Thursday, March 04, 2004

The New Republic has an article by Daniel Drezner strongly critiquing Huntington's Foreign Policy article that I discussed recently. Mainly, Drezner and Huntington are looking at the same numbers but seeing different things. For example, Drezner things Huntington shouldn't worry about linguistic assimilation of Mexicans, for, as Huntington himself notes, "English language use and fluency for first- and second-generation Mexicans thus seem to follow the pattern common to past immigrants." Drezner thinks Huntington shouldn't worry: today's immigrants will learn English just as past ones did. I read Huntington as being concerned that Hispanics, regardless their English proficiency, will also remain proficient in Spanish and push us further towards bilingualism. Drezner doesn't really address this point. In addressing another point, he does note that "60 percent of third-generation Mexican-American children speak only English at home," but he fails to put this in the context of corresponding data about other third-generation immigrant groups. This forces me to ask if 60% is good or bad.

One could turn this statistic around and ask why 40% of third-generation Mexican-American children are speaking Spanish at home. My inclination is to count this number as yet more evidence that a continually replenished population of first-generation immigrants makes Spanish the dominant language in many communities, as Huntington claims. If this is correct, then inevitably most native English speakers move out of such communities, turning linguistic differences into geographic segregation, unless of course immigration rates drop. This point leads me to what I think the most important difference between Mexican immigration and other mass immigrations to America: the others were all waves; they surged but eventually dropped off to very low levels. Given any reasonably economic scenario, if our policies do not change, Mexican immigration rates will not change for the foreseeable future.

As you can tell, I generally don't find Drezner's attack a convincing one. However, I agree with Drezner's article on at least one point: immigrants with very strong ties to their country of origin are not as novel a phenomenon as Huntington claims. Drezner has compelling numbers to back this up:
U.S. officials estimated that between 1870 and 1914, 30 percent of immigrants emigrated back to the country they came from. Among Italians, the rate approached 50 percent because young Italian men went back and forth between the new world and the old country in search of work.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home