I love immigrants from all places, of all colors, ages and backgrounds. But my feelings are particularly strong toward Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants, and when I think of why, two things come to mind. One is that most of them are Catholic, which for me means that for all our differences in language and experience I share with them the biggest essential. They love Our Lady of Guadalupe and so do I. They know Jesus. You don’t get more basic than one’s deepest beliefs, one’s understanding of the truest facts of life. So Mexican immigrants are more like me than some of my neighbors are, and in my heart I don’t see them as immigrants but cousins. (I am aware it is a faux pas to admit this. In the modern world we’re not supposed to like our own. Sorry.) ~Peggy Noonan
I think Ms. Noonan’s rebellion against “the modern world” is just fine. There should be more of liking “our own,” provided we know what we’re talking about. Engaging in xenophilia and pretending that people who are in most respects unlike yourself are your “cousins” is not the right place to start. Ms. Noonan happens to have come out against illegal immigration in the past, and has made fairly bold moves, considering her position as a regular WSJ contributor, in calling for such crazy things as enforcement of the laws. But the bulk of her article is such a confused mish-mash of sentiment and misinformation that someone who does not have firm and clear ideas about immigration policy will come away thinking, “Gosh, they’re such great people, they love America, and they’re virtually our cousins, so why not let them all in?” But this is not only a choice between letting in all those nice, young “cousins” of Ms. Noonan and enforcing the laws. It is a choice between imagining that legions of Mexicans and Latin Americans are basically just like us and will, given time and the right incentives, fit right in (despite their tremendous strength in numbers and close connections to their home countries) and rejecting this sort of wishful thinking to remember certain basic traits about what continues to be our predominantly Anglo-American culture that these immigrants, when they come here en masse in such numbers, are not going to adopt. Why won’t they? Because they will see no need to, because there will be no disadvantages in not doing so, and the many Peggy Noonans around the country who get weepy at the sight of Mexican Catholics will have no stomach for doing the things needed to push them to assimilate and acculturate (indeed, without the latter, the former doesn’t even really happen).
Let’s just see how long her desire to “like our own” lasts when someone, let’s say a Protestant of northern European ancestry or an old Anglo-Saxon(-Dane-German) like myself, starts talking about “liking our own.” The European-American Protestant does not really get to like “his own” in this same way–his sentiments will not be interpreted as the warm and fuzzy sentimentality that Ms. Noonan displays here, but will be regarded as vaguely threatening and dangerous. In a practical sense, to “like his own,” he will be excluding those who are not of his own, and somehow to hold on to what one has is deemed reprobate while taking over what belongs to someone else is deemed admirable. Somehow Ms. Noonan can have solidarity with her co-religionists to the point of welcoming them by the proverbial boatload, but he cannot have solidarity with his own kind to the point of keeping his country as he sees fit.
When this sort of thing is mentioned, there will suddenly be a great silence, followed by mutterings of words like “nativist” and worse, because in “our modern world” (MacIntyre might ask, whose modern world? which identity?) liking those born in your own country (your country’s “own,” you might call them) over those peoples from other countries is regarded as fairly deviant and unpleasant. If you can identify with various sorts of fellow Catholics who venerate Our Lady…well, that’s entirely different. That means you’re engaging in a friendly sort of identity politics, but woe to the man who engages in identity politics that seeks to preserve the identity that he has here in his own country. That would be exclusionary, and therefore wrong.
Ms. Noonan describes Mexicans as her “cousins.” That has to be a first in saccharine pro-immigration rhetoric. Culturally and ethnically, I am more Ms. Noonan’s cousin through my Ulster ancestors, but she will pretend that she has more in common with Guatemalans because of Catholicism (even though the sort of Catholicism that prevails in Latin America is, to put it mildly, not what a lot of Irish Catholics here or in Ireland would recognise). Notice that ethnic myth-making and the language of shared kinship can be used when it is in the context of showing solidarity with the Brits in the common fight against “the Huns” and terrorists, as it has been repeatedly over the last century, or now when it is used in immigration debates when we are speaking of what is actually a strictly spiritual kinship, but it suddenly becomes something nasty when used to refer to people in your own country. At that point myths of common descent and the idea of your ethnicity as an extended kinship group become somehow dangerous–why?
One wonders, however, whether the Mexicans will reciprocate and consider her as their prima. The answer is no, they won’t, because they have no illusions about who “their own” are, and “their own” will never include assimilated Irish-American women. Their children will not, in all likelihood, regard Ms. Noonan’s children as their “cousins,” nor is there any reason why normal people would extend their sense of familiarity and identity so broadly as to be meaningless. These are some of the reasons why, barring some radical change in attitudes and practices here, Mexicans and Latin Americans will take over large swathes of this country (not necessarily in a blunt or violent, irredentist way, but simply by filling up all the cities) and the Peggy Noonans of the world will ultimately let them have it because they are unwilling to do very much to keep it. Mexicans and Latin Americans have their sense of identity, their own stronger myths of who they are and where they are from and a feeling of a certain solidarity among themselves that will allow them to cohere and transform this country.
Going from the saccharine to the purely stupid, Ms. Noonan again:
One night, about 11 p.m., I was walking home with friends, going north on the wide, dark highway, and we came upon a woman, a thick middle-aged woman, dark skinned and dark haired. She was with a baby in a stroller. She was, I think, not the mother but the grandmother. They were there alone, in the darkness. Affixed to the stroller was a hand-lettered sign, and on the sign were these words: “American You Are Not Alone–Mexico Is With You.” All alone and she came out with that sign, at that time. I have tried to tell that story in speeches and I can never make my way through it, and as I write my eyes fill with tears.
Yes, this won’t do at all. Perhaps Ms. Noonan actually met such a woman, and this woman was moved to express her solidarity with America. Good for that woman. Of course, as the jingoes are so keen to remind us, even Le Monde expressed solidarity with America in the wake of 9/11 but generally has a not all together America-friendly view of the world. Mexicans in Mexico itself were notable in the days after 9/11 for being among the largest purchasers of bin Laden masks and were generally not terribly broken up by the attacks. This happened roughly one week after Mr. Bush had embarrassed himself in proclaiming that we had a “special relationship” with Mexico. (The possibilities for what might symbolise that “special relationship” are many, most of them not very flattering.)
Mexico non esta con nosotros. And that’s to be expected. If I was in Mexico after some national tragedy and said, “America is with you,” I suspect (though I cannot be sure) that I would either be laughed at or perhaps told not to be such a rude gringo. I’m sure generations of children in Mexico have learned to regard us as the oppressor, aggressor and general source of so many ills, so they would take some satisfaction in seeing us attacked. But I’m not going to sit here and pretend that most Mexicans had deep or heartfelt sympathy for us, or at least no more than any decent person would have done. They certainly had no more than the Iranians, who actually held vigils to commemorate the dead of 9/11, and we are weighing with a fair amount of seriousness whether to drop nuclear bombs on their country. So much for 9/11-related feelings of gratitude for foreign solidarity. Cheap sentimentalism about immigrants is bad enough, but where is the outrage at the deliberate distortion and use of a national tragedy in this way?
All those Mexican flags in the marches in L.A. and elsewhere 10 days ago had been a public relations disaster. So now it was all American flags.
Colour me cynical, but isn’t it significant that Ms. Noonan surely assumes that numerous Mexican flags would have been prominently displayed but for its adverse public relations effect? What does that say about what the American flag represents to a lot of these people? It certainly says something about which one they value more. It says quite a lot about which one symbolises them as a group. There is a flag with which they identify, and ours isn’t the one many of them instinctively fly. That’s also to be expected, unassimilated as they are, and so is the response of Americans to tell them to return whence they came. I can understand the impulse that has driven Latin Americans over the years to say, “Yanqui, go home!” So they should be the last ones to be surprised when they hear the same message.
Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis