My hometown of Selma -- like most other communities in rural Central California -- used to be a stable municipality. Immigrants from Europe, Japan, China, Armenia, the Punjab and Mexico flocked here to farm and prospered from their hard work, acumen and the natural bounty of the San Joaquin Valley. They came in one-time waves, under legal auspices and, within one or two generations, emerged as assimilated English-speaking citizens.
By 1970, Selma was a rich, multiracial society bound together by a cohesive and common culture.
That dream is now slipping away. Here in Central California, we have de facto apartheid towns made up almost exclusively of Mexican immigrants. Many are illegal residents who do not speak English and cannot and do not participate in the civic life of the state -- voting, community service organizations and jury duty.
There are manifest signs of social turmoil, the wages of illegality. Police squad cars have chased down our driveway after an illegal immigrant suspected of running a methamphetamine lab. Rare species on the farm -- great-horned owls, kit foxes, red-tailed hawks -- have been shot and left to rot, sport for members of local Latino gangs, by the sheriff’s reckoning. After my families spent five generations on the same land, I am no longer sure our children can or should live on what now seems like a wide-open frontier.
If the old way of measured and legal immigration, coupled with assimilationist policies, led to a melting pot, today’s open borders and the force-multiplying effect of a multicultural agenda have led to segregation in the schools and an alternate legal universe designed to accommodate the foreign culture of thousands.
Indeed, our exasperated and bankrupt state seeks to provide illegal residents with tuition discounts in preference to out-of-state American citizens, special driver’s licenses, bilingual government services and other creative exemptions in lieu of simply stemming the illegal tide and relying on the old method of turning foreigners into Americans.
We’re not supposed to talk about all this, but we are sorely in need of an honest national discussion. The left in the universities, politics and the media seems to find advantage in promoting an unassimilated -- and exploding -- constituency that requires leadership.
Some on the more extreme fringe see the changing nature of California as poetic justice of sorts, as the state reverts back to its purportedly Mexican (or is it Spanish or Native American?) roots. The Chicano ideology of La Raza (“the Race”) goes further, envisioning an entirely new culture of Latinos, not wholly American or Mexican. Of course, in private such chauvinists say they hope that this emerging Mexifornia will resemble San Diego rather than Tijuana.
The right is equally culpable. Employers in agribusiness, construction, hotels, restaurants and manufacturing welcome cheap labor. They complain that our own citizens find collecting entitlements more lucrative “work” than the backbreaking labor offered to illegal immigrants. The latter, they assure us, are blessed to find life here far better than in Mexico.
Perhaps. But those who rely on illegal labor rarely confess that there is a tragic cycle to their trafficking in human capital.
Too many teenagers from Oaxaca end up old before their time, exhausted and disabled after 30 years of picking fruit or laying concrete. Without education and legal status, they often must turn to the state for relief. Their children -- four of 10 Latinos don’t graduate from high school; fewer than 10% have bachelor’s degrees, according to U.S. census figures -- do not always agree that the U.S. was so kind to their parents. In response, employers complain that the children of illegal immigrants don’t work as hard as their parents -- and thus it is crucial to allow more illegals north.
And so the cycle continues.
The California electorate, of all ethnic backgrounds, is fed up with the current fiasco, even if it’s not talked about in polite conversation. People are fearful of being labeled racist or perhaps “nativist” or “protectionist.”
But while their legislators yield to special interest groups of businessmen and racial activists, Californians show their true sentiments from time to time by going into the ballot booth to vote overwhelmingly and in secret to end entitlements to illegal immigrants, bilingual education and affirmative action.
What is wrong with all this? Plenty.
It isn’t healthy for a citizenry to feel one thing and then say another -- nursing frustrations in private that one day will explode when tapped by demagogues of both right and left.
Unemployment levels in California remain high, and we will never unionize or improve the lot of entry-level and unskilled workers as long as management can count on a reliable alternate supply of hard-working illegals.
Finally, tolerating an entire class marked by illegality stretches the social fabric thin.
The irony of all this is that we need not embrace new, deleterious ideologies like La Raza studies, bilingual education, amnesty, open borders or new categories of quasi-legality to deal with the problem.
In the past, measured and legal immigration -- coupled with assimilation, the power of popular culture, intermarriage and the emphasis on a common, multiracial culture rather than separate multicultural identities -- usually ensured that all newcomers were indistinguishable from others within two generations.
We may now find that time-honored solution hurtful or simplistic, but it reflected a confidence in American culture -- and the reality that immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere had voted with their feet to come here rather than us there.