A Nation of WASPs?

By Shorris, Earl | The Nation, May 31, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Nation of WASPs?


Shorris, Earl, The Nation


In the past it was not difficult to discern the difference between xenophobia and racism. But a Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, has muddied the waters. In an article for the magazine he helped to found, Foreign Policy, Huntington has conflated the two ugly sentiments. He dislikes all Spanish-speaking people and their descendants in the United States. He finds Mexicans to be the worst, although he doesn't like Cubans either. He writes that Cubans ruined Miami and Mexicans have ruined a large part of the rest of the country. In his view, the growing Latino population will divide the United States into two separate nations, one Latino and the other white. Well, not all white; there are Asians, and he doesn't care for them either. But Harvard professors are different from old-fashioned bigots; they hide their bigotry in xenophobia.

Nativists like Huntington think immigrants are a danger to the future of our country. On the contrary, they are perhaps the only solution to human destiny, which is to grow old and then die. As any actuary can tell the nativists, America is about to run out of the one thing neither xenophobia nor racism can provide: youth. There is no imaginable solution to the problem now other than immigration. The great majority of immigrants are young, including many women in their childbearing years. They are the youth of the world, to borrow a phrase from Rousseau.

What these immigrants will bring to the United States, to the lives of my great-grandchildren and yours, depends in part on the success or failure of the crude nativist arguments of people like Huntington. If they succeed, the United States will wither, becoming a crone among nations. If those who love this country despite its political and social flaws succeed, immigrants and their children and grandchildren and all the generations that follow will enrich the mind as well as the strong back of the United States.

Huntington complains of the poor performance of Mexican and Mexican-American children in school, citing the high dropout rate. He does not mention the success of descendants of Spanish-speakers: the philosophers, attorneys practicing before the Supreme Court, medical doctors and researchers, poets, playwrights, heads of businesses large and small and countless teachers and scholars, as well as cooks, house painters, truck drivers and construction workers; in short, a repetition of the experience of immigrants over the centuries.

There is a danger in immigration, but it is not cultural or racial, as Huntington argues. It begins in the suffering of undocumented people limited to work that does not use the skills of mind they could contribute to society. It continues in the neighborhoods and the schools, where the children of immigrants, particularly Latinos, are cheated of the kind of education that can make them most useful to the nation. …

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