Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hispanic Assimilation, The Corporate World, and Illegal Immigration

In this editorial, Ruben Navarrete, a writer I enjoy, notes that regardless of any action or inaction by government, business is catering to the growing U.S. Hispanic population:

Still, some people I know bristle at all the attention being paid to Latino consumers and what they see as an attempt by companies to make special accommodations for what is now America's largest minority. Others worry about anything that might help Latinos put off the assimilation process, and ask why the country's institutions should change to suit Latinos and not the other way around.

That line of thinking hits a dead end on Madison Avenue. Eager to get their chunk of a market that is estimated to reach $1 trillion a year by 2010, the country's most successful companies have no qualms about speaking the language of the Latino consumer.
Navarrette's right, of course; business generally has no sense of morality or right or wrong. The business world is like animals or plants in the natural world: It does what it does because it's designed that way. Cats chase and kill mice and birds; ivy climbs on the wall; weeds grow wherever they can; and business caters to customers it thinks will buy its products. Thus we see Spanish language TV and supermarket here in L.A. catering to Spanish-speaking customers and selling products you'd see in any Mexico City supermarket.

So I think it is both unremarkable and insignificant that American corporations are catering to the Hispanic market. It would remarkable if they did not do so. Such corporate behavior is only a symptom of the problem: An influx of foreign language and culture that is probably unparalleled in world history.

But I think Navarrette's wrong to dismiss so blithely that "
others worry about anything that might help Latinos put off the assimilation process." This is worth worrying about, because in the United States we are seeing something entirely new in immigration patterns.

It's important to recognize, I think, that Demographic shifts have been going on for thousands of years. If you lived in Palestine during Jesus' time, for example, you would probably speak Aramaic in daily conversation. If you were a merchant or were well-educated, you also spoke Greek, because that was the lingua franca of the time. There were no monolithic cultures; Jews were living in the surrounding Roman provinces, and non-Jews living in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. Roman culture influenced everything from the arthictecture to the coinage people used to the legal system to the rules of commerce.

In other words, cultures and languages are not static or confined to one region; they move, mix with others, and evolve. Even the USA changed markedly during the massive immigration that occurred during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

What is different now is that the influx of new peoples (Hispanics) and a single language (Spanish) is not only massive, but the pressure for immigrants to assimilate is dramatically reduced. When someone came here from Lithuania in 1890, for example, letters were the only way to communicate with family and others back home. When you left home, you really left.
Now there is free e-mail, cheap telephone service, Spanish-language television and radio, fund transmittals, air travel, and so forth. When a modern-day immigrant to the U.S. leaves home, home is never really very far away.


Despite all this, my personal view is that American culture is powerful and overwhelming for those who come here to stay. I know scores of children of Hispanic immigrants who, as first-generation Americans, speak English first and want to succeed in American society. Mexico or Honduras or Peru are their parents' homes, not theirs..

So our language and our way of life should survive and simply evolve to add more Hispanic elements. Nothing wrong with that; I enjoy Cinco de Mayo parties, pinatas, and Hispanic culture generally. But I sometimes wonder. If anything is going to prove me wrong, it will be uncontrolled illegal immigration. That's why we have to deal with the problem in a way that is hard-headed but not hard-hearted; smart but not xenophobic. It's worth watching the phenomenon carefully.

Meanwhile, those who keep talking about a reconquista should re-think that foolish notion, and those who want to round up ten million people and deport them need to get their heads out of the clouds as well.

Soapbox session over! Much more Hedgehog blogging on this subject here.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the more serious potential problem is that matters will develop as they have in French-speaking Quebec, where French has evolved from the second official language of Canada to the language of preference in all aspects of Quebecoise business and culture, to the detriment of English speakers. 

Posted by Ralph Kostant

Sunday, May 01, 2005 8:04:00 PM  
Blogger The Immigrant said...

Now that's a post I can relate to. You really got me thinking, I enjoy reading this blog.

I don't know how others feel, but I'm definitely looking into Canada immigration as an option. The good ól US of A aint what it used to be.

Friday, September 30, 2005 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that the situation in Canda is entirely different than that of the US, as the French were already in Québec before the English were, and therefore they were conquered on their own territory. This is quite different than mass immigration. I would also like to point out that having French as an official language has not been a detriment to anglophones like myself, on the contrary, they have offered me the chance to learn a second language. I can now travel in much of Europe, Africa and some of South-East Asia because I speak French. Please consider these things before labelling the Québécois. 

Posted by J. Parlee

Sunday, October 30, 2005 12:47:00 PM  

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