The Myth of the Mexican Work Ethic
There are two kinds of men that this article will necessarily offend. The first, and most obvious, is the kind of man who honestly believes in an exceptional Mexican work ethic -- the man who attempts to befriend or utilize the Mexican population to prove himself not to be a racist, to acquire their votes, or to unfairly associate himself with qualities belonging to others. But the second kind of man, in my opinion, deserves to be offended far more than the rest, for, hoping to find an essay about the laziness of Mexicans, what he is actually going to find is an essay about the foolishness of white Americans.
Being half-Hispanic, I have always heard, since as far back as I can remember, that Mexicans have a superior work ethic -- that they move quickly, and do much, and complain never. I do not necessarily debate these claims concerning the migrant laborer, but if I were to assert that these characteristics belonged to Mexicans as a whole, I believe I would do both Mexicans and Americans a disfavor.
In a sense, the claim is correct: Mexicans can be said to do the jobs avoided by whites, for less pay, and at a faster pace. Anyone at least remotely familiar with agricultural labor knows that whites largely avoid it, and that they avoid it because it is too difficult for the pay given. If we begin with this premise, that the pay is not enough to attract white people into this brand of heavy labor, we begin with a very sensible observation: that what is preferable to one man is not preferable to another. And if we can say that one labor is preferable to one man, which to another is not, we may say in this case that it is because one comes from a better circumstance, and the other from a worse one.
There are certain cases in which culture makes certain labors unpreferable: long-forgotten is Tocqueville's account of Native Americans, in which their disgust for the settled life of the farmer kept them from settling, which kept them from producing, which led to the depletion of resources, which led to the unsustainability of their uncivilized social arrangements. And I remember reading about certain Asian cultures in which the noble women kept themselves out of sunlight as much as possible, to keep skin fair as possible, to ensure they looked as little like the farm-laborers as nature would allow. But I as a blue-collar laborer do not see anything so unmanly and backward in white working-class culture to suggest any of these options: they see glory in dangerous and dirty fishing expeditions and honest living in plumbing and construction, being a culture which still, despite a growing tendency toward softness and litigiousness, shames younger and effeminate youths when they can't keep up, and takes pride in performance.
But I sincerely doubt there is anything in Mexican (or any other) culture which prefers difficult to moderate labor, and scanty pay to equitable; and I believe that in the case of the migrant laborer, what makes him tough and fast is not his ethic, but his desperation. Coming from a land of practical war and starvation, caused not by whites, but by his countrymen -- perhaps even by himself -- he seeks lands and people who've established some form of justice, and therefore have established employment. But he cannot simply help himself to whatever is available; skilled labor requires skilled language, and furthermore, the Mexican has no documentation, no education, and no recommendation. He flies where he cannot be regulated, and where his talents, which are few yet common, are best utilized. He flocks to the street corners and agricultural centers, looking for employers with plenty of work and little sense of patriotic duty.
It has been said that American farmers constitute the heartland of America. If this is the case, then America is suffering from coronary disease.
But this hardworking "ethic" does not exist amongst Mexicans who acquire their jobs legally: men who, being accustomed to the many privileges of a hard-won American heritage, a heritage which few of them appreciate, and which fewer defend, work in a so-called normal blue-collar job. Having worked my entire adult life in blue-collar positions, heavily diverse, in places such as even southern California, I cannot call the Mexican laborer anything better than average -- if even always that. I have met one truly exceptional Mexican worker in my entire life, a man who personally trained me to work hard and be proud of doing so. To him, I mean no insult: he and all others like him are deserving of honor. But if we call his ethic Mexican, and not personal, I believe we rob him of his glory and grant it to others unfairly. And if we grant titles of honor to the unworthy, we might as well not have them at all.
Seeing, then, that such a difference exists between the American citizen of Mexican heritage and the desperate refugee laborer, we come to a final and very important truth. Men, when guaranteed employment by a series of laws, who cannot be easily fired without lawsuit, who are given the option of welfare, who are granted the same opportunities as their neighbors, can be truly tested for a work ethic. For work ethics do not arise out of desperation. Good ethics, as can be openly seen with Asian immigrants, is something which exists beyond physical desperation; something which motivates not from a love of the physical -- not from a love of simple bread and water (for all men have this love, and it is known as survival), but from a sense of honor and shame, of right and wrong, of heritage and destiny.
An ethic is a belief system, not simply recited, but acted upon; something moving, living, breathing -- not acts of simple physical necessity, but of will to transcend. This work ethic is something spiritual, and it cannot be said to be had by the Mexican majority. This truth will not be popularly known -- and then probably spoken only in uncomfortable whispers -- until after the Mexicans have been granted citizenship in large numbers. The Mexican work ethic is a myth propagated by slimy politicians, furthered by irrationally prideful Hispanics, and believed by inexperienced and gullible white men. If there were a Mexican work ethic, then Mexico -- and not the Mexican Mormon colonies -- would be flourishing in the Mexican desert. Give the Mormons their deserved glory; let the Mexicans earn it.
But if this article is wrongly understood to be an insult to Mexicans alone (which to some, particularly those without a work ethic, it undoubtedly will be), I will have failed in my purpose. For underlying the story about immigrants is a universal message, something applicable to every man, and teachable to every child: first, that work ethics operate without desperation, and can be proven only when necessity no longer reigns supreme. Second, when unprincipled working men are given every reason to be slovenly, having recourse to unjust government programs and ridiculous lawsuits and racial quotas, they err in the opposite direction, and, believing themselves invincible to the evils of poverty, they fold their hands and work just hard enough to not be fired -- a cost which, although appearing to fall predominantly on the bourgeois, is actually borne by the paying proletarian. If employers cannot terminate for any reason, unethical employees will be lazy for any reason; when the quality of work is not the reason for employment, unprincipled men will not work with quality.
And if this lesson will not be learned by white Americans, then I say let the Mexicans have our jobs.