Huntington has short memory of past immigrants
12:02 AM CST on
Wednesday, March 3, 2004
you know why so many Americans can't seem to have a calm, mature and
reasonable discussion about how best to reform U.S. immigration
policy? It's because there are always going to be those people who
think the problem isn't so much the quality of the policy but the
quality of the immigrants.
People such as Samuel P. Huntington. In his new book, Who Are
We?, the Harvard professor argues that too much diversity can be
destructive. He writes: "The single most immediate and serious
challenge to America's traditional identity comes from the immense
and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from
Mr. Huntington worries about the supposed refusal of Latinos to
assimilate, learn English and think of themselves as Americans
rather than part of a subgroup defined by ethnicity. He worries that
Americans are becoming "two peoples with two cultures (Anglo and
Hispanic) and two languages (English and Spanish)." He worries that
Latinos have dual loyalties stronger to their home countries than
to the United States. He worries that fertility rates of Hispanics
are higher than those of whites or blacks. He worries that most of
the U.S. foreign-born population comes from one country: Mexico.
Most of all, he worries that America's "Anglo-Protestant culture"
and those who lay claim to it is not nearly as relevant today as
it used to be, or that the day is coming when it won't be relevant
We've heard this before. The bit about not identifying as
Americans and remaining part of an ethnic subgroup was once aimed at
the Irish. The last time that Americans worried about becoming a
nation of two languages, the languages were English and German.
Concerns about birthrates were once aimed at Italian immigrants,
many of whom were Roman Catholic and didn't practice birth control.
And it was a fear of "dual loyalties" that put Japanese-Americans
into internment camps and kept many Jews out of the administration
of President Roosevelt during World War II.
You hear all the time about how the immigrants of today are
different from those of 100 years ago. That's just nonsense. They
have the same impressive work ethic, the same optimism and the same
sense that America is a place of limitless opportunities. They also
generate much the same reaction from natives. The same sorts of
things that are said about Latinos today were, a century or two ago,
said about the Irish, Germans or Italians. They weren't true then,
and they aren't true now.
America never seems to get the credit it deserves for being an
inculcator of values. Even if Latino immigrants were intent on
resisting assimilation and, from my conversations with hundreds of
them over the last 10 years, I'm not convinced that they are they
would never succeed.
Today Latino immigrants may watch Spanish-language television,
throw Mexican weddings for their daughters, and celebrate cultural
festivals in the streets of major U.S. cities. But before you know
it, their children will be reading English-language newspapers,
listening to Britney Spears and registering to vote.
Just ask the folks at the Pew Hispanic Center. The 2002 National
Survey of Latinos found that a majority of Latinos felt very
strongly that one had to learn English to succeed in the United
States. It also found that, while Spanish remains the dominant
language among adult Hispanics, English is gaining ground even
within immigrant households and that by the second generation,
Latinos are usually bilingual or speak only English.
This will probably come as news to Mr. Huntington. He insists
that the Protestant work ethic is being threatened by Latino
immigration; and, he says, one thing spurring immigration is that
Mexicans hailing as they do from a country that once controlled
the area that became the American Southwest feel as if they are
entitled "to special rights in these territories."
Wrong again, professor. The reason the United States has so much
immigration is because the Protestant work ethic is already on the
wane and because it is Americans who feel they are entitled
to special rights i.e., the right to hire someone else to raise
their kids, mow their lawn, cook their food, or do any of a hundred
jobs that Americans now think themselves too good to do, all at
wages so low that only foreigners will take them.
What sense does it make for Americans to be so freaked out over
demographic changes that they helped cause?
Mr. Huntington has nothing to worry about. Not that we shouldn't
worry about people like Mr. Huntington.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is an editorial writer and columnist for
The Dallas Morning News. His e-mail address is