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.
Government and political expansion galloped away in the 1960s with core traditional values pushed concomitantly to the margins of American public life. The decade began with court decisions prohibiting prayer and Bible reading in public school. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty made unprecedented claims on American minds that government had a role in solving personal problems and struggles. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was turned on its head by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and finally by the Supreme Court, justifying exactly what the Civil Rights Act was passed to stop _ unequal application of law based on racial considerations.
White and black liberals worked together toward an unprecedented politicization of American society. So, in this environment, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund joined the party and lobbied successfully for the creation of a new racial category called "Hispanic." According to historian Paul Johnson, "In 1973 Washington asked the Federal Interagency Committee on Education to produce consistent rules for classifying Americans by ethnicity and race. The FICE produced a five-race classification: American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, Black, White, and Hispanic."
The same hand of government that took prayer and Bible reading out of public schools used civil-rights laws to force non-English-language instruction into the public schools.
Every circumstance has unique characteristics. However, in general, there is nothing at all unique in the characteristics of the Mexicans arriving today in the United States that sets them apart from generations of immigrants that built our country. I actually think that the typical Mexican that leaves the security of home and family and risks life and limb to come to our country to struggle, work and build has more in common with our founding settlers than American-born liberals who work to politicize our lives and displace values with politics and government.
Eternal truths unite all men. They transcend the geographic, racial and ethnic circumstances that make each of us unique. These eternal truths underlie and define the greatness of our free country. It is abuse of government and the politicization of America that divides us, that stands one American against his neighbor, and about which Samuel Huntington and the rest of us should be concerned.
Star Parker is president of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education ( www.urbancure.org ) and author of the recent book, "Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do About It."