Is the United States in danger of losing its identity? Is the culture and creed that have served this country so well for so many years being drowned in a sea of immigrants who are dividing our country into separate and distinct cultures and languages?
Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard thinks so. I agree with Huntington that we have a problem. But we disagree about what it is.
In his new book, "Who Are We?," Huntington explains the history of American success as waves of immigrants assimilating successfully into the prevailing Anglo-Protestant culture and creed established by our Founding Fathers and settlers. He defines this culture to include Protestant values, religious commitment, respect for the law and the English language.
Huntington is concerned that these dynamics today are being lost. The problem, as he sees it, is summarized on the book's jacket: "... national identity has been eroded by the problems of assimilating massive numbers of primarily Hispanic immigrants, bilingualism, multiculturalism, the devaluation of citizenship, and the 'denationalization' of American elites."
I once heard a certain religious zealot described as someone who felt that he was doing what God would be doing if God had all the facts. Along these lines, Huntington seems quite content in reducing what he calls the Anglo-Protestant culture and creed to a handful of buzzwords and then calling this the glue that has held our country together for more than 200 years. Because he is so casual in defining the culture and creed that he wants us to defend, I think Huntington's analysis of our problems misses the boat.
The multiculturalism that troubles Huntington also troubles me. But we differ in that I see this as a problem of internal erosion, not of external invasion. Immigrants from Mexico did not and do not change the core values around which our country was founded and has flourished. It just happens that the wave of Mexican immigration began at a time when we were in the process of eroding these principles ourselves.
The wave of immigration from Mexico began in the late 1960s in the wake of change in our immigration laws in 1965. This was a time when the idea, going back to our founding, that the purpose of government was protection of our core values was actively under siege. Mexican immigrants in the early 1970s arrived in an America that was already far different than the America that Germans, Italians, Irish and Jews found and assimilated into 50 to 100 years earlier.