Original URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A41786-2004Mar8?language=printer
Hey, Professor, Assimilate This
Tuesday, March 9, 2004; Page C01
By Peter Carlson, Staff Writer
Look out, folks! Samuel P. Huntington has kicked up a major cultural firestorm
and unpleasant things could start flying at any moment.
Writing in the March-April issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Huntington -- the
noted author, scholar and chairman of Harvard University's Academy for
International and Area Studies -- has identified a "major potential threat" to
this gre at nation's "cultural and political integrity."
The threat is: Mexicans. Other Hispanics, too, but mostly Mexicans.
They're overrunning the country, they're multiplying like bunnies,
Huntington says, and they threaten our "Anglo-Protestant culture."
"The single most immediate and most serious challenge to America's traditional
identity," Huntington writes, "comes from the immense and continuing
immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico, and the fertility rates of
The problem with Hispanics, Huntington says, is that unlike earlier
immigrants, they won't assimilate because they're "comfortable with their own
culture and often contemptuous of American culture." The result, he says, will
be a polarized America composed of "two peoples with two cultures."
As you might expect, angry Hispanics and liberals have attacked Huntington as
xenophobic or bigoted or un-American. Not me. As a proud, native-born American
patriot, I understand that the professor's views come from a long line of
Back in colonial days, Benjamin Franklin denounced German immigrants as
"generally the most stupid of their nation" and grumbled that "few of their
children know English."
In 1855, Massachusetts Gov. Henry J. Gardner denounced the Irish immigrants
then swarming into his state as a "horde of foreign barbarians."
In 1906, H.G. Wells, the British novelist and futurist, warned that the influx
of Jews, Italians and Eastern Europeans threatened a "huge dilution of the
American people with profoundly ignorant foreign peasants."
As it turned out, all those distinguished gentlemen were wrong. The Germans,
Irish, Jews, Italians and Eastern Europeans have assimilated into America's
melting pot. So did the Chinese and Japanese, who were so hated by
Anglo-Protestants (among others) that they were barred from t he United States
But just because opponents of immigration were wrong decades ago doesn't mean
that Huntington is wrong now. So let's take a calm, dispassionate look at his
reasons for believing that "the assimilation successes of the past are
unlikely to be duplicated with the contemporary flood of immigrants from Latin
First, Huntington says, it's too easy for them to get here. Earlier
immigrants had to cross "several thousand miles of ocean" but Mexicans and
Cubans are right nearby. He's right about that. All Cubans have to do to get
here is sneak past Castro's goons, hop on some leaky old boat and drift across
shark-infested waters. Illegal Mexican immigrants have it even easier. All
they have to do is swim the Rio Grande or hike across the Arizona desert while
dodging the Border Patrol. Piece of cake.
Second, they won't assimilate. Hispanics stick to their own kind, Huntington
says, clustering in places like Miami and Southern California, where they find
lots of their compatriots. This is true, too -- and downright un-American. Why
can't they expand their horizons and move into Chinatown or Little Italy? As
we all know, Huntington's beloved Anglo-Protestants were always eager to share
their neighborhoods (and their country clubs) with folks of other colors and
creeds. In fact, before the Civil War, many
Anglo-Protestants were so eager to meet folks from other cultures that they
actually purchased them. That's an act of brotherhood that today's Mexican
immigrants just can't match.
Third, Hispanics speak Spanish. Huntington finds this very upsetting. He
acknowledges that "more than 90 percent" of second-generation Mexican
Americans speak fluent English. But they also speak Spanish, he says, and they
fail to "look down on and reject their ancestral language." In fact, he notes
with alarm, "many second- or third-generation Mexican-Americans who
were brought up speaking only English have learned Spanish as adults."
Good Lord! Third-generation Americans voluntarily learning a foreign language!
Now that is truly un-American.
Forgive my sarcasm, but I just can't buy Huntington's absurd argument that
Hispanics are incapable of assimilation. In fact, I'm absolutely certain that
Huntington will be proved wrong. Here's how it will happen:
A crisis somewhere will send a new flood of immigrants to America -- Uzbeks or
Zulus or Tajiks. At that point, some fully assimilated Hispanic politician or
pundit or Harvard professor will denounce these newcomers, citing their
ignorance, their barbaric customs, their willingness to work for peanuts and
their congenital inability to assimilate.
At that moment, Prof. Huntington will find his Hispanic soul brother at last.