But if advocates of comprehensive immigration reform are going to make any headway toward their goals, they're going to have to learn how to speak to those worried about the cultural impact that Mexican immigration is having on communities around the country without calling them racists or reactionaries incapable of coping with modernity.
In a piece last week on small-town America's revolt against the immigration bill, The Washington Post chronicled how elderly residents of Gainesville, Ga., were taken aback by the transformation of their bedroom community by a huge influx of Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrants, parking on the grass, failing to understand how flush toilets work and the like. Of course, the Post couldn't help but point out that the bemused locals still have a monument to "Our Confederate Soldiers." Still, the Post was better than The New York Times, which in an earlier story cast grass-roots opponents as barely one generation removed from the cast of "Deliverance."
Now, the offense some take to the seeming underside of Mexican immigration might seem uncharitable, snobbish or bigoted to Post reporters, senators and editors at the Times, but such people tend to live in buildings or communities that protect themselves from poor working-class Mexican-Americans, and every other kind of poor American to boot (except as the help). Not a lot of Mexican immigrants are going to park on John Kerry's lawn or get approved by Maureen Dowd's condo board.
In France, the French are free to worry about staying French. Indeed, throughout the industrialized world, it's considered normal to talk about one's national character and culture. Nowhere else is the desire to control your border considered an act of bigotry.
Well, "Americanness" is no less real than "Frenchness." But in America, the logic of diversity has completely swamped any conception of Americanness as anything beyond platitudes about "inclusiveness." Worse, Americans who think real inclusiveness requires learning English are told that their kind of inclusiveness is actually exclusionary. This merely exacerbates resentments because such policies are the only surefire way toward assimilation.
The point here is not to say that America has become "too Mexican." Though it's ironic that liberals who see nothing wrong with talking about America, the GOP or various universities as being "too white," "too Christian," or not black or Hispanic enough should recoil in horror at such a thought. Rather it's simply to note that such concerns are normal, human reactions to changes many Americans feel they were never consulted on. How could they be consulted when so much immigration is illegal? Americans are proud of being citizens of the most inclusive country in the world. But is it so outrageous for them to want it to be a bit more of a normal country, too?
This column originally ran in USA Today on July 3.