A Little More on the Lone Star State
Yes indeed, Rick, I’m conscious that my notes reflect a very Texas-specific experience of immigration (and if I hadn’t been, the emails I’ve been receiving from Southern Californians would have clued me in). But why? Why has the Hispanic influx taken place so much more smoothly in Texas than elsewhere?
Before my trip last week to Cameron County, I’d only heard one explanation that made much sense: That overall welfare benefits are much more modest in Texas than elsewhere, and particularly modest by comparison with benefits here in California, so that Texans recognize that Mexicans travel north only to find work, not to milk the welfare state.
Now another couple of possibilities have occurred to me. The first? Geography. Whereas here in California the vast conurbation of San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles begins just north of the border, in Texas the major cities are all separated from the border by many miles of farms, ranchland, mountains and desert—San Antonio lies 125 miles north of Mexico, Austin 200 miles, Houston 300 miles. Immigrants to Texas may therefore tend to disperse themselves among the agricultural enterprises and small towns of the state’s southern tier, where they can acquire skills and learn English, rather than proceed directly to the big cities to establish dense concentrations of unskilled, Spanish-only ghettoes like those in the Golden State.
The second possibility is that the culture of Texas itself somehow makes things easier. Even now, after all, Texas remains a truly conservative place. Hard work, family life, and a certain manliness are still celebrated. So is the state’s fundamental openness—even now, land is cheap and anyone can aspire to owning his own home. Yes, you’ll need to work hard here, the Texas culture implicitly informs Mexican immigrants. But if you do, everyone here will be quite happy to accept you—and you’ll be able to provide your family with the kind of life that only the tiny upper class can ever achieve back in Mexico itself.
I don’t know whether I’m right about any of this, but it sure seems worth mulling over. Anyone who can figure out why the Hispanic influx doesn’t seem to have caused much trouble in Texas while proving so disruptive in California and elsewhere will have answered a very big question.