Mexifornia: A State Of Becoming, by Victor Davis Hanson, Encounter Books, 150 pages.
[Peter Brimelow writes: VDARE.COM carried quite a lot on the controversy following Mexifornia`s publication early this summer—click here for Brenda Walker`s review and here for a reader`s unkinder, less gentle view. This essay in The American Conservative, December 1 2003, was pretty darned late. But at least I got to review the controversy too.]
All happy families resemble each other, Tolstoy famously said, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The same is true, I pointed out in the first issue of TAC just over a year ago, of books on immigration policy. Pro-immigration books are interchangeably triumphalist, data-deprived and lyrical about the authors` grandparents from Russia. But anti-immigration books are grimly focused on quite separate areas—basically because they actually have something to say about America`s emerging immigration disaster, the result of the floodgate-opening 1965 Immigration Act and the simultaneous elite decision to stop enforcing the law against illegal immigrants.
Victor Davis Hanson`s Mexifornia is the third bestseller on this immigration disaster in three years. (Hey! Maybe commercial publishers will—nah, fuhgeddaboutit.) In 2002, Michelle Malkin`s Invasion, which occasioned my remarks here last year, demonstrated that the U.S. admissions process was fundamentally flawed, regardless of what entry criteria were to be applied. In 2001, Patrick J. Buchanan`s Death Of The West put U.S. immigration policy`s skew toward the Third World in the grand perspective of First World demographic and cultural decline. [Click here for Peter Brimelow`s Washington Times review of Death of The West.]
Mexifornia is a wonderful little book. It makes a distinctive contribution to the growing literature of immigration reform, which is inexorably eroding the ideological foundations of official immigration enthusiasm.
And Mexifornia`s reception by establishment conservativism has been surprisingly favorable. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, notoriously Stalinist in its suppression of immigration critics, permitted an uneasily respectful review. It is painfully apparent that this is because of the accident of military historian Hanson`s cheerleading for the Iraq War in National Review and elsewhere. (In contrast, establishment liberalism has ignored the book, as it did Malkin`s. No review has appeared in the New York Times or Washington Post.)
Hanson`s free pass may very well embolden others to defy the taboo against debating immigration. I think they will be in for a sad surprise. Nor do I expect Hanson to advance the cause of immigration reform much further, because of limitations that are also apparent in this book. But this does not detract from his contribution.
The great strength of Mexifornia is its intense focus on Hanson`s personal experience. He grew up as a fifth-generation Californian on the small farm originally settled by his forbears close to Selma in the San Joaquin Valley. He continued to work the property while teaching classics at nearby California State University, Fresno. In vital respects, this is a literary memoir rather than a public policy tract. Its insights are intuitive, rather than analytical. They are none the less penetrating for that—indeed, possibly more so. But you do sometimes wonder if the artist really understands what he is saying.
In the last three decades, Hanson reports, his close-knit hometown has been literally overwhelmed by illegal immigration. It has tripled in size and is now, he says, "somewhere between 60 and 90 percent Hispanic"—hard to tell, because so many are illegal and transient. In 1970, Selma`s population, including exotic rural California strains like Sikhs, Japanese and Armenians, was melting-potting peacefully into one unilingual-English community. Today, Hanson says "he rarely hears English spoken" in his neighborhood. The public school he attended is now 95 percent Mexican. Of course, there were many Mexican-Americans students in his day. But no Spanish was allowed even in the playground and an Anglo-conformity imposed that Hanson believes has now been abandoned, although it worked—producing the middle class Mexican American contemporaries whose names he keeps earnestly dropping.
(Hanson is almost certainly right about his old school. The single hysterical review of Mexifornia that I`ve been able to find appeared in his local Fresno Bee, September 26, 2003, by one Paul A. Garcia. [`Mexifornia`: a hurtful guide to Mexican history] Incredibly—or all too credibly, if you`re familiar with this controversy—Garcia complained that "Hanson`s use of the nontechnical and inflammatory term `illegal aliens` provokes hatred and contempt." The Bee described Garcia as…a "former high school vice principal.")
The value of Hanson`s innocent artist`s eye is apparent in his unflinching description of how thirty years of mass immigration have reduced his corner of the once-Golden State to ruin and rubble.
In essence, the frontier has returned to Selma—but far bloodier. The first victims are Mexican illegals themselves, vulnerable because they are unknown and deal entirely in cash, the victims of unsolved murders in their hundreds at the hands of Mexican thieves. But the physical safety of Hanson`s own farming family is regularly threatened by drug dealers, gang members and other trespassers. All farm equipment not locked up is stolen. The rural mailbox system that has been in use for nearly a century is now breaking down because everything put there is routinely looted—including an edited manuscript of Mexifornia! Trash is constantly dumped on his land, although city garbage pickup is cheap. Cars, unlicensed and uninsured, are repeatedly crashed into his vines, doing costly damage, by drunken Mexicans who promptly vanish. He is forbidden to haul the cars away for scrap, but must wait for the county to impound them in case their owners might want them back. "Nineteenth century ailments"—adult whooping cough, hepatitis, tetanus—have been brought back to California by illegal immigrants no longer subject to Ellis Island-type health checks, along with extraordinary rates of venereal disease. Interactions with local government become a "disaster" as no-one on either side of the counter speaks English. The Mexican woman who runs a stoplight and hits his daughter`s car is let off by the Mexican-American cop—after he gets her phone number.
These, of course, are simply the typical external characteristics of a Third World society. For the inner moral symptoms, see Roger McGrath`s May 19 TAC article on how the southern California town of South Gate, originally populated by Danes and Okies, passed into Mexican control and promptly reverted to Mexican-style corruption and collapse. Hanson mentions another such town near him: Parlier, plagued by corruption, now "little more than a ward of the federal government," which pays for its "nice streets, homes, clinics and schools."
All of which makes me as mad as hell— and I`m merely an immigrant myself, having arrived in a breathtakingly-beautiful California in what now appears to have been the pivotal year of 1970.
But Hanson, who has much more reason to be angry, seems to view it all with a melancholy fatalism. His discussion of solutions is brief and, beyond a vague wish to seal the borders, is so lacking in the necessary brutal detail as to make me suspect he just hasn`t thought much about the subject—deeply distressing as it must be to a self-proclaimed Democrat and heir to the herbivorous Scandinavian political tradition.
This is another reason for Mexifornia`s mild reception. It just didn`t frighten immigration enthusiasts enough.
For me, the greatest triumph of Hanson`s literary method is his complete demolition of the economic case for illegal immigration—and much legal immigration too.
There is an extensive technical literature on the economics of immigration, to which Hanson alludes only barely. But to his credit he does manage to include the key statistic: the immigrant presence costs every native-born California household an extra $1200 annually in taxes. Which took some finding because this staggering estimate—it`s actually $1,174 and comes from the National Research Council`s 1997 report The New Americans —was successfully buried by one of the most mendacious press releases I`ve seen in thirty years of journalism. (In contrast, Hanson seems totally unaware of the rest of the immigration reform bookshelf. He casually dismisses Pat Buchanan, whose arguments are completely compatible with his own, as a "reactionary"—whatever that means.)
Hanson doesn`t need economists, however. He establishes through anecdote rather than analysis the crucial point: illegal immigrants (and their employers) are subsidized by the American welfare state.
Directly, Hanson never fails to note the HUD-supported housing and other federal and state programs, the de facto free healthcare via hospital emergency rooms, the immense education expenditures from grade school on up. (The University of California at Santa Barbara has 75 courses on Chicano issues, one course on "Civil War and Reconstruction," none on the Revolutionary War and World War II.) Indirectly, Hanson demonstrates that illegal immigration is very much the shadow of labor market regulation with this terse calculation, no doubt very familiar from hiring laborers in his own fields:
"At $10 an hour without state, federal and payroll taxes deducted, the worker really earns the equivalent of a gross $13 an hour or more, and the employer saves over 30 percent in payroll contributions and expensive paperwork."
As Hanson goes on to note, of course, this necessarily means that Californians who do obey the law have to pay more taxes to cover the costs of the welfare state. And at fifty, the illegal worker is physically worn out and unemployable. His American-born children are alienated high-school dropouts. More illegals arrive to do the work that they "won`t do." The cycle of privatized profits and socialized costs begins again.
Typically, it`s not clear that Hanson understands what he has found. In one brief, somewhat contradictory, passage, he repeats that the common canard that California would be "paralyzed" without immigration—ignoring the potential of mechanization, imports and just plain raising wages.
Throughout Mexifornia, Hanson parades his own lack of prejudice. He incessantly says how much he likes Mexicans, despite providing many reasons why a normal man might not. He keeps stressing that his own family is intermarrying: he has a Mexican sister-in-law, Mexican nephews and nieces and—hallelujah!—"my two daughters are going steady with Mexican-Americans." (No word on his son. But no doubt he eats tacos.)
Personally, I find this sort of truckling irritating, even peculiar. But it unquestionably reassures a certain type of reader. This may be the first immigration reform book in the modern era that no reviewer has accused of Nazism—a notable breakthrough.
The problem is that Hanson`s open-mindedness appears to be a dogma. His one-word dismissal of Buchanan is not an aberration. Thus, in discussing the systematic Mexican underperformance that his own work shows is extending into the second American-born generation, he brushes aside any explanation from "racial or genetic pseudoscience." Nine years after the Bell Curve showed that Mexican immigrants do indeed lag American whites in average IQ, this is not good enough.
And Hanson describes Operation Wetback, the deportation program with which the Eisenhower Administration ended the very similar illegal immigration crisis of the 1950s, as "infamous." In post-publication interviews, he has endorsed yet another illegal alien amnesty, apparently not realizing their disastrous history.
Plato concluded artists don`t understand their own work because they are inspired directly by the gods. At least the divinity that inspired the classicist Hanson`s creative frenzy was an American patriot.
Peter Brimelow is Editor of VDARE.COM and author of the much-denounced Alien Nation: Common Sense About America`s Immigration Disaster (1995).