Original URL: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/opinion/article/0,1299,DRMN_38_2067763,00.html

Will we be one country with two cultures?
In immigration wave professor sees a more fractious society
Rocky Mountain News
June 26, 2003

Victor Davis Hanson is a classics professor who has written widely on the unique contributions of the Greeks to Western history. He is also a reknowned military historian with such widely quoted works as An Autumn of War, Carnage and Culture, and The Soul of Battle to his credit. In the past two years Hanson has given separate private briefings on military affairs to Vice President Dick Cheney, the White House staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On a personal level, Hanson is a native Californian whose family farm goes back five generations, and who is disturbed by the ongoing transformation of his state. In his latest, typically provocative book, Mexifornia (Encounter, 2003), Hanson argues that America is failing to honestly debate the implications of allowing unchecked immigration in a society that no longer promotes a common culture but encourages group identity instead.

He discusses his book with Vincent Carroll, editor of the editorial pages.

Carroll: The title of your book suggests you worry about the growth of a hybrid civilization - or perhaps separate civilizations within one state.

Hanson: The combination of massive immigration, most of it illegal, coupled with a preference for multiculturalism rather than assimilation, has created a culture that's not quite Mexico and not quite California. That's the abstract part of it. The concrete part is we have entire towns that are now 100 percent first-generation Mexican citizens or even mostly illegal aliens, such as Parlier, Orange Cove and Mendota. So we're sort of creating an apartheid society that nobody wants to talk about. Americans haven't thought this through clearly and my book examines the problem from seven or eight different viewpoints: the illegal aliens' themselves, the Mexican government's, the American government's, employers, and then simple middle-class people who both benefit and pay for illegal immigration.

Carroll: You are both a classics professor and a farmer.

Hanson: Yes, I own 45 acres of farmland and I'm a fifth-generation farmer. I teach classics to a largely minority population of students at California State University of Fresno.

Carroll: And the town you live in is Selma - or at least the closest town to you?

Hanson: Yes, it's populated by mostly ethnic Mexicans now. I would assume that perhaps 20 percent to 30 percent of the residents are illegal aliens and 50 percent are legal second- and third-generation Hispanic.

Carroll: Explain what worries you about the present volume of illegal immigration. After all, you describe growing up in a community that had a significant Mexican-American presence and relate how those people, who are now middle-aged like you, have in many cases become solidly middle class: policemen, small shop owners etc. In other words, they followed the classic pattern of immigrants rising in America. But you believe that something is
different now that militates against this pattern being achieved.

Hanson: I do. We've had people come in the millions before. They came in waves, with periods of rest between them. And upon arrival they were confronted with a society that assumed that since they had voted with their feet, so to speak, they would now want to be assimilated.

Now, however, instead of 1 or 2 million people coming in single stages of immigration, we're seeing 4 or 6, 8, 10, 12 million people coming. When they arrive the host country does everything to accommodate them: bilingual education, bilingual government documents, bilingual telephone books - even driver's licenses that bestow legality upon people who are here illegally, as well as in-state tuition. The result is that we have an almost permanent caste of citizens who do our unskilled jobs, who are not educated and do not speak English and don't have to; they aren't following the avenues for self-improvement in the way that earlier immigrants did. Some are, of course, but many are not.

Carroll: This period of heavy immigration from Mexico has been under way for about 30 years, a relatively short period. Why won't their experience be a repeat of what happened to earlier immigrant groups?

Hanson: The traditional paradigm of success in two or three generations does not work so well when you have such big communities that are not integrated into the larger culture. They're not exposed to aspects of American culture that would insist on English or would communicate American values. Today's immigrant who can't read English can often flip to the Spanish section in the phone book for directions, and he can also figure that perhaps his community in five years will have more people from Mexico who speak Spanish than natives who speak English. There is no longer the expectation on the part of either the arrival or the host that becoming American necessarily involves speaking English or understanding American traditions. That's radically different from what we've seen before.

Carroll: You worry about a lack of civic education that would impart American values and a sense of unity. Indeed, you argue that there is an anti-civics education being taught in many places. You note, for example, something like 62 courses in the Chicano studies department at the University of California at Santa Barbara, but only one course on the American Civil War and no courses on the Revolutionary War. I take it you believe a similar skewed educational environment exists at the elementary and secondary levels, at least in California - one that emphasizes separateness and downplays the ideas and traditions that have united Americans.

Hanson: We have what I would call a therapeutic curriculum, where the idea is to give immigrants self-esteem and confidence by exploring their own indigenous roots, whether it's in the Aztec civilization or whatever. And this is done at the expense of paying attention to American institutions. The problem with that approach is that these kids are going to be living in America, not Mexico. America is a culture based on ideas and values. We have no
national race or religion or skin color. Anybody from Mexico can be as legitimate an adherent of Lincoln or Shakespeare or Socrates as anyone else, if they are given the opportunity.
When people move from one country to another, especially if they do so illegally, they're taking an enormous risk. They've made a decision to accept the country's institutions; nobody forced them to do that. I've lived overseas for a number of years and I would never think that if I went to Greece the Greek government had an obligation to teach me in English or to allow me to conduct business with the Greek government in English.

Carroll: What about the relatively high levels of intermarriage between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites? Doesn't that contradict your thesis that they're not assimilating?

Hanson: I have one brother who is married to a Mexican-American and I have another brother who has two Mexican-American stepchildren. Both of my daughters currently are going steady with Mexican-Americans, but it doesn't contradict my thesis. It confirms what I'm saying in that in each case the people who are intermarrying and dating are usually second or third generation. But the huge current wave of illegal aliens who don't speak any English tend to segregate themselves and are encouraged to segregate themselves. They will not intermarry much. By the time they're 40, they've become accustomed to the cultural isolation. Meanwhile, a perpetual supply of first-generation illegal aliens is adding to the numbers who don't intermarry and don't assimilate.

Carroll: You say that the major force for assimilation in America is, ironically, popular culture. Popular culture actively undermines attempts by the intelligentsia to promote ethnic separatism because it assumes that everyone, no matter of what background, is an American with a shared culture.

Hanson: Yes, it's the only force in our arsenal that will promote stability. Whether it's music, fashion or entertainment, whether it's Jennifer Lopez, Tiger Woods, Mike Tyson or Snoop Dogg, popular culture appeals to common appetites that transcend race and class and national origin. The irony is that in the old days the obstacle to assimilation was popular prejudices. When I went to school there were people who would not allow their children to date somebody who was Mexican or vice versa. But those kids' schools promoted integration and taught us that prejudice and separatism was something that was symptomatic of ignorance.
Now we have almost the exact opposite in place. Popular culture and individuals themselves tend to ignore race while the universities and government in general promote separatism. Where I teach we have separate auxiliary ceremonies for Hispanics. The ideology in la raza studies - race studies - tends to
have replaced the old prejudices of private individuals.

Carroll: When you say there are separate ceremonies at your university, you mean graduation ceremonies?

Hanson: Yes. We have one Saturday graduation where everybody participates, but then we have auxiliary special occasions where the Chicano studies faculty tries to recruit all the people who are graduating who they think are Hispanic. Nobody is invited unless you're a Chicano.

Carroll: Besides being a classics professor you are a student of history and a respected expert on military history. Surely one of the norms of history is change - and often rather dramatic short-term change, such as the demographic change that is sweeping California and indeed much of the nation. Perhaps it will alter the character of the United States over time but maybe there's inevitability to it.

Hanson: I'm not a determinist who believes that individuals don't matter in history. If you don't have a Churchill, for example, England loses World War II. So I think people matter. We're not captives to larger historical forces. I'm really not a zealot either way. I just wanted to write the book to allow people to make their own judgments.
The problem that I have with it is that the Chicano studies professors and other people who say they're for open borders don't want to go live in Parlier or Orange Cove. The people who say it's not a problem in Silicon Valley pick up illegal aliens on El Camino Real on Saturdays in their SUVs and take them home to build a deck and then in the evening dump them back off on the freeway and don't really worry about whether they're going to have health care or prenatal care, or probationary officers if they get arrested and go to prison.
Most of all, I think we need honest public discourse. And unless we have it, we're in for some pretty tumultuous times. History and the contemporary world offer plenty of examples - whether it's Rwanda, the southern Balkans, or present-day Iraq and so on. Anytime you have separate races or cultures that are not assimilated and don't believe they have a common core - and when they're cynically used by politicians such as a Milosevic or Saddam Hussein, for example - then the ultimate result will be, without warning, a sudden eruption of chaos.