Border Wars

Michelle Malkin has lots of pictures here and here demonstrating that some of the million-odd people who showed up yesterday to march for illegal alien rights are motivated by radical politics. I’ve reproduced a couple here:

There are also many Che Guevara images and other such nonsense. Of course, one doesn’t have to go to an immigration rally to see such symbols; they’re fairly ubiquitous on college campuses and elsewhere. Many, I suspect, just think they look cool or vaguely revolutionary without any sense of the backstory. In a society where a substantial number of our youth literally can’t point to Louisana on a map, that’s hardly surprising.

Barbara O’Brien notes that the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants is rather new and that previous generations of immigrants also held on to their native languages and culture for a time.

Near where my daughter lives in Manhattan there’s a church that was built by Irish immigrants. It is topped by a lovely Celtic cross. Now the parishioners are mostly Dominican. In forty years, if it’s still standing, maybe the priests will be saying masses in Cilubà, or Mandarin, or Quechuan. Stuff changes. That’s how the world is. That’s how America is, and how it always has been. Somehow, we all think that the “real” America is the one that existed when our ancestors got off the boat. That means your “real” America may be way different from mine. Fact is, if we could reconstitute Daniel Boone and show him around, he wouldn’t recognize this country at all. I think they had apple pie in his day, but much of traditional American culture — baseball, jazz, barbecue, John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” — didn’t exist in Daniel Boone’s “real” America.

While change is inevitable and I don’t support the public policies that would stop the flood of Latin immigrants, there is nonetheless a difference between revolutionary and evolutionary change. While I continue to think Samuel Huntington’s fears of the Hispanicization of America are overblown, he’s right that a millions of people with a single language and substantially different culture coming in quickly will change the culture in radically different ways than the pre-World War I influx of Western Europeans or even the later waves of Eastern European and Asian immigrants.

Latinos, of course, already are American, and in large parts of the U.S. Latino culture had taken root before the Anglos showed up. This makes anti-Latino hysteria particularly absurd, because Latino culture is not new; it’s already part of our national cultural tapestry.


Yes, maybe someday America will be an officially bilingual nation, and maybe someday flan will replace apple pie. Flan is good, and there are many multilingual nations that somehow manage to make it work — India, China, Belgium, and Switzerland come to mind.

That our westward expansion took over land that once rightfully belonged to Mexico and various Indian nations is both instructive and irrelevant. As the discussion in O’Brien’s comments makes clear, the massive influx of outsiders can overwhelm a culture, as with the American Indian or the Welsh. Given that we can see it coming, it is surely in our interest to do something about it.

Hey, I like flan. (Although that might be a bad example, since its roots are European and variants are found worldwide.) I like chorizo, Mexican cerveza, and a great deal of Tex-Mex. But nobody’s complaining about the addition of these things to our culture. Any major American city–and increasingly, even suburbs in the hinterlands–has a dazzling variety of international restaurants and an aisle or two of international foodstuffs at the grocery store. Folks are worried about the substitution of their culture for another.

While “our love of liberty” is indeed a shared constant, it is not the only one. The United States, unlike Belgium et. al., is a world power. Part of the reason we achieved that status so quickly is that we have a shared language and cultural precepts. Marshall McLuhan taught us that the medium is the message. Having the National Anthem, the constitution, the Pledge of Allegiance, and other unifying documents translated into a tapestry of languages undermines the very unity they project.

Given the economic disparities, it is inevitable that people will continue to attempt to cross our southern border in massive numbers. The truth is, we want them to do so. We need people eager to do unappealing work at low wages. We also need their youth to help head off the demographic time bomb that an aging population, low domestic birth rates, and Social Security create. Let’s welcome these huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But let’s also set up public policies that encourage them to learn our language and assimilate into the culture.

And teach them where Louisiana is, while we’re at it.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Constitution, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bhoe says:

    Folks are worried about the substitution of their culture for another.

    These same folks are also worried about threats to Christmas, as well. They are likely the same idiots who can’t find Louisiana on a map.

    Anyone worried about the “substitution” of any culture brought about by a paltry 9% of the country’s population is horribly paranoid and terribly insecure.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Hispanics are now 12-13% of the society, not 9. And that number is likely to grow substantially, as immigration continues apace and those here have children at a rate much faster than the indigenous population.

  3. Bhoe says:

    Hispanics are now 12-13% of the society, not 9.

    “Hispanics” are not a single group. To think that someone from Buenos Aires is somehow has the same cultural predilections as someone from Panama, Tijuana, or Havana is simply absurd.

    Their is no single “Hispanic” culture to “substitute” for any single “American” culture. This is just silly and void of any analysis of actual cultural trends.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    To support Bhoe’s point about the nonsense of the “Hispanic” conflation, the average level of educational attainment in Uruguay is higher than it is here; Spanish as spoken in Uruguay (just to take it as an example) and the Spanish spoken in Mexico are just barely mutually comprehensible. They’re nearly different languages.

  5. Elmo says:

    “Illegal immigration” has been the defacto policy standard for many decades now in California. Lip service, winks and nods, society not owning up to it’s own participation. Giving them employment but no official status, and then buying products and services generated from their labor.

    Those who have a renewed interest in clarifying the morass, may also have to give something anew. Specifically employers. Many persons on their feet twelve to sixteen hours a day, toiling mightily in one, two, or three different jobs. Possibly don’t possess the energy to attend night classes for English (though their heart be willing).

    Where there is a will there is a way, whatever mechanisms can be devised? I would hope that partisan rancor could be set aside for just one issue even (well a boy can dream).

  6. James Joyner says:

    I use the term in the same way that the Census Bureau does. Mostly, it’s about language rather than specific culture. It’s nonetheless descriptive enough to be beyond meaningless.

  7. Bhoe says:

    I use the term in the same way that the Census Bureau does. Mostly, it�s about language rather than specific culture.

    Ok, James, thanks for the clarification.

    So when you say that “Folks are worried about the substitution of their culture for another” are you referring to anxiety about language?

    If so, is there anyone who REALLY sees the substitution of English with Spanish as even a remote possibility?

  8. davod says:

    Back to elections every six months.

  9. oldradus says:

    President Bush and the Corrupticans in D.C. are very effectively restoring the luster of hard-left politics in the U.S. Is there no one who will dare call this a conspiracy?

  10. anon says:

    I can’t send my children to public schools since they have come so overrun with non-English speakers. Hospital services are non-existant in many parts of the state due to the influx of illegals that bankrupted the county services.

    You cannot compare earlier waves of immigration when there were little to no social services to the current one, which is putting extreme burdens on taxpayers and states for social services. There are many, many things that are not getting done for those who were born here in order to support the flood of those who are breaking our laws and entering here illegally.

    Our country welcomes those who wish to become “United Statesians”, but a very large percentage of those who break our laws to come here don’t fit that mold.

  11. whatever says:

    According to Demographics magazine, California is over 50% Hispanic in total population (legal and illegal), and Texas will be soon.

  12. floyd says:

    note to the stupid sign writer;1] america is TWO continents, not one and 2] i can call MY country any d*mned thing I please !

  13. floyd says:

    james; no borders , no control, no law, what is the basis for my support of a federal government at all? enforcement at gun point is the only basis left apparently, but of course that doesn’t apply to illegal entry or trespass. do you wish to abolish trespass laws altogether? i’m sick of paying over half of everything i make to a country who openly declares my apparent race& gender, the enemy and cause every problem on the planet.the only message i get from all this is “shut-up and pay or else!”

  14. Ed says:

    It is not about Latino culture, it is about ILLEGALS.
    By the way, apples were for cider almost exclusively. It wasn’t until prohibition that we started eating apples/pies, etc. in any great numbers.

  15. mannning says:

    You are conflating legal with illegal immigration. That is a huge mistake. There is no particular problem with legal immigration, in fact it is welcome.

    Illegals, on the other hand have by and large violated perhaps three or four laws of the land to get here and stay here. Not only crossing the border illegally, but also using false identification, false social security cards, and false visas/green cards, and who knows what else. Many of these worshippers of the US system fill our prisons- 40% in California prisons.
    We need to be far more selective at the border, which involves keeping the illegals from crossing easily. We need to prosecute those who hire illegals against the law, and we need to empower all law enforcement to be able to arrest and start deportation of these illegals.

    However, we do need to raise the quotas for legal immigration, and allow temporary entry for workers who have a job waiting, but with careful ID and tracking over time.

    Those who are here now illegally should be required to register and be identified, or be deported. No amnesty. No citizenship for lawbreakers, unless thay make amends.

  16. mannning says:

    Further, amends should involve learning about the US, its mores, its culture, and its laws. Most of all, they must learn English at least at the high school level. I believe in the six years for the program for citizenship, and in fines for breaking the laws, plus paying back taxes if indicated.

    To get a handle on this problem will take many years, and keeping the borders open will only make it worse. Just the deportation part will take resources of a significant amount in budget, manpower, and facilities. We also need a herd of Solomons to make the decisions as to who can stay and who must be deported. But this must happen, or we will face MS13 and who knows what other gang problems.

  17. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    If I rob a bank, am I rewarded because I spend the money, which is good for the economy? Amnesty was not the correct solution in the 80’s and it is not the solution now. How dare illegals demand rights. Just like a bad search, nothing that flows from the poison tree is useable. Illegal aliens must be compelled to return to the land of their origin. We must show there is no reward for breaking our laws. That they do jobs no one wants is BS. All they do is lower wage expectation for all labor. They all did not cross the border in one day. It is not reasonable to believe we can return them to their own country in a short period of time, but we have a government agency tasked with just such a job. It is time they earn their pay. The only other solution is to annex Mexico.

  18. Steve Verdon says:

    james; no borders , no control, no law, what is the basis for my support of a federal government at all?


    James made no such implications…at all.

  19. floyd says:

    steve; read the fourth paragragh, first sentence. james is about as articulate as you and i together [at least] he can speak for himself if he chooses.

  20. James Joyner says:


    I support borders and controlling who crosses them. In practice, however, we’re not going to be able to staunch the flood of illegals coming from Mexico to work without turning ourself into a police state. The incentive is just too high and the border too long. I’m not willing to station snipers out there with shoot to kill orders or have people being subjected to showing their papers any time an official demands them.

  21. floyd says:

    james; agreed, so we should start to arrest and fine those who employ illegals. it’s like speeding, punish the obvious ones and the rest will mitigate their behavior at least to some degree.