Tuesday, December 14, 2004

British Protestant culture

Samuel P. Huntington on the role that British Protestant culture has had in the formation of the United States:

Would America be the America it is today if in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.

The unfolding of British Protestant culture in America didn't just happen; it was orchestrated by our founders. As immigrants poured in during the late eighteenth century, our forefathers saw the need to "make Americans" of the new arrivals on their shores. "We must," John Jay said in 1797, "see our people more Americanized." At the peak of this effort in 1919, Justice Louis Brandeis declared that Americanization meant the immigrant "adopts the clothes, the manners, and the customs generally prevailing here…substitutes for his mother tongue the English language," ensures that "his interests and affections have become deeply rooted here," and comes "into complete harmony with our ideals and aspirations." When he has done all this, the new arrival will have "the national consciousness of an American." The acquisition of American citizenship, the renunciation of foreign allegiances, and the rejection of dual loyalties and nationalities are key components of this process.

Huntington feels that the abandonment of the Americanization policies of the past is turning the United States into two countries:

A glimpse of what a splintering of America into English- and Spanish-speaking camps might look like can be found in current day Miami. Since the 1960s, first Cuban and then other Latin American immigrants have converted Miami from a fairly normal American city into a heavily Hispanic city. By 2000 Spanish was not just the language spoken in most homes in Miami, it was also the principal language of commerce, business, and politics. The local media and communications are increasingly Hispanic. In 1998, a Spanish language television station became the number one station watched by Miamians--the first time a foreign-language station achieved that rating in a major American city.

The changing linguistic and ethnic makeup of Miami is reflected in the recent history of the Miami Herald, one of the most respected papers in the United States. The owners of the Herald first attempted to appeal to Hispanic readers and advertisers with a Spanish supplement, but this attempt to reach Hispanics and Anglos simultaneously, failed. Between 1960 and 1989, the percentage of Miami households reading the Herald fell from 80 percent to 40 percent. Eventually the Herald had to set up a separate Spanish paper, El Nuevo Herald.

Is Miami the future for Los Angeles and the southwest generally? In the end, the results could be similar: the creation of a large, distinct, Spanish-speaking community with economic and political resources sufficient to sustain its own Hispanic identity apart from the national identity of other Americans, and also sufficient to significantly influence American politics, government, and society. The process by which this might come about, however, is different. The Hispanization of Miami has been led from the top down by successful Cuban and other Central and South American immigrants. In the southwest, the overwhelming bulk of Spanish-speaking immigrants are Mexican, and have been poor, unskilled, and poorly educated. It appears that many of their offspring are likely to be similar. The pressures toward Hispanization in the southwest thus come from below, whereas those in South Florida came from above.

The persistence of Mexican immigration and the large absolute numbers of Mexicans in the southwest reduce the incentives for cultural assimilation. Mexican-Americans no longer think of themselves as members of a small minority who must accommodate the dominant group and adopt its culture. As their numbers increase, they become more committed to their own ethnic identity and culture. Sustained numerical expansion promotes cultural consolidation, and leads them not to minimize but to glory in the differences between their society and America generally.

The continuation of high levels of Mexican and Hispanic immigration and low rates of assimilation of these immigrants into American society and culture could eventually change America into a country of two languages, two cultures, and two peoples. This will not only transform America. It will also have deep consequences for Hispanics--who will be in America but not of the America that has existed for centuries.


At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But to begin with 'British Protestants' drove out the native's of america and made them conform to what they wanted. There is no real American, it's a fairly new country whose culture is still being developed... so the Latin community has just as much right to include their own culture.

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