The Hispanic Challenge By Samuel P. Huntington



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The Hispanic Challenge

By Samuel P. Huntington

Samuel P. Huntington is chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies and cofounder of FOREIGN POLICY. Copyright © 2004 by Samuel P. Huntington. From the forthcoming book Who Are We by Samuel P. Huntington to be published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. N.Y. Printed by permission.



March/April 2004

[Note: Dr. Dunn made numerous cuts to shorten length of the article, which are indicated by ….]


The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages. Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves—from Los Angeles to Miami—and rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream. The United States ignores this challenge at its peril….

… The creed, however, was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers. Key elements of that culture include the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, including the responsibility of rulers and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, a “city on a hill.” Historically, millions of immigrants were attracted to the United States because of this culture and the economic opportunities and political liberties it made possible…



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)...

A World of difference

Contemporary Mexican and, more broadly, Latin American immigration is without precedent in U.S. history. The experience and lessons of past immigration have little relevance to understanding its dynamics and consequences. Mexican immigration differs from past immigration and most other contemporary immigration due to a combination of six factors: contiguity [i.e., Mexico is next to the US & has 2000 mile border], scale [large size], illegality, regional concentration [in southwest], persistence, and historical presence… [Dunn additions]



Spanglish as a Second Language

English language use and fluency for first- and second-generation Mexicans thus seem to follow the pattern common to past immigrants. Two questions remain, however. First, have changes occurred over time in the acquisition of English and the retention of Spanish by second-generation Mexican immigrants? One might suppose that, with the rapid expansion of the Mexican immigrant community, people of Mexican origin would have less incentive to become fluent in and to use English in 2000 than they had in 1970.



Second, will the third generation follow the classic pattern with fluency in English and little or no knowledge of Spanish, or will it retain the second generation's fluency in both languages? Second-generation immigrants often look down on and reject their ancestral language and are embarrassed by their parents' inability to communicate in English. Presumably, whether second-generation Mexicans share this attitude will help shape the extent to which the third generation retains any knowledge of Spanish. If the second generation does not reject Spanish outright, the third generation is also likely to be bilingual, and fluency in both languages is likely to become institutionalized in the Mexican-American community…

A persuasive case can be made that, in a shrinking world, all Americans should know at least one important foreign language—Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Russian, Arabic, Urdu, French, German, or Spanish—so as to understand a foreign culture and communicate with its people. It is quite different to argue that Americans should know a non-English language in order to communicate with their fellow citizens….



In 1917, former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt said: “We must have but one flag. We must also have but one language. That must be the language of the Declaration of Independence, of Washington's Farewell address, of Lincoln's Gettysburg speech and second inaugural.” By contrast, in June 2000, U.S. president Bill Clinton said, “I hope very much that I'm the last president in American history who can't speak Spanish.” And in May 2001, President Bush celebrated Mexico's Cinco de Mayo national holiday by inaugurating the practice of broadcasting the weekly presidential radio address to the American people in both English and Spanish. In September 2003, one of the first debates among the Democratic Party's presidential candidates also took place in both English and Spanish. Despite the opposition of large majorities of Americans, Spanish is joining the language of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and the Kennedys as the language of the United States. If this trend continues, the cultural division between Hispanics and Anglos could replace the racial division between blacks and whites as the most serious cleavage in U.S. society.

Blood Is Thicker Than Borders

Massive Hispanic immigration affects the United States in two significant ways: Important portions of the country become predominantly Hispanic in language and culture, and the nation as a whole becomes bilingual and bicultural. The most important area where Hispanization is proceeding rapidly is, of course, the Southwest. As historian Kennedy argues, Mexican Americans in the Southwest will soon have “sufficient coherence and critical mass in a defined region so that, if they choose, they can preserve their distinctive culture indefinitely. They could also eventually undertake to do what no previous immigrant group could have dreamed of doing: challenge the existing cultural, political, legal, commercial, and educational systems to change fundamentally not only the language but also the very institutions in which they do business.” …

… Many Mexican immigrants and their offspring simply do not appear to identify primarily with the United States.



Empirical evidence confirms such appearances. A 1992 study of children of immigrants in Southern California and South Florida posed the following question: “How do you identify, that is, what do you call yourself?” None of the children born in Mexico answered “American,” compared with 1.9 percent to 9.3 percent of those born elsewhere in Latin America or the Caribbean. The largest percentage of Mexican-born children (41.2 percent) identified themselves as “Hispanic,” and the second largest (36.2 percent) chose “Mexican.” Among Mexican-American children born in the United States, less than 4 percent responded “American,” compared to 28.5 percent to 50 percent of those born in the United States with parents from elsewhere in Latin America. Whether born in Mexico or in the United States, Mexican children overwhelmingly did not choose “American” as their primary identification.

Demographically, socially, and culturally, the reconquista (re-conquest) of the Southwest United States by Mexican immigrants is well underway. A meaningful move to reunite these territories with Mexico seems unlikely…

This trend could consolidate the Mexican-dominant areas of the United States into an autonomous, culturally and linguistically distinct, and economically self-reliant bloc within the United States. “We may be building toward the one thing that will choke the melting pot,” warns former National Intelligence Council Vice Chairman Graham Fuller, “an ethnic area and grouping so concentrated that it will not wish, or need, to undergo assimilation into the mainstream of American multi-ethnic English-speaking life.” …



Contempt of culture

… The Mexican community in the United States has been more ambivalent and nuanced in its attitudes toward the Mexican government. Since the 1980s, however, the Mexican government has sought to expand the numbers, wealth, and political power of the Mexican community in the U.S. Southwest and to integrate that population with Mexico. “The Mexican nation extends beyond the territory enclosed by its borders,” Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo said in the 1990s. His successor, Vicente Fox, called Mexican emigrants “heroes” and describes himself as president of 123 million Mexicans, 100 million in Mexico and 23 million in the United States.

As their numbers increase, Mexican Americans feel increasingly comfortable with their own culture and often contemptuous of American culture. They demand recognition of their culture and the historic Mexican identity of the U.S. Southwest. They call attention to and celebrate their Hispanic and Mexican past, as in the 1998 ceremonies and festivities in Madrid, New Mexico, attended by the vice president of Spain, honoring the establishment 400 years earlier of the first European settlement in the Southwest, almost a decade before Jamestown. As the New York Times reported in September 1999, Hispanic growth has been able to “help ‘Latinize' many Hispanic people who are finding it easier to affirm their heritage…. [T]hey find strength in numbers, as younger generations grow up with more ethnic pride and as a Latin influence starts permeating fields such as entertainment, advertising, and politics.” One index foretells the future: In 1998, “José” replaced “Michael” as the most popular name for newborn boys in both California and Texas.

Irreconcilable Differences

The persistence of Mexican immigration into the United States reduces the incentives for cultural assimilation. Mexican Americans no longer think of themselves as members of a small minority who must accommodate the dominant group and adopt its culture. As their numbers increase, they become more committed to their own ethnic identity and culture….

To be sure, as Harvard University political scientist Jorge I. Domínguez has pointed out, Mexican Americans are more favorably disposed toward democracy than are Mexicans. Nonetheless, “ferocious differences” exist between U.S. and Mexican cultural values, as Jorge Castañeda (who later served as Mexico's foreign minister) observed in 1995.

Castañeda cited differences in social and economic equality, the unpredictability of events, concepts of time epitomized in the mañana syndrome, the ability to achieve results quickly, and attitudes toward history, expressed in the “cliché that Mexicans are obsessed with history, Americans with the future.” Sosa identifies several Hispanic traits (very different from Anglo-Protestant ones) that “hold us Latinos back”: mistrust of people outside the family; lack of initiative, self-reliance, and ambition; little use for education; and acceptance of poverty as a virtue necessary for entrance into heaven. 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.



Continuation of this large immigration (without improved assimilation) could divide the United States into a country of two languages and two cultures. A few stable, prosperous democracies—such as Canada and Belgium—fit this pattern. The differences in culture within these countries, however, do not approximate those between the United States and Mexico, and even in these countries language differences persist. Not many Anglo-Canadians are equally fluent in English and French, and the Canadian government has had to impose penalties to get its top civil servants to achieve dual fluency. Much the same lack of dual competence is true of Walloons and Flemings in Belgium. The transformation of the United States into a country like these would not necessarily be the end of the world; it would, however, be the end of the America we have known for more than three centuries. Americans should not let that change happen unless they are convinced that this new nation would be a better one.

Such a transformation would not only revolutionize the United States, but it would also have serious consequences for Hispanics, who will be in the United States but not of it. Sosa ends his book, The Americano Dream, with encouragement for aspiring Hispanic entrepreneurs. “The Americano dream?” he asks. “It exists, it is realistic, and it is there for all of us to share.” Sosa is wrong. There is no Americano dream. There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.


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