I started reading Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Davis Hanson some time ago. Life got busy and I put it down, so now I've picked it up again to finish it. I'm impressed with the even-handedness of the author. He's not someone spouting soundbites or pushing an agenda. He's examining a complex issue in detail.
Massive illegal immigration from Mexico into California, Victor Davis Hanson writes, "coupled with a loss of confidence in the old melting pot model of transforming newcomers into Americans, is changing the very nature of state. Yet we Californians have been inadequate in meeting this challenge, both failing to control our borders with Mexico and to integrate the new alien population into our mainstream."
Part history, part political analysis, and part memoir, "Mexifornia" is an intensely personal work by one of our most important writers. Hanson is perhaps known best for his military histories and especially his social commentary about America and its response to terror after 9/11. But he is also a fifth-generation Californian who runs a family farm in the Central Valley and has written eloquent elegies for the decline of the small farm such as "Fields Without Dreams" and "The Land Was Everything." Like these books, "Mexifornia" is an intensely personal look at what has changed in California over the last quarter century. In this case, however, Hanson's focus is on how not only California, the Southwest, and indeed the entire nation has been affected by America's hemorrhaging borders and how those hurt worst are the Mexican immigrants themselves.
A large part of the problem, Hanson believes, comes from the opportunistic coalition that stymies immigration reform and, even worse, stifles an honest discussion of a growing problem. Conservative corporations, contractors, and agribusiness demand cheap wage labor from Mexico, whatever the social consequences. Meanwhile, "progressive" academics, journalists, government bureaucrats, and La Raza advocates envision illegal aliens as a vast new political constituency for those committed to the notion that victimhood, not citizenship, is the key to advancement. The problems Hanson identifies may have reached critical mass in California, but they affect Americans who inhabit "Mexizona," "Mexichusetts" and other states of becoming.
Hanson writes wistfully about his own growing up in the Central Valley when he was one of a handful of non-Hispanics in his elementary school and when his teachers saw it as their mission to give all students, Hispanic and "white" alike, a passport to the American Dream. He follows the fortunes of Hispanic friends he has known all his life--how they have succeeded in America and how they regard the immigration crisis. But if "Mexifornia" is emotionally generous at the strength and durability of the groups that have made California strong, it is also an indictment of the policies that got California into its present mess. But in the end, Hanson strongly believes that our traditions of assimilation, integration, and intermarriage may yet remedy a problem that the politicians and ideologues have allowed to get out of hand.
I met Santiago Lara over twenty years ago. On a late March morning in 1982 he pulled into the orchard, jumped out of a broken-down station wagon filled with seven kids, caught me on the tractor and asked whether he could thin some plums until he found a new job. I had no idea who he was or where he came from. He looked exhausted--red-eyed, unshaven, in dirty clothes. I gave him what work I had, a temporary job for two days. Two decades later I still see him occasionally, and he still doesn't look good. Now over sixty, with white rather than raven-black hair, he continues as an occasional farm laborer and walks permanently stooped. He neither speaks a word of English nor has a single child who graduated from high school, although he has many children and grandchildren, some on various forms of disability, welfare and unemployment, others successful and gainfully employed, and a few who have been jailed.
Simply put, Mexican elites rely on immigration northward as a means of avoiding domestic reform. Market capitalism, constitutional government, the creation of a middle-class ethic or an independent judiciary will never fully come to Mexico as long as its potential critics go north instead of marching for a redress of grievances on the suited bureaucrats in Mexico City.
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