Mestizo Democracy: The Politics of Crossing Borders

Article excerpt

Mestizo Democracy: The Politics of Crossing Borders

John Francis Burke

Texas A & M University Press, 2004

As everyone knows, the ethnic and racial composition of the American population is changing rapidly as a result of substantial legal immigration and larger illegal immigration. Indeed, it is not just the numbers of immigrants, and the fact that whereas the predominant source of migration was formerly Europe, immigration is now heavily skewed in favor of migrants from Latin America and non-European countries; it is also due to the higher birthrate amongst the non-European immigrants. These guarantee even greater changes in the future, with much higher birthrates among the non-White immigrants than among the American-born Europoid population. Furthermore, these new immigrants are not being absorbed into the prevailing culture of English-speaking America. They are increasingly retaining the use of their own languages, and are even served by newspapers, radio stations and television stations in Spanish and several other languages. A very real multiculturalism is taking root.

What is interesting about this book is that the author not only shows how the immigrants and their descendants are modifying the American political scene, creating what he calls a "mestizo democracy," but that the result will be a multicultural democracy that will be prevented from becoming consolidated into a single new hybrid culture due to the permeability of American borders which will permit continued immigration of diverse peoples, maintaining the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural character of this new America.

The author applauds this as an extension of Madison's idea of an "extended republic," claiming that the very permeability of American borders will safeguard the future of democracy in America because "the larger the society, the more capable it will be of self-government." One questions whether Madison was right, when one compares the success of democracy in small countries such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, and contrasts that with the history of democracy in larger societies such as Russia and China. Nevertheless, Burke not just accepts but positively advocates increased immigration and greater multiculturalism, and urges that "we need to dare to re-envision the scheme of uniry-in-diversity at local, regional and national levels, and, in turn, to project transnational democratic initiatives."

Pluralism, he says, should not be seen just as a deterrent to tyranny, as Madison saw it, but "must be recast in terms of the substantive pluralism in crossing borders." Instead of thinking of borders as frontiers, he says, we should think of them as "permeable mestizaje" which will lead to the evolution of "a dynamic yet democratic sense of community reflective of our multiple, not univocal, cultural identities." Indeed, he writes, "my emphasis on moving beyond territorial boundaries and 'thickly' defined cultural identities is why throughout this text I have looked askance at representation schemes that strive to increase the access of diverse groups to political forums solely through geographical districts . …