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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Samuel Huntington

I had to read The Hispanic Challenge by Samuel Huntington for a class on immigration in Paris and I've been wanting to post something on that for a while now. Finally have found the time to do so.

The basic argument that this famed scholar is proposing (The Clash of Civilizations should be a name most people have heard before) is that the current - Hispanic - immigration into the US is unprecedented (in numbers and social impact) and that these new immigrants unlike their predecessors in the 19th and early 20th century don't integrate themselves.

I was really shocked by his essay. A scholar as renowned, teaching at Harvard, only one of the elite universities in the world, basically argued completely incoherent and unscientific. While Huntington never actually can be put on the spot for being xenophobic, his lack of arguments coupled with the general sentiments he expresses certainly imply that he is thinking in that manner.

A couple of examples:

  • "Will the United States remain a country with a [...] core Anglo-Protestant culture?"
    It seems clear that he cannot refer to pop culture here as the dominant strain in American pop music over the 20th century has been of Afro-American descent, whether it be Jazz, Blues, Rock n Roll, Soul or Hip Hop. Yet, even when focusing on high culture, it seems to me that Jewish or black contributions (Harlem Renaissance anybody?) are completely ignored.

  • "The extent [...] of this immigration differ fundamentally from those of previous immigration."
    I beg to differ, right now for every 1000 US-citizens there are 1,5 Mexicans living in the US. From 1840 to 1850 there were 3,6 Irish per 1000 US-citizens, from 1840 to 1890 more Germans than currently Mexicans and from 1901 to 1910 more Russians, Italians and Austro-Hungarians.

  • "English language use and fluency for first - and second - generation Mexicans thus seem to follow the pattern common to past immigrants."
    "The [...] nature of this immigration differ fundamentally from those of previous immigration."
    Sorry for the double double quotation. Do I even need to comment any further? Seems like Huntington can't really draw a connection between his statistics and the way he would like to perceive things."

  • After he has admitted that language assimilation is actually similar to earlier immigrant groups he goes on to claim that "if the second generation does not reject Spanish outright, the third generation is also likely to be bilingual, and fluency in both languages is likely to become institutionalized." So, if the second generation (which according to his own numbers does not really speak Spanish all that well) does not refuse any contact with Spanish whatsoever, the third generation will be fluent and so will their children, grand-children and so on. Anyone care to explain the logic behind this to me?

  • Finally, he reverts to a very clever idea to mask some of his more distasteful sentiments. He quotes Mexicans about Mexicans and thus gets away with expressing opinions such as that "almost no one in the Mexican community" "believes in 'education and hard work.'"

  • More fundamentally, Huntington never even explains to the reader why bilingualism would be something so inherently bad that it needs to be challenged in order to preserve the American "political integrity."


Anonymous said...

Well, Benjamin, he DOES explain in his book, that bilingualism impairs society's cohesion and ability to act as a whole in order to overcome certain challenges.

Benjamin Preisler said...

I didn't read the book though, just the article. Plus, I'd be curious to know what kind of challenges Switzerland has been unable to overcome.