2003: Book review: Mexifornia

Recalling his own childhood and early adulthood in Selma, a Central California farming community that has become over time predominantly Mexican, Hanson postulates that the brutal pressure to assimilate used to serve an indispensable function. You either adapted to American norms, or you were refused acceptance. The multicultural industry over the last thirty years has inculcated a false pride in Mexican history and culture, blind to the evidence of Mexicans voting with their feet by crossing the border. Yet the academic race industry feeds its constituents such historically unverifiable claims as "the border crossed us, not we the borders." The tricky dilemma, which Hanson seems aware of, is that now that the genie has been let out of the bottle and the old assimilationist model stands fully discredited with academics and educationists, how do we return to the state of affairs Hanson is familiar with from his own days growing up alongside Mexicans eager to become Americans?

While one agrees fully with Hanson's analysis of the critical need for quick assimilation and doing away with such harmful palliatives to self-esteem as bilingual education and Chicano studies, there is nothing original in Hanson's analysis here that can't be obtained from any number of polemics in the culture wars of the last fifteen years. Hanson's idealization of a simpler, more honest time, when Mexicans themselves saw the brutalities of Mexican culture for what they were rather than constructing some false dream of return, suggests a kind of helplessness in the face of the exploding crisis. There needs to be a sustained policy response to sharply reducing the kind of immigration that hurts people on both sides of the border, while preserving and even enhancing the kind of immigration, chiefly not Mexican, that is good for both immigrant and host country. In his brief, popularly worded reflection, Hanson never comes close to articulating what such a policy might be.

Hanson simply isn't hard-headed enough, despite the anti-multiculturalist posture, to take us into truly uncharted ideas to tackle this crisis. His narrative is semi-personal throughout, as he is apparently eager to show no intimate rancor toward Mexican immigrants, despite the many small and big ways they lower his own quality of life and encroach upon his sense of privacy, decency, and generosity. As a conservative historian, no doubt Hanson is attempting to shield himself from charges of racial insensitivity by personalizing the discussion, referring to his own and his family's close relations with Mexicans over a period of decades. Yet this same veneer of racial sensitivity prevents him from asking the toughest questions about what it is about Mexican immigration that leads to a set of unprecedented problems.