. E Pluribus Unum.

But now, says Huntington, it’s time to step back from all that “universalist” stuff and reassert the core WASP identity of the USA. Because this is under threat from an endless stream of chicanos. They just keep coming across the border, they outnumber all other immigrants put together and, worst of all, they want to retain their language and culture. There’s a risk we could see, through peaceful, demographic means, the Hispanic reconquest of the entire Southwest.

What could be the outcome for America if this goes on unchecked? Well, it could turn into Miami. This is what Huntington has to say about Miami:

The economic growth of Miami, led by the early Cuban immigrants, made the city a magnet for migrants from other Latin American and Caribbean countries. By 2000, two thirds of Miami's people were Hispanic, and more than half were Cuban or of Cuban descent…

The Cuban takeover had major consequences for Miami. The elite and entrepreneurial class fleeing the regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the 1960s started dramatic economic development in South Florida. Unable to send money home, they invested in Miami. Personal income growth in Miami averaged 11.5 percent a year in the 1970s and 7.7 percent a year in the 1980s. Payrolls in Miami-Dade County tripled between 1970 and 1995. The Cuban economic drive made Miami an international economic dynamo, with expanding international trade and investment. The Cubans promoted international tourism, which, by the 1990s, exceeded domestic tourism and made Miami a leading center of the cruise ship industry. Major U.S. corporations in manufacturing, communications, and consumer products moved their Latin American headquarters to Miami from other U.S. and Latin American cities. A vigorous Spanish artistic and entertainment community emerged. Today, the Cubans can legitimately claim that, in the words of Prof. Damian Fernández of Florida International University, “We built modern Miami,” and made its economy larger than those of many Latin American countries.

Sounds good. You come, you expand the economy, you conquer.

But no, says Huntington. The difference is that (apart from Miami being a steaming swamp anyway, so who cares) the Cubans were initially mainly upper and middle class (and, though he doesn’t mention it, white). The flood of Mexicans, by contrast, is predominantly poor and uneducated, which spells some kind of poorly-defined trouble. They may not actually be potential suicide bombers. But there are important “cultural differences”. We know this because, for example:

“Author Robert Kaplan quotes Alex Villa, a third-generation Mexican American in Tucson, Arizona, as saying that he knows almost no one in the Mexican community of South Tucson who believes in “education and hard work” as the way to material prosperity and is thus willing to “buy into America.” Profound cultural differences clearly separate Mexicans and Americans, and the high level of immigration from Mexico sustains and reinforces the prevalence of Mexican values among Mexican Americans.”

Rigorous evidence, certainly.

Huntington does have tables of stats showing how poor, uneducated, insufficiently upwardly mobile and just damn good-for-nothing Mexican Americans are. I’m sure plenty of holes could be picked in them, but it’s not clear that they’re actually relevant. On balance, he doesn’t actually seem to be claiming that Mexican Americans are a drain on the economy – anyway, where’s the table tracking “numbers of tomatoes in California that need to get picked”?

Rather, the key concern appears to be that the preservation by Latino migrants of their language and culture, and their ability to not be fully “acculturated”, might create a “self-sufficient enclave” outside the “mainstream”. He issues vague but stern warnings about this prospect. He suggests that future American public servants might need to be bilingual! He quotes flaky liberals who suggest that that might even be a good thing. In a worst-case scenario, the US might end up like (shock) Canada or Belgium.

The hordes of chicanos, and their damnable insistence on not speaking *only* English, says Huntington, could be “the one thing that will choke the melting pot”. But it’s not clear that the melting pot is at risk, so much as the Anglo-Protestant dominance of how the shape, colour and smell of the pot is defined. The lesson from Miami, after all, is that Anglos can end up being an ethnic minority, too. And won't necessarily like it.

It’s hard to see too much else going on here apart from an ethnocentric distaste for genuine diversity, and a disquieting lack of faith in the genuinely integrative force of “universal values”.

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