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Mexifornia: A State of Becoming

Mexifornia: A State of Becoming

3.5 11
by Victor Davis Hanson

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In this revised and updated edition, Mexifornia examines the predicament of those vigorous, ambitious Mexicans that make California strong but who are hurt by inadequate policies that damage them and this country. Ultimately, Hanson hopes that our traditions of assimilation, integration and intermarriage can yet remedy the immigration crisis that continues to grow


In this revised and updated edition, Mexifornia examines the predicament of those vigorous, ambitious Mexicans that make California strong but who are hurt by inadequate policies that damage them and this country. Ultimately, Hanson hopes that our traditions of assimilation, integration and intermarriage can yet remedy the immigration crisis that continues to grow and shape America's future.

Editorial Reviews

The Los Angeles Times
Hanson's primary worry is steadily rising illegal immigration into a welfare state with expanding entitlements and waning commitment to the history and virtues of Western civilization, an admittedly imperfect, coercive consensus that nonetheless held together a uniquely successful, multiethnic nation. The emerging Mexifornia is becoming "not quite Mexico and not quite America either." — Frederick R. Lynch

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Encounter Books
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6.28(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.76(d)

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A State of Becoming


Copyright © 2003 Victor Davis Hanson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1893554732

Chapter One

about Mexican Immigration?

Despite its Statue of Liberty, recitations of Emma Lazarus's poetry, and melting-pot imagery, America has always struggled with issues of immigration-mostly when it was a matter of the poor, dispossessed non-Anglos or non-Protestants coming in by the millions. Boatloads of refugees were denied entrance to the United States during the Holocaust. Starving Irish were compared to lower primates and denied employment; Italians were demeaned as little more than criminals; Poles were dismissed as stupid menials fit only for unskilled labor. As for "Oriental" immigration, there is no need to talk of it, since whole university departments now exist to explore the racism of the "Yellow Peril."

North America was originally settled largely by northern Europeans-English, Germans, Scandinavians, French and Dutch-who came as farmers and settlers in the late seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries and set the cultural protocols, so in effect they enjoyed a head start in adaptation, which later arrivals have not had. But even then, there was prejudice from an entrenched Anglo-Saxon elite; my grandfather's Swedish family came en masse to California to help found the town of Kingsburg (near Selma), the idea being that only within a colony of similar "stupid square-heads" could Swedes be left alone to prosper.

The second wave of immigrants-southern Europeans, Asians, Irish and Latinos-encountered an entrenched dominant culture of mostly Anglo- and northern-European Protestants, and suffered accordingly. Entire libraries document the plight of these aggrieved arrivals and their strange century-long metamorphosis from the despised "other" into the accepted majority of "whites"-as their growing incomes slowly washed away their racial and religious differences.

In a narrow sense, the mass arrival of millions of poor Mexicans is not all that different from the great influx of other groups who were poor and not northern European. We see now some of the same evolutionary signs that appeared in the nineteenth century: one to two generations of poverty and frequent degradation, followed by a generation of middle-class Mexican-Americans intermarrying with other groups and moving into traditional suburbs. Between 1995 and 2000, Hispanic income on average grew 27 percent-a rate of growth faster than that of any other minority group-as a virtually new class of assimilated and affluent Mexican-Americans arose. Their culture was now indistinguishable from the majority culture, and thus their ethnicity was quickly redefined as more or less "white," as had happened to Greeks, Italians, Armenians and Punjabis before them.

Yet the old assimilationist model-still secretly admired, but publicly ridiculed-is working efficiently for only a minority of new immigrants, given their enormous numbers and the peculiar circumstances of immigration from Mexico in the last half-century. So what accounts for the stubborn resistance to assimilation, besides the increased numbers and our own lack of confidence in the melting pot? What makes Mexican immigrants so different even from the recently arrived Armenians, Chinese, Russians or Laotians?

Why, for example, do my second-generation Asian students often speak little Lao or Korean, date non-Asians, become hyper-American in their tastes and prejudices, and worry (often openly and rudely) about the sheer numbers of Mexican people who speak poor English, show few professional skills, and are overrepresented in our jails? And why do my Mexican-American students, even those of nearly 100 percent Indian heritage, face hostility from their own ethnic communities when they assimilate, speak perfect English, and prefer Latin and Greek literature to Chicano studies, attend the annual classics picnic but not the separate Latino graduation ceremony, and consider themselves about as Mexican as I see myself Swedish?


The obvious explanation is the closeness of Mexico, only a short drive to the south rather than oceans away. You can leave Los Angeles and be across the border in about three hours. That geographical nearness-the fact that the richest economy in the world is but a stone's throw from one of the most backward-has always been unfortunate for the Mexican arrival. It is hard to dream of a society further removed from a Mexican ghetto or rural village than is a California suburb. Had Mexicans flocked to Costa Rica, or had New Zealanders rushed into Los Angeles, the present problems of both hosts and guests would be nonexistent. Instead, a young man leaves his pueblo in Yucatan where cattle are starving for lack of fodder, and in two or three days he is mowing, bagging and dumping fescue grass in the most leisured and affluent suburb in America.

Moreover, for the campesino from Mexico there is little physical amputation from the mother country. In contrast, most other arrivals to California found the trip here a psychological guillotine. Their motherland-the Philippines, China, Japan, Basque Spain, Armenia, the Punjab-was cut clean off and discarded. The traditional homesick immigrant was now barricaded in his new homeland by thousands of miles of ocean, with little hope of returning to the Old Country every few months, and thus had to deal with Americans. For the Mexican immigrant, by contrast, the Rio Grande is no ocean, but a trickle easily crossed by a drive over a tiny bridge. A limited visitation, a family reunion-but usually not a permanent return-nourished enough nostalgia for Mexico to war with the creation of a truly American identity.

Most earlier mass migrations were also largely one- or two-time affairs-explosive eruptions rather than a steady flow. The Irish came mainly in the decades after the great mid-nineteenth-century famines, but rarely arrive in any great numbers today. Jews once fled the pogroms of Russia and Eastern Europe, but no longer immigrate as whole communities. The Cubans came in the hundreds of thousands after the fall of Batista, but after a mere forty years living in their Little Havana they are becoming assimilated and Americanized. Some Floridians may complain that their state's culture resembles Cuba, but in fact because there have not been hundreds of thousands arriving yearly from Cuba, the expatriate Cuban community is doomed-albeit slowly and almost invisibly-to lose its language and culture.

There is also a reason why the white minority in Miami, unlike its equivalent in Los Angeles, is envious of Latinos, and that revolves around the community's undeniable commercial success-a phenomenon not entirely explained by the old generalization that "Cuban immigrants were middle-class refugees and Mexican newcomers were not." Instead, the astute Cuban-American must admit privately, "Thank God for the island of Cuba and for Castro himself, which barred the way back and cut us loose on our own here." Mexicans, on the other hand, migrate by simply walking across a porous border, steadily replenishing the Hispanic community in the United States with fresh aliens who strengthen ties with the world south of the border. Consequently, even after twenty years, 8 out of 10 never become naturalized American citizens-a statistic essentially impossible for expatriate Cubans who fled Castro's communism.

But again, the heart of the problem in California is always the truth we know versus the lie we speak. The reality is that, despite the grandiose boasts, the protestations of undying allegiance and the menacing outbursts of national pride, few immigrants ever really want to return to Mexico. Very few wish to live as they did in Mexico, to live with others who remain part of Mexico-in other words, to be a Mexican in Mexico rather than a Mexican in California. It is one thing to receive treatment and care from a Los Angeles oncologist and chemotherapist, quite another to endure a growing tumor in central Mexico. Professors of Chicano studies here fret about the loss of Spanish, the rising rates of intermarriage and the steady erosion of a "Chicano identity"; yet none wish to replenish their roots by moving their families to rural Mexico and a world of untreated sewage, parasite-infested water and herbalists standing in for cardiologists.

The more sober observers of all races know that if Mexico were separated from the border by a hundred miles of ocean, the so-called minority problem in California would vanish within a generation or two. As it now stands, the constant stream of new arrivals means that for each assimilated Mexican, there are always several more who are not. Unlike Southeast Asians, who came all at once to California and from thousands of miles away following the disaster in Vietnam, Mexicans have had no opportunity to mature together and slowly evolve as a distinct cohort into Americans.

In fact, the opposite is true. An Italian or a Jew knew that if he did not learn English and the American system, he was going to be left behind as his peers pressed ahead. A Mexican in California senses that if he fails to integrate into mainstream American society, there will always be thousands more newcomers like himself who will know almost nothing about the United States, and thus by sheer numbers join him in a viable expatriate culture. A Pole once accepted that she would perpetually stumble through the Cleveland phone book if she kept speaking Polish; a Mexican accepts as a given that Pacific Bell will double the size of its directory assistance just to accommodate her Spanish.


Race-could it be any other way in contemporary America?-is often cited as the most critical issue blocking the aspirations of Hispanics. The standard doctrine, promulgated by university ethnic studies departments, is well known: Mexicans were never able to morph as easily into "whites" as did the discriminated-against Jews or Irish simply because, like African-Americans, they were a people of a darker color and thus, throughout the long brutal history of the Southwest, were deemed inferior by the racist white majority. Indeed, who can deny the sometimes shameful exploits of the Texas Rangers or the visceral contempt that the great southwestern cattle barons had for the Mexican menial laborer whom he treated little better than his cows?

The problem with the accepted dogma is not that it is entirely false-thousands of racist writings and years of official biased protocol can indeed be used to substantiate such a view-but that it is only a partial explanation for Mexican disappointments, and in any case it belongs largely to the past. If only skin color can ensure entrée into American society, how have Arabs, Koreans, Armenians and Japanese found parity with, and in many cases economic superiority over, the traditional white majority? Jet-black Punjabis, for example, are prominent in the professions of central California-medicine, law, agribusiness and academia-oblivious to the fact that their hue is often darker than that of African-Americans. Asians have a higher per capita income than California whites.

Thus the challenge is not to identify racism, but to assess the degree to which it or its legacy can affect a people today. Punjabis historically have not always been treated nicely in America, but they come from thousands of miles across a wide ocean with identifiable skills, close family networks, some English proficiency, a willingness to learn more, and a tradition of entrepreneurship, all of which seem to make race irrelevant. In fact, their ebony children who attend elite universities are not eligible for affirmative action. If anything, the University of California subtly and off the record looks askance at their overrepresentation-and this is an institution that already has been publicly rebuked for using de facto quotas in turning away qualified Asians from its Berkeley campus. Californians are increasingly cynical and sense that affirmative action and special preferences are based neither on skin color nor on patterns of past discrimination, but simply are tied clumsily to a particular minority's failure to match the perceived economic performance of whites.

Koreans, likewise, are as "unwhite" as Mexicans; yet their culture puts a premium on business, education and family, not government largess. Like the Punjabi immigrants of today, and like the Japanese, Chinese and Armenian immigrants of the past, they have shrugged off the worst sorts of racial prejudices. So far, Mexican-American citizens have not been interned; nor have they been blown to bits while building railroads; nor have they suffered a holocaust by an invading Islamic power-disasters that did not stop the Japanese, Chinese and Armenians from reaching per capita economic parity with the majority in California. These other immigrants were at the end of their migrant odysseys and more likely to ponder the present and the future than to live in the past. I suppose "Don't get mad, get even" was thematic among these other victims of American racism and oppression. In my hometown of Selma, Armenians were zoned out of particular neighborhoods in the 1920s and were refused entry to the municipal swimming pool. Yet in two generations their capital and influence ensured that their homes and their private pools were the town's largest and most envied.

No Armenian today, despite skin color with a higher melanin content than that of the average white, claims to be "a person of color." Most Japanese do not either. "A person of color" does not necessarily mean that someone is, in fact, "colored" in any real sense; the term is largely absent among communities of dark Punjabis, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and a host of brown and olive peoples. Instead, the nomenclature advertises that the self-described minority has deliberately defined himself in opposition to whatever "white" culture is-either out of real pride, justified anger, petty hurt, racial hatred or simple crass opportunism. And in a state rapidly growing more multiracial, we will soon need racial rubrics like those of the old Confederacy, backed by new-age genetic tracking, to figure out who exactly is "a person of color" one-third, one-half or one-sixteenth nonwhite blood?

In any case, money has always eventually trumped race in America. The truism that race matters above all is forgotten when people of color earn more or become better educated than white people, but it returns with a vengeance when they remain isolated, poor and dependent. For all our boutique hatred of the moneyed classes, we accept that American plutocracy is a far more fluid system of opportunity than entrenched European or Asian hierarchies of class, color, ancestry and education.


Excerpted from Mexifornia by VICTOR DAVIS HANSON Copyright © 2003 by Victor Davis Hanson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Mexifornia: A State of Becoming 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Politically inkorrect to the Liberal masses, this book hits the nail on the head. Accurately portraying present day California where society and education discriminates against the intelligent and the hardworking in favor of the unskilled masses. Mexifornia is slightly ahead of 3rd world Mexico and far, far, far less than the USA of old. It's living proof of what happens when those living on welfare 'entitlement' outnumber those barely able to pay the taxes to support them. However it fails to address the issue of why a minority should work their behinds off to pay (in taxes) for a majority to sit on theirs. This is a must-read for anyone planning to stay in California.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Victor Davis Hanson is a college professor, part time farmer raised on a Central Valley farm, and most controversially, something of a guru to neocons. In this book, he discusses something closer to home: the mass immigration of low-skilled, low wage Mexican labor into his state and country. This book is not apologies for illegal immigration. It's not a white supremacist or xenophobic tirade. It's a brief reminiscence and analysis of the costs of immigration by a man who was raised and lives with and among immigrants, both legal and illegal. The chief problems, Hanson believes, are multiculturalism and bilingual education, which not only promote cultural disunity, but actually retard the prosperity and upward mobility of immigrants as well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hanson expresses little hostility for Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. He grew up in a small farming town where most of his friends and neighbors were--and still are--Mexican immigrants. The author understands that most Mexicans who went through the assimilation process in the 1950s and 1960s are industrious, proud citizens who went on to contribute much to American society. He also recognizes that many of the illegal aliens who arrive in California today are industrious individuals who likely would go on to become proud citizens with much to offer their adopted country. Understanding Hanson's background and views of Mexicans should immediately banish the label of 'racist' to the garbage bin. He's definitely not a supremacist or a separatist. He is, however, gravely concerned with the present state of federal immigration policy and how both the political right and left view the millions of poor illegals flowing into the country. According to Hanson, the pro-business right sees opposition to undocumented immigrants as nativist and isolationist, and the left views critics of the immigration imbroglio in similar terms, labeling anyone who dares support a tighter border a racist and a hater. Hanson rejects both of these arguments as cynical emanations from a small cadre of special interests that have a lot to gain from exploiting the poor Mexicans entering this country. We better go back to a pro-assimilationist culture, argues Hanson, or we're all in grave trouble. If we refuse to deal with this problem, the author claims, California will turn into 'Mexifornia,' a country that is neither Mexico nor California but a nation that exhibits the worst of both cultures. Considering social movements in California often foreshadow trends in the rest of the country, the rest of our states will become Mexifornias if something isn't done to stymie the flow of illegals and prevent the continued exploitation of generation after generation of those immigrants. Hanson's book is must reading for anyone concerned about the reckless immigration policies foisted upon us by the government. We need to change our border policy for ourselves and for those people who come here seeking a better life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The proof that this book is an accurate, informative and penetrating examination of the realities of immigrant life in California is found in the telltale histrionics of some critiques. Mr Hanson has delivered us a valuable and truly insightful analysis; readers genuinely interested in the subject would do well to take in what he has to report.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book because it was recommended by a friend. It did not fan the flame of racial hatred. On the contrary I came away with the feeling of anger and repulsion, not toward illegal immigrants, but towards the business people who exploit them and those who profit from their illegal immigration. This book was written from the experiences of and from the perspective of one man. It may not be politically correct but it is offers a view often ignored by the liberal media and educational institutions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I find it hard to understand what one reviewer here has said about Hanson not recognizing 'structural barriers.' Hanson has an entire chapter on the difficulties faced by Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Hanson is a California farmer and educator immersed in the immigration problem. His call, contary to the extreme misreading of his detractors, is for reasonable dialogue that confronts the immigration dilemma head-on, rather than perpetuating the entrenched mouthing off on both sides. Hanson favors neither the smug business interests who wish to acquire cheap labor nor the race hustlers who see any criticism of illegal aliens as off-limits. 'Mexifornia' has as its thesis that the way things are going, the immigration problem will exponentially get worse. Hanson argues that it's urgent for us to decide what we 'want' to do about the issue, since the business owners and race hustlers are content to essentially avoid facing the problem. The book is about as far from biased as it gets, and Hanson's detractors need to understand that no-nonsense prose can also be compassionate toward the illegal immigrants in question.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book outlines the point of ILLEGAL immigration. The people of California are sick and tired paying for illegal immigrants for free medical care, free schooling, and now recently a move to give them voting rights. (Which is against the Constitution and the direction of the Founding Fathers) Illegals' do NOT pay into the tax structure; they don't make enough, so the rest of California has to support them. California can only support so much, and it¿s way out of hand. This book hits it on the head as to the causes and problems with Illegal Immigration. Remove the illegals, deport them, and our tax burden will reduce over 60%. It is wrong to pay illegals $500 per child born here - those children were born under illegal status. Yet the illegals have a LOT of babies because (1) they get free medical care, and (2) they receive $500 in welfare per child - more than they make in the fields picking fruit. This has to stop. This book is excellent for anyone who wants to understand the core problem we in California face with a liberal government.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book begins well, with a clear and courageous analysis of California's immigration dilemma and how/why it is being ignored by our political leaders. Instead of expanding on his analysis, however, the author spends the rest of the book venting about the sorry state of Chicano studies in the California state university system. He also wastes a lot of ink pining for the supposedly lost art of elementary school civics lessons. (I grew up during the same decades in a similar California farming community and did not recognize his romanticized version of education in that era.) I would LOVE to read a well developed explanation of his proposed public policy alternatives. Inexplicably, he devotes only a few sentences at the end of the book to his proposals, leaving the reader to wonder if he really has thought through any solutions to this important problem.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is obvious that Mr. Hanson obviously chose to ignore the structural barriers that help keep recent immigrants employed in minimum wage jobs-the governments' reluctance to take any real measures to stop immigration because it obviously maximizes the profits of American businesses- and the barriers that are implemented to keep minorities at lower socioeconomic status. What I find most striking is that most studies reveal that the vast majority of welfare recipients are white women- which Mr. Hanson forgets to point out- yet he decides to use this statistic to make us believe that majority of welfare recipients are minorities. Also, the ignoring the fact that welfare recipients have to be legal and illegal immigrants are not eligible.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well, well, well, it seems that Samuel P.Huntington has found a like minded playmate. Another vitriolic, histrionic attempt to legitimize racist global economic poicies that solidify America's expansionist plans... First the Muslim menace, now the Mexican Menace-I hope WE DO TAKE THE COUNTRY BACK!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book will be read mostly by people who are looking for a way to justify age-old prejudices and misconceptions about the most recent immigrants to this country. It does not acknowledge that most immigrants work much harder for much less pay--and without the full protection of our labor laws--than many of us whose families have been here for generations. Our economy would collapse without this pool of willing workers who undertake the tasks that many others refuse to even consider doing.