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Western Cultural Suicide
We are blind to the contradictions in welcoming an immigrant but not making him one of us.


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Victor Davis Hanson

These cultural hypocrisies are not always violent, and they do not always involve fundamentalist Muslims waging jihad against their own adopted nations. In June 2011 the United States national soccer team played the Mexican national team in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena before a supposedly “home” crowd. Instead, the Americans were continually booed by the pro-Mexican fans of Pasadena. The L.A. Times account of the event quoted U.S. resident Victor Sanchez explaining the booing of Americans by fellow U.S. residents in this way: “I love this country, it has given me everything that I have, and I’m proud to be part of it. But yet, I didn’t have a choice to come here, I was born in Mexico, and that is where my heart will always be.” But obviously Mr. Sanchez as an adult residing in a free country does have a choice — he could return to Mexico, where his heart could at last find rest. Was Mr. Sanchez’s problem that once he had screamed for the Mexican national team while in Oaxaca, he would still have been in Oaxaca?

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We understand the notions of both ethnic pride and hyphenated Americanism, but many of us are still bewildered about contradictory impulses: the emotional need to display Mexican decals on cars and hang Mexican flags on houses and businesses — or boo an American team at a soccer match — coupled with equally heated expressions of outrage that anyone might suggest that those who broke American law in coming to the United States would ever have to return where their hearts would “always be.” That paradox is the most disturbing — and ignored — aspect of the immigration debate: the contradictory impulse to fault the United States for a litany of sins (exploitation, racism, xenophobia, nativism) without commensurate attention to why any newcomer would wish to reside in a place that is so clearly culpable. Has anyone ever heard an immigration activist, as part of his argument for amnesty, explain why so many Mexicans do not like living in Mexico and must leave their homeland, or, alternatively, why the United States is such an attractive alternative that it demands such existential risks to reach it? How strange that most of the elites who resent ideas like the melting pot and assimilation are often those who most successfully have abandoned the protocols of the way life is lived in Mexico.

America was born as an immigrant nation. It went through many periods of nearly unlimited immigration, coupled with xenophobic backlashes when particular groups — Germans, Jews, Irish, Mexicans, or Poles — came in such numbers and so abruptly that the traditional powers of assimilation were for a time overwhelmed. But the eras of ethnic ghettoes and tribal separatism were usually brief, given the inclusive popular culture and official government efforts to overwhelm identification with the home country. Yet now, when we talk grandly of the “Latino vote,” are we assuming something in perpetuity that will not go the way of the Civil War–era “German vote” or the turn-of-the-century “Irish vote” — because the United States will no longer insist on full assimilation, or because immigration from Latin America will continue to be massive and in contradiction of federal immigration law?

Sociologists and psychologists can adduce all sorts of reasons for an immigrant’s contradictory behavior, whether the lethal kind of the Tsarnaevs or the more benign expression of the tens of thousands in the Rose Bowl. It is tough being a newcomer in any country, and tribal or religious affinities serve to offer familiarity and by extension pride to one who is otherwise alienated from contemporary culture.

More practically, in the last half-century, having some identity other than white Christian made one a member of a growing “Other” that could level grievances against the surrounding culture that might result in advantages in hiring or college admission — or at least in a trendy ethnic cachet.

What happened to create such fissures among America’s diverse tribes? At no time in our history have so many Americans been foreign born. Never have so many foreign nationals resided in America, and never have so many done so illegally. Yet at just such a critical time, in our universities and bureaucracies, the pressures to assimilate in melting-pot fashion have been replaced by salad-bowl separatism — as if the individual can pick and choose which elements of his adopted culture he will embrace, which he will reject, as one might croutons or tomatoes. But ultimately he can do that because he senses that the American government, people, press, and culture reward such opportunism and have no desire, need, or ability to defend the very inherited culture that has given them the leeway to ignore it and so attracted others from otherwise antithetical paradigms.

That is a prescription for cultural suicide, if not by beheading or by a pressure cooker full of ball bearings, at least by making the West into something that no one would find very different from his homeland.

Is not that the ultimate paradox: The solution to the sort of violence we saw in Britain and Sweden the past week, or to the endless acrimony over “comprehensive immigration reform,” is that the Western hosts will so accede to multiculturalism that the West will be no longer unique — and therefore no longer a uniquely desirable refuge for its present legions of schizophrenic admiring critics. If the immigrant from Oaxaca can recreate Oaxaca in Tulare, or the Pakistani second-generation British subject can carve out Sharia in the London boroughs, or a suburb of Stockholm is to be like in one in Damascus, then would there be any reason to flee to Tulare, London, or Stockholm?

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals is just out from Bloomsbury Books.

 



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