Sat 8 Apr 2006
At a friend’s suggestion, I just read Samuel Huntington’s “The Hispanic Challenge”, (Bug Me Not required) which, he assured me, is one of the nuanced and sophisticated critiques of the ongoing influx of predominantly Mexican immigrants.
Color me unimpressed. Huntington has a lot of facts, and does his best to make them sound ominous, but he never got around explaining what the problem is supposed to be. As near as I can tell, here’s his nightmare scenario: by 2050 or so, continued migration and high fertility causes a swath of the Southwest to be Hispanic-dominated. Let’s take the worst-case scenario and assume that Hispanics get comfortable majorities in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. Hispanics begin to dominate civic and political institutions. Politics and the media start being conducted primarily in Spanish. They retain dual citizenship with Mexico and think of themselves as Mexican as much as American.
I’ll grant that this scenario is a bit disconcerting. But I’m not sure I see how it would be a problem. It’s exceedingly unlikely that these states would make any effort to secede from the United States and join Mexico. The rest of us will still be a majority, and immigrants of all people are likely to appreciate the advantage of American institutions.
So there won’t be any reconquista of the Southwest, at least not in a literal sense. So then what’s the problem? I think the idea is that due to their different cultural heritage and lack of assimilation, they’ll alter America’s national character and perhaps undermine the values that make American society work. He mentions some statistics about how Hispanics have a weaker work ethic, are less punctual, and are backwards-, rather than forwards-looking. These are, I suppose, undesirable traits for potential fellow citizens. But if that’s all he’s got, I think he dramatically underestimates the robustness of American political and economic institutions. Even if the typical Hispanic maintains a fundamentally Hispanic identity and fails to assimilate into the mainstream culture, the best and the brightest in the community are likely to want membership in America’s elite institutions, which are intensely meritocratic. They’ll get degrees from top law schools, work their way up to senior positions in American corporations, and become important figures in the (probably) Democratic party. The assimilation of the Hispanic community’s elites into mainstream American society will help to co-opt illiberal tendencies in the Hispanic electorate.
So I’m just not that concerned about the downsides. What about the upside? Here’s where I go into goofy libertarian mode: I think there’s actually a lot to like about transforming America into a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society. As Huntington’s own example of Miami shows, the creation of an Hispanic-majority city has the potential for tremendous benefits for the American economy. Miami has become a thriving tourist destination and commercial hub linking the North American and Latin American economies. Miami probably gives us a competitive advantage over Canada and Western European countries (Spain excepted, I suppose) because we have a thriving Spanish-speaking economy that’s accessible to both Americans and Latinos.
Hell, it makes me think we should pick another city (perhaps San Francisco) and start admitting a lot more Chinese people to make that a Chinese-majority city. That would give us a huge competitive advantage as multi-national countries around the world compete for business from Chinese consumers. Fairfax County, Virginia, is well on its way to becoming a microcosm of Vietnam–let’s see if we can get even more of them to come to Northern Virginia so to build a microcosm of Vietnam just across the Potomac from the nation’s capital.
Nozick wrote about a “framework for utopias,” a federalist nation in which hundreds of communities with radically different institutions sprung up to satisfy the diverse desires of the nation’s citizens. The process Huntington describes sounds like a step toward Nozick’s vision. There will still be plenty of places where English is the dominant language and people have Anglo values. People who don’t like the new Latino-dominated Los Angeles can move to one of those cities. But personally, I think it would be really neat to raise my kids in a Hispanic-majority Los Angeles.
I think the libertarian ideal is a post-nation-state society in which borders are less important than our social, cultural, and economic ties to people around the world. I think it would be fantastic if a flood of Mexican immigrants gradually blurred the US-Mexico border into de facto irrelevance. And frankly, as long as they’re doing it peacefully, what’s wrong with them “retaking” the Southwest? We did, in fact, take it from them by conquest. It would be poetic justice if, 20 years from now, most of the lands once ruled by Mexico once again had Spanish-speaking minorities!