In Mexifornia, classicist, military historian, and farmer Victor Davis Hanson writes movingly about the deterioration of California caused by unlimited immigration and a mindset that denies the need for an aggressive program of Americanization. But he also praises the ambition of immigrants and the energy and lower cost of living they bring to the country. Thus, he takes on the "paradoxes, hypocrisies, and hilarities that characterize California as a result of changing attitude and more immigrants" Hanson's reflections should become the reference point for national conversation about immigration and the proper course of action.
Hanson writes with a grace that makes any easy summary a distortion of the author's soul: "Because of the disparate angles of my perception, this book is part melancholy remembrance of a world gone by, part detached analysis by a historian who knows well the treacherous sirens of romance and nostalgia, and part advocacy by a teacher who always wanted his students to be second to none." Having grown up in the 1950s as a minority in the predominantly Mexican central-California town of Selma, Hanson now sees a cultural chasm between the Mexican-Americans he grew up with and newer arrivals. The latter have brought chaos with them and make life on his family farm not only burdensome but increasingly dangerous.
Hanson dedicates the book to his classics students at California State University, Fresno, 1984-2003. "For two decades I have driven up daily to the college campus at Fresno to teach persons, not 'peoples,' and so have seen that assimilation is still possible during the current immigration onslaught—if we forget group causes and the rhetoric of the multicultural industry, and simply concentrate on providing interested students with opportunities that match their often ignored aptitudes." He movingly describes how these often illegal immigrants and their descendants have often been superlative, award-winning students, going on to graduate study in prestigious programs. (He and his colleague Bruce Thornton must run the best undergraduate classics program in the country.) These young scholars, to their disgust, are of course noisily acclaimed as their successes by the Chicano studies professional Latinos, who have no use for Cicero or Socrates. The university, dominated by French and German theory, is more the enemy of America than these Mexican-Americans.
Moreover, as a fifth-generation grape farmer, Hanson has seen the well-touted economic benefits that immigrants provide—not only in the fields but also in restaurants, hotels, construction, and care of lawns and children. Hanson calculates that the cash wages of a young worker can equal the financial compensation a young professor receives. Even in the best of times, agricultural workers destroy their bodies by the time they are 50. But he also gives a shocking litany of crimes committed by illegal aliens, just involving his farm and family. He finds more of his time occupied with crime and criminals—ranging from theft (of produce, tools, even a manuscript of Mexifornia); trespassing (with arms); littering and abandoning vehicles, sometimes driven off the road in drunken accidents. "These roving criminals offer a stark contrast to their hard-working fathers and mothers—and make us wonder what is wrong with Mexico or America, or both."
Throughout the book Hanson musters a stunning array of facts about immigration. These range from depressing statistics about the economic burden, educational backwardness, and health problems to personal recollections of growing up in an era that demanded discipline and preparation for being an American. Can one imagine a schoolteacher saying today as she did to Victor's classmates: "'Okay, keep talking during class, Esperanza, and you will end up picking grapes the rest of your life'"? As Hanson will conclude, the problem here does not lie ultimately with the immigrants.
Despite his criticisms of current immigration policies, Hanson also sneers at the lighter-skinned Mexican elites, who "privately laugh that they are exporting their Indians and Mestizos, their unwanted, into the United States." Hanson's retort: "we instead figure what they suppose to be riff-raff are the real cream of Mexican society: frontiersmen and women whose endurance and courage are good prerequisites for Americanization, and who in fact are superior people to those who oppress them at home." This acceptance, or more, is seen in the close relationships developed by Hanson's family with Mexican immigrants.
Hanson looks at a California that had been, in his own lifetime, extraordinarily successful—the most successful place in the entire world—at transforming aliens into citizens. Writing in the spirit of America's founders, Hanson says our future, both as Californians and Americans, "is entirely in the hands of its current residents. California will become exactly what its people in the present generation choose to make it."
Here he makes his most questionable argument, that American popular culture may prevent Mexifornia. "Just as age or gender distinctions have been absorbed by media and entertainment, so it is, at last, with race and national heritage—the last and most stubborn of man's traditional pecking orders to fall." If we must have Chicana Studies, let them pursue Jennifer Lopez. Here (as in other places) Hanson reminds me of Richard Rodriguez, who left the world of his house and family to become part of a public—which enabled him to become educated but also deprived him. Hanson's hope may be a variant on destroying a village in order to save it; to rely on popular culture brings to light the cowardice of those officially charged with the duty to act, not to mention the vulgarity on display in popular music, clothing, and other tastes. But this is the argument to which a distinguished classicist is reduced. One wonders if Hanson displaying Socratic irony.
He concludes we are faced with four choices. Of the first two, we could insist on rapid cultural immersion; we could take massive steps to close the border. Given current inaction, neither seems realistic. But Hanson prefers a third alternative: do both. The "more radical and holisticâ€¦solution would be to adopt sweeping restrictions on immigration and put an end to separatist ideology along with the two-tier legal system for illegal aliens." Given our failure of nerve, we are faced with the horror of the fourth possibility: Mexifornia—an "apartheid nation, with great distances between its elite and mass, which threatens all prosperity and turns the state into the poorest part."
Mass immigration didn't drive out paradise and create the People's Republic of California. But it adds to the momentum toward a socialist state. That is the choice we make by our current policy of doing nothing. As a policy advisor Hanson is resolute—and on target.
If, in theory, Hanson seems to be of divided mind, he simply reflects the paradox in the Declaration of Independence: We are a distinct nation with a distinct political identity—not only separate from Britain but from all other hitherto existing regimes. But we are also a nation distinct by virtue of our founding principle—all men are created equal. That principle means that any human being at any time in history has the essential quality to be an American. My friend Peter Schramm recounts the wonderful story of his Hungarian father explaining why they were leaving home and going, in late 1956, to America: "We were born Americans, but in the wrong place." In Mexifornia Victor Davis Hanson, a real American, portrays how sophisticated intellectuals, cynical growers, craven political leaders, and ambitious Mexicans have brought about a crisis in which neither immigrant nor native-born show interest in thinking and acting like Americans.