More on “heritage”

I’ve been having an email correspondence with someone who took issue with my suggestion a few days ago that all the talk in the immigration debate about our American Heritage may just be xenophobic blather.

My suspicion that xenophobia contributes a nontrivial chunk of that rhetoric is strengthened by Bill O’Reilly’s explanation of what “the New York Times wants and the far-left want” as far as immigration:

They want to breakdown the white Christian male power structure of which you [John McCain] are a part, and so am I. And they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically breakdown the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say that you’ve got to cap it with a number.

I continue to welcome suggestions of a non-racist, non-sexist, non-xenophobic sense of American Heritage, and applications of that sense to the immigration debate.

My email correspondent (who cited a bunch of numbers from hate group VDARE, about which more later) and I both wound up with a comparable description of American heritage in a fairly abstract sense. Individualism, some form of the Protestant work ethic (which obviously isn’t uniquely American, having originated as a means of describing differences within the European continent and among regions of Germany). We would both add in our political culture, rooted in classical liberalism, a concern with civic involvement, civil liberties and the idea that people should be allowed wide latitude in how they live their lives.

There may be other components that people would toss in, but I suspect that everyone across the political spectrum would go along with a description of our national heritage that included those elements, and would find any description lacking those elements to be inadequate.

I don’t see how the English language or other particular behaviors could be read into that definition. Standardizing behavior runs strongly against our foundational liberalism (what some might call libertarianism), and that applies to language as well as it does to anything else.

No one can deny that Latin American immigrants, legal or illegal, have a serious work ethic. Indeed, much of the argument about immigration focusses on debates over whether and to what extent those immigrants take work away from citizens. Like every great wave of immigration, Latin Americans are coming here to work. That ties them into our heritage very nicely.

The major remaining component of our heritage would be civic involvement. There’s no doubt that, as in previous waves of immigration, Latin American immigrants tend to live in tight communities bound by a common language and cultural backgrounds. That same force explains the existence of a Chinatown in many cities, and the ethnic patchwork of communities in cities like Chicago or New York. The existence of an ethnic enclave is not a sign of civic disengagement. On the other hand, the sidewalkless suburban sprawl surrounding our cities does tend to suggest civic disengagement.

Furthermore, Latinos vote. They participate in the national political process, they take an active interest in their communities, they exert their individualism and contribute to the economy. They follow the same basic pattern as previous waves of immigration, and in each of those waves, “heritage” was the banner waved in opposition. Each time, the subtext was that the dirty, lazy, drunk Mexicans/Irish/Poles/Germans/Chinese/blacks were coming to steal all the white women and “break down the white Christian male power structure.”

As if that would be so awful.


  1. #1 Donald Wolberg
    June 3, 2007

    Alas, if it were that simple. The current debate regarding illegals in the U.S. is far more complex than a simple case of xenophobic response. The ramifications are economic, political, structural in a societal sense as well as historic, security issues abound, and there are results that will be amazingingly expensive in all kinds of ways. Were it only as simple as you suggest, there might be a speedy resolution. The perspective from Kansas may differ from that of other parts of the Nation. Certainly the discussion is worthwhile. Regards to Len Krishtalka by the way.

  2. #2 Mike C.
    June 3, 2007

    My email correspondent (who cited a bunch of numbers from hate group VDARE, about which more later

    Yes, if you have a problem with VDARE’s actual data, please let us know.

    No one can deny that Latin American immigrants, legal or illegal, have a serious work ethic.

    They have a Third World work ethic. You can find such desperate people raised in countries without any social safety net all around the world. The problem is that not all of them transmit a good work ethic to their children because their own adherence to hard work may not go much deeper than Third World desperation. Hispanics are several times more likely to be on welfare than whites, for instance. They also perform poorly as students over the course of multiple generations, indicating an “academic hard work” isn’t there either.

    No adherence to a great work ethic in one generation can possibly compensate a lack of a hard work ethic in all subsequent generations. Especially not in this day and age when our economy is driven by educated people rather than hard working but uneducated people.

    Furthermore, Latinos vote.

    No, I’m afraid they don’t vote that much. Even taking into account their age demographics and the illegal status of many Hispanics. So, if encouraging further erosion of civic involvement is your goal then, by all means, lets have more Hispanic immigration. Steve Sailer, who lived in a very diverse neighborhood in Chicago at one point, wrote an interesting article about the effects of diversity on civic and community involvement.

    They follow the same basic pattern as previous waves of immigration, and in each of those waves, “heritage” was the banner waved in opposition.

    If only it were true. As I pointed out to you in our email exchange, even fourth generation Mexican-Americans are nowhere near assimilated to average American (let alone white) educational and economic norms. I guess we can just stick our heads in the sand and ignore it and hope that it will magically go away. California tried that for a long time. California used to be one of the top states for public education, nowadays it is down near the bottom in numerous metrics along with Louisiana and Mississippi.

  3. #3 llewelly
    June 3, 2007

    You left out the fact that the American economy has always depended on dirt cheap immigrant labor.

    The service sector and the agricultural sector will never willingly give up illegal immigration, because they are not required to treat illegal immigrants like human beings.

  4. #4 kamimushinronsha
    June 3, 2007

    Actually Donald it is that simple, you can’t point to a time in American history when immigrants caused damage to our economy, politics, or societal structures. They have been coming here since this country was founded, and it’s only become a better place to live since then. Why don’t we ask the native Americans how they feel about illegal immigration? I bet they have a slightly different view of it.

  5. #5 Donald Wolberg
    June 4, 2007

    Wow;l these all these conflicting positions and historical expertise; makes one’s head swim. Unfortunately, the issues and history are complex and allowing naive political agendas to replace analysis is plain silly. But, for just a little silly: one wonders why someone would lean on the need for cheap stoop labor as a reason to make social policy…hmmm. As I recall a very outspoken opponent of illegals was Caesar Chavez,as he was organizing farm workers. Illegals are undereducated compared to the population as a whole…simple fact. Perhaps 60% or more do not have a High School education and their availability for upward mobility is limited and places astonishing stresses on community care infrastructure now. That record of closed hospitals, school costs that have escalated are well documented and were before the release of the Heritage Foundation study. Chavez warned of these impcts decades ago. A read of that study and the projected economic impacts are worth the effort.

    The influx of immigrants to the U.S., largely in the mid- and late 19th century was only 12-15 million in total numbers over decades,. The state of the economy was far different and largely (80%) rural and agricultural. Society was on the verge of industrialization and the explosion in manufacturing provided ever expanding employment opportunities with all the resulting progress, problems and complex societal effects. It was different than now. The current situation is base in that there is no intention other than to provide cheap, unskilled, largely uneducated labor of use to a few industries. Others far wiser have warned of the creation of another underclass.

    The use of “Native American” for a political edge (illegal immigrants) is similarly silly and does not reflect that complex reality–there have always been waves of new peoples entering this hemisphere. More importantly, it has nothing to do with the current life situation of prosperity in the tribal structure based on energy ownership, casino development and enormous land holdings. It would be ironic indeed to see the illegals working the hotels and casinos as unskilled housekeeping.

    Thereis also the “other” sociological impact of significance. That includes the reduction in political clout of the Black Amnericans as they are swamped by an influx into quasi-legitimacy of the new Latino mass. The numbers included in the expected “reunited” extended families will be larger than the total African-American population. Latinos are now 13% of the population, African-Americans 12% and that will change so that Latinos will exceed 25% and African-Americans will likely fall to less than 10%, possibly 8% of the new total population.

    (But, as I recall, and as an aside the Bering portal was an equal opportunity doorway, and now it appears “others” arrived as well—can we spell Kennewick, that broadens that initial anthropological picture of the peopling of this hemisphere. More exciting is the fact that Clovis had antecedents, perhaps from the other direction with lowered sealevels.)

    No one has addressed environmental and resource issues, for example. U.S. population exceeds 300 million with a doubling time of 45 years. Will it matter if by just natural population growth, the U.S. is 600 million by 2050 or so. Are there concerns for open space, pollution, water resources, growth of government, food resources, energy needs, social fabric, etc.,? If there is an add on of another 12-15 million with an immediate growth of twice that so that the base is not 300 million but 345 million and those that will still stream to the U.S., I suggest that doubling time may be reduced to 30 years. Thus, by 2037, the U.S will reach 600 million and 1.2 billion (the present population of India) by 2067. Now that really will be a problem.

  6. #6 Tony
    June 4, 2007

    This series on immigration has been fantastic . . . Also, I really enjoy the stuff that you’ve written regarding your family, related to the subject. Honestly, I’m floored (in a good way) by some of the conclusions and connections you’ve drawn. Really great stuff!!!

  7. #7 Josh Rosenau
    June 4, 2007

    Donald, I agree that the issue of immigration is more complex than the narrow point I’m making here. My beef here is with the use of rhetoric about American heritage, as if that were a monolithic concept which (Latino) immigrants could not possibly be part of. At best, it’s a distraction. At worst, it’s dishonest code for xenophobia (see O’Reilly’s comment above).

  8. #8 melott
    June 4, 2007

    The core issue here is whether the world, much of which has out of control population growth rates, can dump its excess population in those areas which have achieved some control. (If it were not for immigration, the US would have achieved replacement-rate birth rates). The issue is, alas, obscured by big business, which can get away by paying substandard wages to illegals, and certain religious organizations which stand to gain lots of new members by uncontrolled immigration.

  9. #9 logtar
    June 4, 2007


    I am an immigrant and I am very pleased with what you wrote here. I think that you are looking at the issue of the “heritage” like it needs to be looked at. I am sure that we might not agree with other issues about immigration but I think your writings about heritage are dead on.