April 5, 2006
Invading Mexico with Boomer retireesBy James Lewis
Messy, messy, messy. That's all we can say about the onslaught of uncontrolled, illegal migration of one—eighth of Mexico's population into the United States. The debate is getting hotter in Washington and on the air waves. It will be a long time before it settles down.
Things are about to get even messier and also more interesting.
The Baby Boomer retirement wave is upon us, and Mexico is bound to benefit. It's cheaper to live there, good medical care can be purchased, and millions of Boomers who want to stretch their retirement income will undoubtedly move a few hundred miles South. We are about to see a reverse, peaceful invasion of millions of Americans into Mexico. Large numbers of US retirees will raise the Mexican standard of living, and forge new relations between Hispanics and Norte Americanos. Call it people diplomacy.
Note to Presidents Fox and Bush: amidst all the Mexican demands for accommodation of law—breakers, how about removing the obnoxious restrictions on gringos buying land near Mexico's coast? It is kind of hard to take seriously all the rhetoric on friendship and partnership amidst such blatant discrimination.
There isn't much wrong with Mexico that capitalism and cleaner politics can't fix. What Mexico needs is freer markets, less corruption, and the rule of law. What's good for Iraq is also good for Latin America. Two great people movements, going in opposite directions, will lead to a better life for Mexicanos here, and there as well.
What about our country? Will millions of unassimilated Mexicans Mexicanize America? We don't need the worst of Latin America ——— endemic corruption, miserable poverty, an impassable chasm between rich and poor. Already the Democrats and Leftist media are delighted by the prospect of a new underclass to exploit and seduce for political gain; they have tried to change the English usage from "illegal immigrant" to "undocumented worker."
Until the New Media, that worked. Now the language is coming back: Illegal means illegal again. Getting the words right is a first, important step.
But things are a lot messier, with some real yelling going on between the opposing sides. Somewhere in the middle, where the majority lives, a tangled process of mutual accommodation is taking place in the culture. It's mostly invisible.
American kids are eating "wraps," also known as burritos. Old American cars and buses go to Mexico to get a new lease on life; Mexican mechanics can actually still fix American cars. In spite of thousands of marchers in Los Angeles, wildly waving Mexican flags, and gang fights between Chicanos, Blacks, Koreans, and Whites, the younger generation is learning English, as more and more Spanish—origin phrases enrich our spoken language. In another ten years we'll be walking around with ipods able to translate spoken English into Spanish, and vice versa. The language barrier will crumble faster.
Because we don't really know what will happen, we have only faith and history to go on. Human freedom, a desire for a better life, the rule of law, the need to unite against totalitarian enemies, a thousand and one daily contacts between peoples, will go on shaping what the United States will become. A hundred years ago waves of legal immigrants ——— Irish, Jews, Poles, Germans, Italians ——— came to these shores.
Yes, they were legal, but to Americans of that time they looked a lot more foreign than Mexicans look to us today. How could peasants from Southern Italy ever understand America? Would devoutly Orthodox Polish Jews ever learn to speak English? Would the Irish ever give up their hatred for Britain? What about the uneducated Anglo—Irish in the hills of Arkansas? Would they ever join the mainstream?
What a mess. Europe looked at us and sneered.
(They haven't stopped.)
And yet, some magical chemistry took hold. The families that stayed together, the people who worked hard all their lives, the most talented and good—looking, the ones who married and found jobs, all changed themselves and the country. The United States became the envy of the world in the 20th century, in ways that could not have been predicted when waves of poor, ignorant, and unassimilated people came ashore at Ellis Island.
We are the messiest country in the world in our ethnic mixture, and
We can't predict the future. Uncontrolled, illegal immigration is very troubling. At the same time, there is reason for hope. Chances are that Mexico will become more and more like America; and America will not cease being itself.
Americanization is happening all over the world. It will not stop here.
James Lewis is a frequent contributor.