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Professor Huntington has short memory of past immigrants

12:02 AM CST on Wednesday, March 3, 2004

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE / The Dallas Morning News

Do 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 Mexico."

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 at all.

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 rnavarrette@dallasnews.com.

Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/dn/opinion/columnists/rnavarrette/stories/030304dnedicybernavarrette.69541.html



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