A Merging U.S.-Latin Community

Article excerpt

One of the ironies of the Clinton administration's place in history is that it may be known more for a foreign policy development than for a domestic development.

And the foreign development may be a surprising one: the beginning of the integration of the North American and Caribbean countries into one society. The North American Free Trade Agreement treaty is only one part of this massive change, although an important part.

We are seeing the culmination of several decades of activity, starting primarily with the Immigration Act of 1965. The essence of what is happening in the 1990s is the order of magnitude of the change.

Take Cuba, for example. There are 11 million residents of Cuba, and about 1 million Cubans in Florida. This means that nearly 10 percent of Cubans now live in the United States.

Or Mexico. There are 92 million residents of Mexico; nearly 13 million people of Mexican descent live in the United States; 10 percent of Mexicans now live in the United States. Comparable movements have occurred from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Caribbean immigrants now have some political influence on American foreign policy, just as in the early and middle 20th centuries, European immigrants influenced our foreign policy with Europe. Florida's Cuban community is the most visible example.

The cultural incursions of the United States into Mexico and the Caribbean are striking. In Monterey, northern Mexico's major city, a shopping center with J.C. Penney and Dillard's is opening. Cruise ships in the Bahamas and other West Indies islands bring a large influx of U.S. citizens, who speak English, desire American food and spread U.S. customs. The Miami Herald circulates throughout the Caribbean.

Mexico has become a favorable retirement spot for Americans. A Jamaican descendent (Colin Powell) led us to victory in the Persian Gulf War; two Mexican descendants (Henry Cisneros and Federico Pena) sit in the U.S. Cabinet. And, of course, major integration is occurring in that great swatch of "Mexamerica," from Texas to California on the U.S. side and encompassing the border states of Mexico on the southern side. Manufacturing and trade - labor and capital - are turning this area into one of the continent's leading business sectors. There is talk of augmenting Texas' interstate highway system to serve northern Mexico more adequately.

Nearly 10 percent of Americans consider themselves Hispanic. And since there is a quite high rate of intermarriage with non-Hispanics, by the next generation as many as one-fifth of all Americans may have one or more grandparents born south of the border, with first or second cousins in a Caribbean nation.

It is clear that, socially, culturally and economically, the United States and the Mexico-Caribbean areas will more and more become one. …