Critics Assail Scholars Article Arguing That Hispanic Immigration Threatens U.S.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 24, 2004
By DAVID GLENN

High levels of Hispanic immigration threaten to disrupt the political and cultural integrity of the United States, according to a controversial new article by the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, who is the chairman of Harvard University's Academy for International and Area Studies.

  In the essay, which will be published next week in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Mr. Huntington warns that the United States faces the loss of its "core Anglo-Protestant culture" and may soon be divided into "two peoples with two cultures (Anglo and Hispanic) and two languages (English and Spanish)." 

A leaked copy of the article began to circulate among scholars on Monday and immediately drew heated criticism. 

Rodolfo O. de la Garza, a professor of political science at Columbia University, said Mr. Huntington's arguments "more closely resemble nativist ravings than scholarly assessments." Mr. de la Garza and other critics said Mr. Huntington was far too pessimistic in his accounts of Hispanic families' rates of educational progress and English-language acquisition.

 Mr. Huntington's article, which derives from his forthcoming book Who We Are (Simon & Schuster), scheduled for publication in May, argues that Hispanic immigrants are much less likely to assimilate into mainstream U.S. culture than were the European immigrants of the early 20th century.

 He bases his pessimism on six propositions, each of which is controversial.
Those propositions are as follows:

Latin America is geographically contiguous to the United States, which means that Hispanic immigrants need not make a large psychological leap when they migrate here.

Never before has such a large proportion of immigrants to the United States spoken a single non-English language.

Never before have so many immigrants come into the United States illegally.

Latin American immigrants are strongly concentrated in particular regions, which will impede their assimilation.

Hispanic immigration is likely to persist at high levels, in contrast to European immigration, which was truncated by restrictive legislation and the two world wars.

Mexican-Americans, with some justice, feel that the Southwestern United States, which was torn away from Mexico in 19th-century wars of conquest, is still their territory, and their feeling of ownership will prevent them from emotionally absorbing full U.S. citizenship.


  Mr. Huntington concludes by predicting that America may soon become an officially bicultural country like Canada or Belgium, albeit a less successful one, because "the differences in culture within these countries ... do not approximate those between the United States and Mexico."

He also argues that Hispanic activists are foolish to believe that assimilation can proceed in both directions, and that the United States could be successfully Latinized: "There is no Americano dream. There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English."

  On Monday, critics of the article attacked both its factual premises and its analytic framework. In a letter to the editors of Foreign Policy, Andreas Jimenez, director of the University of California's California Research Policy Center, wrote that the article was "misinformed, factually inaccurate, inflammatory, and potentially injurious to public policy because of its potential for being used as a further baseless rationalization for anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican politics."

In an interview, Mr. Jimenez said that Mr. Huntington was wrong to suggest that Hispanic families place a lower value on educational achievement than do native-born Americans. He cited a January 2004 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, which found that Hispanic parents are more likely to attend PTA meetings and to help their children with homework than are white or African-American parents.

  He also argued that Mr. Huntington was foolish to describe the history of Hispanic families' educational and labor-force status without acknowledging the history of formal and informal segregation in the Southwest. As recently as the 1950s, he noted, the State of Texas maintained separate schools for Hispanic students, which did not continue past the sixth grade.

Mr. de la Garza, of Columbia, said in an interview that Mr. Huntington's fear that Hispanic immigrants would maintain strong loyalties to their countries of origin was not grounded in empirical fact. Mr. de la Garza cited a 1998 study by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Los Angeles, that, he said, demonstrated that Hispanic residents of the United States have a relatively low level of engagement with the politics of their home countries and are much more oriented toward events in the United States.

James P. Smith, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, said in an interview that Mr. Huntington's analysis appeared not to distinguish fully between the experiences of first-generation immigrants and those of their children and grandchildren.

"It's not unique to him," Mr. Smith said. "He's using the convention of the field, and I think the convention of the field is methodologically flawed."

  A more precise analysis would show that Hispanic immigrants have actually made rapid progress from generation to generation, Mr. Smith argued.

He added that he saw no reason yet to believe that the United States was becoming a binational society. "To say that some time in the future we might become like Canada, and that we should keep our eye on separating the country that way -- that's fine. But I don't think we're there yet," he said.

Mr. Huntington was preparing to travel on Monday, and was not available for comment.

Mr. Huntington is no stranger to controversy. His 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster), became a best seller after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In The Wall Street Journal, Francis Fukuyama called the book "dazzling in its scope and grasp of the intricacies of global politics."

Not everyone agreed. In a 2001 essay, the late Edward W. Said, who was for many years a professor of comparative literature at Columbia, suggested that "a great deal of demagogy and downright ignorance is involved in presuming to speak for a whole religion or civilization."

  Background articles from The Chronicle:
           Scholars Cook Up a New Melting Pot (2/13/2004)

           Academe's Hispanic Future (Special Report) (11/28/2003)

           Scholars of Immigration Focus on the Children (2/5/1999)

           Harvard Professor Gets Huge Response From Predictions on Future Global Conflict (3/23/1994)

           Opinion: Latinos and New Demographic Realities (6/2/1993)

Copyright 2004 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

 

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