The Hispanic Challenge

Samuel Huntington has a piece by that title in the current Foreign Policy.

The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages. Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves—from Los Angeles to Miami—and rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream. The United States ignores this challenge at its peril.

America was created by 17th- and 18th-century settlers who were overwhelmingly white, British, and Protestant. Their values, institutions, and culture provided the foundation for and shaped the development of the United States in the following centuries. They initially defined America in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and religion. Then, in the 18th century, they also had to define America ideologically to justify independence from their home country, which was also white, British, and Protestant. Thomas Jefferson set forth this “creed,†as Nobel Prize-winning economist Gunnar Myrdal called it, in the Declaration of Independence, and ever since, its principles have been reiterated by statesmen and espoused by the public as an essential component of U.S. identity.

By the latter years of the 19th century, however, the ethnic component had been broadened to include Germans, Irish, and Scandinavians, and the United States’ religious identity was being redefined more broadly from Protestant to Christian. With World War II and the assimilation of large numbers of southern and eastern European immigrants and their offspring into U.S. society, ethnicity virtually disappeared as a defining component of national identity. So did race, following the achievements of the civil rights movement and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Americans now see and endorse their country as multiethnic and multiracial. As a result, American identity is now defined in terms of culture and creed.

Most Americans see the creed as the crucial element of their national identity. The creed, however, was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers. Key elements of that culture include the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, including the responsibility of rulers and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, a “city on a hill.†Historically, millions of immigrants were attracted to the United States because of this culture and the economic opportunities and political liberties it made possible.

Contributions from immigrant cultures modified and enriched the Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers. The essentials of that founding culture remained the bedrock of U.S. identity, however, at least until the last decades of the 20th century. Would the United States be the country that it has been and that it largely remains today if it had been settled in the 17th and 18th centuries not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is clearly no. It would not be the United States; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.

In the final decades of the 20th century, however, the United States’ Anglo-Protestant culture and the creed that it produced came under assault by the popularity in intellectual and political circles of the doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity; the rise of group identities based on race, ethnicity, and gender over national identity; the impact of transnational cultural diasporas; the expanding number of immigrants with dual nationalities and dual loyalties; and the growing salience for U.S. intellectual, business, and political elites of cosmopolitan and transnational identities. The United States’ national identity, like that of other nation-states, is challenged by the forces of globalization as well as the needs that globalization produces among people for smaller and more meaningful “blood and belief†identities.


“Cultured, intelligent, and often possessing impressive degrees from some of America’s premier colleges and universities, this new breed of white racial advocate is a far cry from the populist politicians and hooded Klansmen of the Old South,†writes Carol Swain in her 2002 book, The New White Nationalism in America. These new white nationalists do not advocate white racial supremacy but believe in racial self-preservation and affirm that culture is a product of race. They contend that the shifting U.S. demographics foretell the replacement of white culture by black or brown cultures that are intellectually and morally inferior.

Changes in the U.S. racial balance underlie these concerns. Non-Hispanic whites dropped from 75.6 percent of the population in 1990 to 69.1 percent in 2000. In California—as in Hawaii, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia—non-Hispanic whites are now a minority. Demographers predict that, by 2040, non-Hispanic whites could be a minority of all Americans. Moreover, for several decades, interest groups and government elites have promoted racial preferences and affirmative action, which favor blacks and nonwhite immigrants. Meanwhile, pro-globalization policies have shifted jobs outside the United States, aggravated income inequality, and promoted declining real wages for working-class Americans.

Actual and perceived losses in power and status by any social, ethnic, racial, or economic group almost always produce efforts to reverse those losses. In 1961, the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was 43 percent Serb and 26 percent Muslim. In 1991, it was 31 percent Serb and 44 percent Muslim. The Serbs reacted with ethnic cleansing. In 1990, the population of California was 57 percent non-Hispanic white and 26 percent Hispanic. By 2040, it is predicted to be 31 percent non-Hispanic white and 48 percent Hispanic.

The chance that California whites will react like Bosnian Serbs is about zero. The chance that they will not react at all is also about zero. Indeed, they already have reacted by approving initiatives against benefits for illegal immigrants, affirmative action, and bilingual education, as well as by the movement of whites out of the state. As more Hispanics become citizens and politically active, white groups are likely to look for other ways of protecting themselves.

Industrialization in the late 19th century produced losses for U.S. farmers and led to agrarian protest groups, including the Populist movement, the Grange, the Nonpartisan League, and the American Farm Bureau Federation. Today, white nativists could well ask: If blacks and Hispanics organize and lobby for special privileges, why not whites? If the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of La Raza are legitimate organizations, why not a national organization promoting white interests?

White nationalism is “the next logical stage for identity politics in America,†argues Swain, making the United States “increasingly at risk of large-scale racial conflict unprecedented in our nation’s history.†The most powerful stimulus to such white nativism will be the cultural and linguistic threats whites see from the expanding power of Hispanics in U.S. society.

There are eleven pages between those passages, which open and close the piece.

Huntington is correct both that the U.S. would have–by definition–developed differently had it not been primarily populated by those from northwestern Europe in its earlier days and that the massive growth of the Hispanic population will create internal conflict. But I’m not sure how this is radically different than the waves of Germans, Italians, Koreans, Vietnamese, and others that we’ve managed to absorb in the past. They all started off living in ethnic enclaves and all more or less assimilated into American culture. I can’t imagine that the children of these Hispanic immigrants aren’t by and large going to learn English and try to meld into society. The incentives all point them in that direction.

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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. Dave says:

    Yes, David Brooks takes a similar attitude in his NYT Op-Ed today.

  2. rich says:

    where i live, i’m surrounded by mexican flags. it bothers me, and i’m hispanic. but, as you say, jj, the enemy is already in the gates, so to speak. their children will be, by and large, american.

  3. Jim in Texas says:

    I hope for the Hispanic homogenization as well and suspect that it is only slow in coming due more to the size of the influx than the attitude of the immigrants.

    It was rather sobering though to be turned down for a job I was otherwise qualified for in Dallas because I didn’t speak Spanish. The bulk of the workforce I would have supervised did not speak English.

    Let’s hope that phenomenon is transitory

  4. Ian S. says:

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. It’s the second and third generation immigrants that tend to *really* detach from US society and get wound up in things like MECHA. The first-genners, regardless of their other flaws, at least knew the horrors of the “homeland” first hand. After that it’s just something your parents told you, and everyone knows their parents are always wrong.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    There’s a difference today.
    Today, the liberal elites, including politicians, actively oppose assimilation. Multicultis pronounce talk of assimilation as racist and xenophobic.
    Diversity champions insist that we must retain diversity.
    Liberals question the benefits of assimilating to such a flawed, racist, sexist etc. society in the first place and wonder whether we’d be better off if the products of DWEMs disappeared forever.
    Common sense has an answer, of course, but common sense is barely legal.

  6. bryan says:

    Well, I would guess that no other past wave of immigrants had access to their native language as readily as the hispanic population has. After all, the ballots in Texas are printed in only two languages – english and spanish. I suspect less coddling on the language issue would push along at least some of the assimilation.

  7. Val Prieto says:

    I was planning on reading the entire text posted, but when I got to the following part, I realized Huntungton doesnt have the faintest idea of what he’s talking about:

    “The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages”

    Yes, it’s the first line. Its all I had to read. The problem with this opening sentence is that he lumps every “hispanic” culture together as one. I can assure you, my cultural background is completely different than say an immigrant form Mexico, or one from Brazil, or Chile, etc… Our mores are not the same, are values are not the same. Sure, there are similarities, but the differences far outweigh them.

    Our political ideologies vary greatly also. Cubans tend to be right of center while, again, for example, Mexicans tend to be left of center.

    And the language, while at a basic level is the same, the dialectitical differences are many.

    I agree with James on this. The influx of “hispanic” (I quote it for I hate the word) immigrants is not radically different than those that came before from other parts of the world. Wait a generation or two, then ask a teenager with the last name of Lopez to write a complete, grammatically correct sentence in Spanish. In the long run, everyone gets Americanizado.

  8. LatinoPundit says:

    Key word here is “constant.” Change or Assimilation will eventually happen, it is that there is such a mass influx that it is not readily seen.

  9. Miguel says:

    This Mexican would like to throw his $.02 in. Practically 100% of the children of Mexicans born and raised in the USA speak English as natives. Most Mexican parents want their children to learn the language of the land. There is where integration begins. It is different to other waves of immigrants yes, because as said here on the comments: the availability of the language and the huge quantities of people moving north- and south-bound over the border, thus creating a constant communication with the home country that no other immigrants have. As for the “horrors of the original homeland”, it doesn’t apply to Mexico. Life here is not “horrible”. Mexicans are amongst the most happy people in the world; in some recent international poll, we rated on the top slots with over 70% Mexicans affirming: “Yes, I have a happy life”. That is probably another reason Mexicans don’t integrate as easily as others. We have a beautiful society down here (with one of the lowest suicide rates in the world, as another piece of data), the main reason to go over there is economical, but you can anytime come back to the old country and have a wonderful time with your folks down here. That is why Mexicans are less attached to the US culture than people from countries where by political, geographical or any other reasons, their citizens have severed the old ties.

  10. crane says:

    Miguel tends to support Huntington’s thesis.

    Why assimilate, when you can bring your country with you? If mexicans truly think that Mexico is a pretty good country, they will consider it a good thing to change parts of the US to become like Mexico.

    The seeds of conflict are too obvious.