Things Are Changing; Deal With It : THE COMING WHITE MINORITY: California and America’s Immigration Debate.<i> By Dale Maharidge (Times Books: $25, 331 pp.)</i> : AMERICANS NO MORE: The Death of Citizenship.<i> By Georgie Anne Geyer (Atlantic Monthly Press: $23, 368 pp.)</i>
Some time before the turn of the century, California will join New Mexico and Hawaii as the only states in the union with nonwhite majorities. Although this event has long been considered inevitable, it won’t pass quietly.
The reaction, in fact, has already begun. Two years ago California voters, by a wide margin, approved Proposition 187, which promised to deny a variety of basic services to undocumented immigrants. Next month, voters are likely to approve Proposition 209, which would effectively end government-mandated affirmative action in the state. And lurking on the horizon is the California Lawful Employment and Residency initiative, which would make it a crime to rent or sell property to undocumented immigrants.
The trend is being mimicked elsewhere: In the eight months after Proposition 209 was proposed, more than 20 states took up bills or resolutions to limit affirmative action and 15 of them copied the controversial wording of the California initiative.
But not everyone shares this pessimism about the nation’s changing demographics. Dale Maharidge, a Stanford journalism professor and co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “And Their Children After Them,” takes a more positive approach in “The Coming White Minority: California and America’s Immigration Debate.”
As the title suggests, Maharidge’s basic position is: Things are changing; deal with it. Yet he relies on far more than statistics, studies and self-appointed experts to explore this trend. Instead, he takes readers into neighborhoods and schools to show us how four Californians--a black sheriff’s deputy from Sacramento, a Latina elected official from Los Angeles County, a college freshman of Chinese ancestry and a white businessman from Orange County--are dealing with the changes transforming the society around them.
Maharidge uses his subjects wisely, but what really makes the book work is the deft way he weaves in enough history and context to help us reach our own conclusions--and to understand the ramifications of those decisions. He notes, for example, that Proposition 187 was not the first salvo in the California electorate’s backlash against the disenfranchised:
“Many people on the front line of government and social services now view the passage of Proposition 13 as a turning point in the disassociation of white society from the growing number of ‘strangers’ in their midst,” he writes. “By 1978 more than one in three of the state’s residents was nonwhite. Whites felt an underlying antipathy to what they viewed as a Third-World society in their midst. They simply did not want to pay taxes for services that would benefit people different from them.”
As demographic trends continue, Maharidge says, it’s only a matter of time before California minorities find a way to unite as the official majority. In a sense, that’s the most hopeful message in the book. While doomsday prophets may lament the loss of morning in America, Maharidge offers the possibility that the afternoon might not be so bad after all.
But Georgie Anne Geyer, author of another book on immigration, “Americans No More: The Death of Citizenship,” sees it differently. White fright over the immigration issue is threatening to remake California--and the nation--much the way white flight did more than a generation ago. And it’s this fear that fuels her angst-ridden book.
A widely respected syndicated columnist, Geyer has reported from most of the world’s hot spots during her long career--a fact she reminds us of with annoying frequency in this, her seventh book. But although fairness and perspective are of tantamount importance to journalists, Geyer seems to have little use for either in “Americans No More.”
People she obviously likes and agrees with--like former Education Secretary William J. Bennett and former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm--are variously described as “courageous,” “legendary,” “brilliant,” “respected,” “wise,” “distinguished” and “committed.” Groups that Geyer disagrees with--like the National Lawyers Guild, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and sectors of the Protestant Church--are “radical,” “far left,” “deluded,” “utopian” and “cynical.”
These adjectives--and her constant use of exclamation points!--weaken many of Geyer’s arguments. In effect, she begins each debate by issuing white and black hats to the participants, giving the discussion all the suspense of a spaghetti western or a pro wrestling bout. Moreover, the book is loosely constructed; it’s essentially a series of wandering anecdotes in search of a unifying theme.
Geyer says U.S. immigration levels--especially from regions outside Europe--have been too high for years, and she also has problems with the idea of naturalized citizenship, despite the fact that three of her grandparents emigrated here. She fears the Balkanization of the United States, with the possibility that the desires and loyalties of minority communities could take precedence over national unity. But in her doom-and-gloom analysis, she offers no solutions or suggestions for correcting those problems.
Someone should remind Geyer that there once was a place where immigration was unknown and the need for national unity ruled out annoying individual expressions. It was called the Soviet Union.