Today's date:
Spring 2004

Huntington and the Mask of Racism

Carlos Fuentes, the Mexican novelist, is a member of NPQ’s advisory board. Translation by Thomas D. Morin, Professor of Hispanic Studies, University of Rhode Island, Kingston.

Mexico City—“The best Indian is a dead Indian.” “The best nigger is a nigger slave.” “The yellow threat.” “The red threat.” The Puritanism one finds at the base of WASP culture (White, Anglo Saxon, and Protestant) in the United States of America expresses itself, from time to time, with shocking color. Now, another of these forceful and freely expressed simplistic ideas can be added to the colorful expressions already mentioned: “The Brown Menace.”

The proponent of this idea is Professor Samuel P. Huntington, the tireless voice of alarm with respect to the menace that the idea of the “other” represents for the foundational soul of white, protestant, Anglo-Saxon United States of America. That there existed (and, still, exists) an indigenous-“America” (Huntington uses the United States as a name for the entire continent) prior to the European colonization is of no concern to him. That besides Anglo-America, there existed a prior French-“America” (Louisiana) and, even, a Russian-America (Alaska) is of no interest to Huntington. What worries him is Hispanic-America, the America of Ruben Dario, the America that speaks Spanish and believes in God. For Huntington, this brown danger is an indispensable danger for a nation that requires, in order to exist, an identifiable external menace. Moby Dick, the white whale, is a symbol of this attitude which, fortunately, not all North Americans share, including John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the North American nation, who warned his countrymen: “Let us not go out into the world in search of monsters to destroy.”

Huntington, in his Clash of Civilizations, discovers his necessary external monster (once the USSR and “the red danger” disappeared) in an Islam poised to assault the borders of Western Civilization, in an attempt to outdo the feats of Saladino, the Sultan, who captured Jerusalem in 1187. As a result, Huntington outdoes the Christian Crusade of Richard the Lion Hearted in the Holy Land. Huntington the Lion Hearted’s anti-Islamic Crusade expresses the profound racism in his heart and, in similar manner, his profound ignorance of the true kulturkampf evident in the Islamic world. Islam is not poised to invade the West. Islam is living, from Algeria to Iran, its own cultural and political battle between conservatives and Islamic liberals. It is a vertical battle, deep within, not a horizontal one of expansion.

The Mexican as exploiter | Huntington’s new crusade is directed against Mexico and the Mexicans that live, work, and enrich life in the northern nation. As far as Huntington is concerned, Mexicans do not live—they invade; they do not work—they exploit; and, they do not enrich—they impoverish, since poverty is part a Mexican’s natural condition. All of this, when taking into account the number of Mexicans and Latin Americans in the United States, constitutes a cultural threat for that which Huntington dares to mention: the Anglo-American, Protestant, and Anglo speaking white race.

Are Mexicans invading the US? No, they are simply obeying the laws of the job market. There are job offers for Mexicans because there is a North American labor need. If some day, there were to exist full employment in Mexico, the US would have to find cheap labor from another country for the jobs whites, Saxons, and Protestants—naming them as does Huntington—do not want to fill, since they have either surpassed these levels of employment, or because they have grown old, due to the fact that the economy of the US has passed from the industrial period, to the post-industrial, technological, information age.

Do Mexicans exploit the US? According to Huntington, Mexicans constitute an unjust burden for the US economy: they receive more than they give back.

All of this is false. California earmarks a billion dollars a year to educate the children of immigrants. But if it were to do otherwise—listen up, Schwarzenegger—the state would lose $16 billion a year in federal aid to education. Similarly, Mexican migrant workers pay $29 billion a year more in taxes than the services they receive.

The Mexican immigrant, far from being an impoverishing burden, as assumed by Huntington, creates wealth for all economic levels. At the most humble worker level, the expulsion of Mexican immigrants would be ruinous for the US. John Kenneth Galbraith (the kind of North American that Huntington cannot be) writes the following: “ If all the undocumented people in the US were to be expelled, the effect on the North American economy...would be nothing less than disastrous...Fruit and vegetables in Florida, Texas and California would not be harvested. The price of food products would rise to incredible levels. The Mexican people that want to come to the US are necessary, and clearly add to everyone’s well-being.” (The Nature of Mass Poverty)

On another level, the Hispanic migrant, as Gregory Rodriguez, from Pepperdine University, tells us, has the highest number of salaried individuals per family than any other ethnic group. So, too, is his level of family cohesiveness. The result is that, while the father of the family may have arrived barefoot and soaking wet, the descendents of migrants have attained income levels comparable to those of Asian and Caucasian laborers. By the second and third generation, 55 percent of Hispanic households are owners of their own homes, compared to 71 percent of white households and 44 percent of black households.

I would like to add to the figures given by Professor Rodriguez the fact that in Los Angeles County alone, the number of businesses created by Hispanic migrants rose from 57,ooo in 1987 to 210,ooo last year. Since 1990, the purchasing power of Hispanics has risen 65 percent. Furthermore, the Hispanic American economy in the US generates almost $400 billion a year—more than the Gross National Product of Mexico.

Do we Hispanics exploit or contribute, Mr. Huntington?

Mexican Balkanization | According to Huntington, the sheer numbers and customs of Mexican migrants will end up Balkanizing the US. North American unity has absorbed the European immigrant (including Jew and Arabs, who are not specifically mentioned by Huntington) because the immigrant of old, such as Chaplin in the movie of the same name, came from Europe, crossed the ocean and being white and Christian assimilated quickly into Anglo-Saxon culture and forgot his language and native customs, something which might surprise the Italians in The Godfather and the Central Europeans in The Deer Hunter.

No. Only the Mexicans and the Hispanics, in general, are separatists. These people have conspired to create a separate Hispanic American nation, the soldiers of a re-conquest of the territories lost in the Mexican-American War of 1848.

If we were to turn the page over, we would find English to be the most spoken Western language. Does Huntington ever think that this fact reveals to all a silent North American invasion of the entire world? Would we Mexicans, Chileans, French, Egyptians, Japanese and Hindi be justified in prohibiting English to be spoken in our respective countries? To stigmatize the Spanish language as a divisive, practically subversive, factor demonstrates the racist, divisive and provocative spirit of Professor Huntington.

To speak a second (or a third or fourth language) is a sign of culture throughout the world excepting, it would seem, in the Monolingual Eden invented by Huntington. To establish the requirement of a second language in the US (as occurs in Mexico and in France) would eliminate the Satanic effects that Huntington attributes to the language of Cervantes. Hispanic speakers in the US do not form impenetrable nor aggressive groups. They adapt themselves rapidly to English and, at times, conserve the use of Spanish, thus, enriching the accepted multiethnic and multicultural character of the US.

All in all, mono-lingualism is a curable disease. Many of us Latin Americans speak English without fear of being contaminated. Huntington presents us with an image of the US as a fearful trembling giant attacked by Spanish speakers. His tactic is fear of the “other,” so favored by fascist mentalities.

No: The Mexican and the Hispanic, in general, contribute to the wealth of the US. They give more than they receive. They wish to integrate themselves in the North American nation. They attenuate the cultural isolationism that has led the governments in Washington to so many disastrous international situations. They advocate a political diversification that has been brought about by Afro Americans, Native American, the Irish, Poles, Russians and Italians, Swedes and Germans, Arabs and Jews.

The Mexican menace | Huntington brings to the fore a musty anti-Mexican racism that I knew, all to well, as a child studying in the North American capital. The Volume Library, a one volume encyclopedia published in 1928 in New York, said the following: “One reason for Mexican poverty is the predominance of its racial inferiority.” “No dogs nor Mexicans allowed,” read the signs written on numerous restaurant facades in Texas during the Thirties. Today, the Latino electorate is seduced with mixed phrases in Spanish by many candidates, among them Gore and Bush during the last electoral process. It is an electoral campaign tactic (similar to Bush’s recent migration proposal).

But for us, Mexicans, Spaniards and Hispanic Americans, what is certain is that language is a factor of pride and unity. Five hundred million men and women speak Spanish around the world. But, it is not a fear factor, nor a menace. If Huntington fears the Hispanic Balkanization of the US and wishes to blame Latin American for its incapacity to establish democratic governments and economic development, we, at least, have lived without nationalistic separatisms since the dawn of Independence.

Perhaps what unites us is what Huntington believes disunites: the multicultural nature of the Spanish language. As Hispanic Americans and Spanish speakers, we are, also, Indo-European and Afro-American. We are the descendants of one nation, Spain, which cannot be understood without its racial multiplicity and Celt-Iberian, Greek, Phoenician, Roman, Arabic, Judaic, Gothic linguistic system. We speak a language with Celt-Iberian followed by Latin roots, enriched by a good portion of Arabic words and set in place by the Jews of the 13th century in the court of Alphonse the Wise.

With all we have mentioned, we are winners, not losers. The loser is Huntington, isolated in his imaginary land of Anglo speaking, white and Protestant racial purity. Even, if, in a curiously benevolent way, he offers his space to “Christianism.” Most assuredly, Israel and Islam are menaces to be equally condemned as are Mexico and Hispanic America, and, by extension today’s Spain, for their undesirable incursions into the old territories of Huntington’s Kingdom.

An idle question: Who will become the next Moby Dick of Captain Ahab Huntington?