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The Miami Herald

Huntington's Logic Fundamentally Flawed


April 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Miami Herald. All rights reserved.

Samuel Huntington, a noted American thinker, believes the United States will not be able to assimilate the huge mass of Hispanic immigrants who settle daily there. Basically, he worries about those who arrive from Mexico. He thinks there are too many of them, they're much too close to their native country and are not very interested in becoming ``Americanized.''

They don't learn English efficiently, they replicate their original impoverished way of life and do not adapt to the old values of the mythical ''white Anglo-Saxon Protestants'' who apparently have molded the American culture since the arrival of the Mayflower.

Huntington also fears that the enormous Hispanic strip along the southwestern United States will generate a bilingual, bicultural country -- like Quebec in Canada -- that will be less committed to the work ethic and barely concerned about education. That huge minority would weaken the foundations of American society to such a degree that a rupture could occur in the future. Hispanics might then feel greater loyalty to Mexico, whence they came, than to the United States, which has welcomed them.

The politically correct reaction is to accuse Huntington of being a racist and a xenophobe, but that would be too easy. The truth is that the dominant groups in all societies on the planet perceive immigrants with a mixture of fear and rejection. In Spain, where I live, Moroccans are viewed with true horror, a perception that existed even before the March 11 attacks. In France, Algerians are ''the problem;'' in Puerto Rico, the Dominicans; in the Dominican Republic, the Haitians; in Italy, the Albanians, and so, ad infinitum.

But it's not fair to reject Huntington's theories without first examining them. It seems reasonable to think that a monolingual, monocultural country will experience fewer internal tensions.

The discourse about multiculturalism is very beautiful and full of good intentions but ignores that within the territorial and ferocious human animal lurks an irrational element, a vestige of his old reptilian brain, that easily leads him to aggression against any creature that it perceives as being different.

True, the exceptional Swiss miracle does demonstrate that the harmonious coexistence of diverse peoples is possible. But in nations made up of patches -- like Spain, Belgium and Canada -- every so often you hear some ominous creaking, and coexistence becomes difficult.

Nevertheless, I believe that Huntington is mistaken in his basic premises. First, Hispanics do integrate to U.S. society, and if they don't do so more rapidly it's because of the artificial difficulties they usually encounter. When millions of them, because they are illegal, cannot work legally, go to school, open a bank account or even obtain a driver's license, is it any wonder that they're marginalized? If the objective is to assimilate them, wouldn't it be more prudent to build bridges than attempt to isolate them?

In fact, immigrants bring along the values held by their countries of origin, but values transform radically when they come in contact with other cultures, and the result of that spiritual mingling sometimes is astounding. Indians, Jews of Russian-Polish origin, Barbadians and second-generation Cubans living in the United States do better economically than the WASPs to whom Huntington alludes. In the 19th Century, the Irish allegedly were lyrical poets consumed by alcoholism, while the Scots were industrious folks dedicated to their work. Can anyone make that distinction in the 21st century?

At times, Huntington's mistakes lapse into contradictions. That happens when he appraises Miami. In this case, the culprits are the Cubans and other Hispanics, because by being bilingual (as many of them are) they have a better chance to get good jobs than the Anglos or the monolingual blacks and earn salaries higher than the average paid to ``whites.''

What should Miami Hispanics then do to please Huntington? Didn't we agree that Miami, to its credit, is a cosmopolitan city, the gateway to millions of travelers from Latin America? Should Miami Hispanics renounce their knowledge of Spanish and with it a big comparative advantage that allows them to integrate with relative ease into the U.S. middle class?

That's as absurd as asking Jewish families not to instill in their children a love for learning and the discipline of study.

Let me tell you a final anecdote that rebuts Huntington's fears. About four years ago, I went to Monterrey, in northern Mexico, to deliver a lecture. The topic was: ``Europe faces U.S. leadership in the 21st Century.''

After I finished, a local political leader approached me and said: ``To us, there is a danger in having 28 million Mexicans in the United States who produce as much as the 100 million who live in Mexico.''

Why? I asked. ''Because I fear that the entire northern region of Mexico, under the influence of the Texan culture and the Mexicans who live up there, someday may ask for annexation by the United States.'' He thought the same as Huntington, but in reverse.

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