Hispanic Intermarriage

Jeb Bush tries to make the case for a pro-immigration, pro-immigrant, pro-Latino posture for conservatives:

His insistence on engagement is not a call for multiculturalism. Quite the opposite: “The beauty of America—one of the things that so separates us [from the rest of the world]—is this ability to take people from disparate backgrounds that buy into the American ideal.”

With regard to assimilation, he says, Hispanics have much to be proud of. “Second-generation Hispanics marry non-Hispanics at a higher rate than second-generation Irish or Italians. Second-generation Hispanics’ English language capability rates are higher than previous immigrant groups’.”

Jon Chait objects to this twice in response to Ezra Klein who defends Bush. I want to recommend Jamelle Bouie on this subject who makes excellent points and come down on Ezra’s side of the dispute.

Here’s Chait’s point:

It’s clearly the case that Bush is making a pro-immigration argument and that he’s refuting some harsh anti-immigrant forces within his party. Ezra seems to leap from that point to the conclusion that Bush is making a perfectly benign argument about immigrants […] He’s defending Latino immigration on the grounds that Latino immigrants intermarry and lose their identity. That’s better than opposing Latino immigration on the grounds that those things won’t happen. But not quite the same thing as accepting Latino immigrants as full Americans whether or not they marry white people and gradually lose their distinctive culture.

I really think this is wrong. For one thing, Bush was careful to say “non-Hispanics” and not “white people.” More generally, the fear that high levels of Latin American immigration will irrevocably alter American culture is I think a legitimate thing to worry about. After all, it’s certainly true that neighborhoods full of recent immigrants are quite different from neighborhoods where recent immigrants are sparse so you can see where people might get the idea that either we need to choke off immigration or else America will be transformed into a giant Jackson Heights. What’s more, binationalism is a genuinely problematic scenario for democratic countries as witnessed by Belgium’s endless problems.

The fact that these kinds of worries are factually ungrounded strikes me as an important point to make. This is particularly true because I think the evidence suggests that cultural worries of this sort are a crucial driver of anti-immigrant sentiment. If the wage impact of immigration was the main worry, you’d expect hostility to Mexican immigration to concentrated among Spanish-speaking recent immigrants and it to be highly correlated with enthusiasm for higher levels of high-skill Asian immigration. Clearly, however, that’s not the case. Erecting taboos around these cultural worries is only going to be counterproductive.

At any rate, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that Ezra and I are both examples of English-speaking people of partially Latin American ancestry. It seems to me that one of the roots of the problem is precisely that the general public doesn’t recognize the Matt Yglesiases of the world in this way. Only highly un-assimilated Spanish-dominant people “present” to the bulk of the country as genuinely Hispanic, leading to the perception that Hispanic immigrants and their descendants are all non-assimilators who don’t know English. That’s in fact not the case, and people should hear about it.


For the record, I personally think Jackson Heights is great.

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