Special Report

Xenophobia, Then and Now

If an immigrant fights for America, isn’t that proof of his assimilation? Not necessarily, according to a descendant of "settlers."

By 6.9.04

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Probably the craziest question I ever got was during my first day of college. Fresh from the big city, there I was, 17, surrounded by corn fields in this little Ohio town that consisted of one Dairy Queen, a plumbing store, and one gas station (and no taverns) and this kid comes up, right out of the blue, and asks me if it's true that I'm a "papist."

I'd never before heard the word "papist," and, up until then, never thought of myself as a minority, or atypical. I hadn't paid any attention to the line in the catalog that described the school as "church related," or that there'd be three days a week of mandatory chapel, plus required religion credits. In any case, it was my first day and I'd learned my first new word.

What that kid wanted to know was whether my primary allegiance was to the United States or to the papacy, whether, as a "Romanist," my first loyalty was to America or Vatican City. In fact, I didn't even know the pope's name (what seemed more important at the time was that we'd just been told about the zero-cars-for-a-year and zero-drinks-for-four-years rules).

Today, some four decades later, one wouldn't expect to hear that kind of nativism and xenophobia on campus, the accusations of disloyalty to America, not even in the cornfields, and especially not in places like Harvard, and especially not from the professorial podium of a top-flight author and scholar in international studies.

Well, one would be wrong. Professor Samuel P. Huntington, Chairman of Harvard University's Academy for International and Area Studies, has hit the publishing jackpot by targeting America's Hispanics as "the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America's traditional identity," a key and deadly threat to "America's core culture."

In his new book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, Huntington describes the "core Anglo-Protestant culture" as including "the Christian religion, Protestant values and moralism, a work ethic, the English language, British traditions of law, justice, and limits of government power, and a legacy of European art, literature, philosophy, and music." Salsa tunes, in short, weren't part of the mix.

Saying that today's immigrants, coming primarily from Latin America, and especially from Mexico, "may assimilate into America society without assimilating the core American culture," Huntington warns that the United States could change into "a culturally bifurcated Anglo-Hispanic society with two national languages," divided into "two peoples with two cultures."

In an interview with Deborah Solomon at the New York Times, Huntington describes how immigration was done right in the good old days: "The Huntingtons arrived in Boston in 1633. Almost all the Huntingtons in the U.S. are descended from Simon and Margaret Huntington, who were part of a group of settlers from Norwich, England, who founded Norwich, Connecticut."

Note that the Huntingtons were "settlers," not immigrants, a distinction that might have been lost on the local Mohegans at the time. "The Founding Fathers were ambivalent about immigration," Huntington tells Solomon. "Would America be the country it has been and still is, pretty much today, if in the 17th and 18th centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish or Portuguese Catholics. The answer is no. It would not be America."

The "assimilation successes of the past are unlikely to be duplicated with the contemporary flood of immigrants from Latin America," writes Huntington, because these new immigrants are "comfortable with their own culture" and fail to "look down on and reject their ancestral language." Huntington cites a study which found that "more than 90 percent of U.S-born people of Mexican origin spoke English fluently," but that's not enough. We won 't be safe, he contends, until everyone who crosses the Rio Grande dreams in the same language as the original Huntingtons: "There is no Americano dream.

"There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English."

Missing from Professor Huntington's account is Jose Gutierrez. An orphan on the streets of Guatemala City, he made his way to California at the age of 14 by walking and jumping freight trains. Brought up in foster homes, he joined the Marines to make money for college. On March 21, 2003, he became the first combat casualty in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was killed in action in southern Iraq, defending the society he worked so hard to reach.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.