At the beginning of the new millennium the nation should examine a factor that may foretell an important part of our future. John O’Sullivan said, “As goes California, so goes the nation.” The equivalent of the 19th century flood of European immigrants to the United States is underway, but the immigrants are Mexican. Roughly one-third of the 30 million Californians are of Mexican heritage. This will grow to half or more in a few years. Even after a decade of free trade, economic conditions between California and Mexico are starkly disparate, and the Mexican people know it.
From the bluff overlooking the Tijuana River toward San Diego, the view is stirring. San Diego Bay, a beautiful blue crescent, lies beneath the modern San Diego skyline. It is not unlike the Emerald City as pictured in the “Wizard of Oz.” At the forefront of this image snakes a long, tall black metal fence behind which the white U.S. Customs Service trucks patrol. Young Mexicans wait for their chance to breach the fence, then to sneak between the roving trucks into California. Some make it. Nothing but Soviet style checks can stem the influx.
Exacerbating this restive climate is the political turbulence confronting the Mexican government. Mexico can no longer be a socialist enigma propped up by a few wealthy families. Mexican leaders face an insurgent population educated by television and other modern media. The security promised by the United States is close by, and as discontent builds in Mexico, the likelihood of massive immigration into California increases. So numerous are Mexicans in California that Mexican politicians campaign for political offices here.
What do Mexicans do on their arrival? First they find work, then they get welfare. Top welfare benefits plus good wages are surely the sign of the promised land. No one works harder than Mexican men. The highest incidence of heart attacks in California occurs among Mexican males between the ages of 25 and 50. Although some are literally working themselves to death, the rewards seem too fantastic to ignore. Family units annually take $100,000 or more back to Mexico where they live on a fraction of their savings. After several years of migration, they move permanently, their extended families intact and supportive. Then, they ask lawyers like me to help them buy U.S. businesses with cash.
This may not fit the depictions of the Mexican as dumb, as a gang member, a lazy federale, or a corrupt politician. It is, however, a far more accurate picture than these television stereotypes. We do not know these people. Our impression of Mexican sociability overwhelms their reserved nature. Our irreverence denies their religion. Our bigotry clouds recognition of their business acumen.
In Salinas, one of the richest agricultural communities in the world, more than half the population speaks Spanish as a first language. These people are buying up the local hair salons, auto body shops, implement suppliers, and every other conceivable business. I met with the disaffected workers at the Coastal Berry strawberry farm shortly before they rejected the United Farm Worker’s Union in their now famous vote. One worker said to me, “We don’t want the UFW. My sons will own this farm.” A woman effused, “This is America, I can do anything.” Instead of being frightened by American institutions, Mexican immigrants are confident they will control them. Such optimistic sentiments can hardly be imagined by those who boycotted grapes during the 1970s in support of Caesar Chavez.
Ironically, few conservative American politicians seem to recognize these events. Republicans, except U.S. Senate hopeful Ron Unz, have not made noticeable overtures to this burgeoning group. Their political advisers still say, Mexicans don’t vote. Democrats are way ahead in the race to capture the Mexican vote. They have, by highly questionable voter registration laws, given the illegals the vote, but there is no assurance that this can be controlled. The Democrats, used to keeping the Mexicans down on the farm or happy with welfare, have difficulty adjusting to the new entrepreneurs. Will the party of welfare maintain its grip as more Mexicans achieve the contentment and prestige of middle class American life? Can the party of moral relativism cling to a deeply religious and family oriented culture? Bilingual (Spanish only) education in our public schools will not hold back students as their parents learn the more complex and useful English language in their business affairs.
As Mexicans assimilate, we should expect a simultaneous and gigantic shift toward the politics of liberty. What hope for the new millennium.
Robert J. Ernst III is a lawyer in general practice in Slainas, Calif.