Seeing Mexican Immigration Clearly by Douglas S. Massey

On Sunday Douglas S. Massey responded to Richard Rodriguez’s Monday article Mexicans in America. Here is a teaser of what his response contained:

To Americans who fear cultural displacement, I say look at what’s happening south of the border. Cultural influences travel in both directions and in an integrated economy they are inevitable. Given the global hegemony of the United States, however, the cultural effects are asymmetric. We influence Mexican culture and society far more than their they affect U.S. culture and society. Within Mexico, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Toys ‘R Us, and 7-11 are increasingly displacing Mexican outlets. Even Taco Bell is making inroads, and American cultural traditions such as Halloween and Santa Claus now compete with Mexican celebrations such as Day of the Dead and Three Kings Day.

Linguistically, English-speakers certainly have nothing to fear. English is increasingly spoken in Mexico and is viewed as essential for social and economic advancement. Even the smallest towns and cities in Mexico have bustling English language academies, and English has become a core part of the Spanish spoken by most Mexicans. Within the United States, in contrast, few Anglo-Americans speak Spanish and although it may be widely spoken among new immigrants, there is a rapid shift to English over time. Few of children of immigrants use Spanish rather than English and virtually none of their grandchildren can speak it at all.

Mexican immigrants do not migrate to take advantage of U.S. social services. Their service usage rates are well below those of other immigrant groups and have fallen sharply since the mid-1990s. Undocumented migrants, in particular, are more likely to pay taxes than to use public services, and even those they do use—mainly education and medical care—are consumed at rates well below what one would expect given their socioeconomic characteristics. The problem of paying for services to immigrants is serious, but one that is easily solved through federal transfers. Whereas tax revenues accrue disproportionately to the federal government, the costs of immigration are borne locally.

Mexico is not a threat to U.S. national security. It is an ally and friendly trading nation that annually spends less than 0.8% of GDP on its military. There are a million U.S. citizens living in Mexico and ten million Mexicans living in the United States, all of whom have multiple ties of kinship, friendship, and commerce that cross the border. Tourism is extensive and large shares of citizens in both countries have spent time on the other side of the border. Mexico has no resident Islamic community, no known terrorist cells, and has never been a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the United States. Those attributes describe our neighbor to the north, not our neighbor to the south.

The full article can be found here.

75 Responses to “Seeing Mexican Immigration Clearly by Douglas S. Massey”


  • Punkie Brewdrinker

    Bravo, Mr. Massey!

  • I definitely will have to agree with that!

  • Kjerringa mot Strommen

    HP – I have to agree with Julissa – I agree with most of the article. It’s nice to agree for once.

    On the subject, I think the following truism somes it up, even to this day – “Pobre México, tan cerca de Estados Unidos; tan lejos de Dios.”

  • Kjerringa mot Strommen

    Oops, I mean sums it up! I guess I´m overwhelmed that HP and Kjerringa agree.

  • I love it when we agree. This is a hugging moment! *sends internet hug to KMS*

  • Cancionero de Rosas

    Richard Rodriguez never gets his facts straight. Few Anglos speak Spanish? (Let alone his dumb-ass comment about Latinos?) Get real.

    I’m originally from New Jersey, hardly a state with a Latino history like California or Florida, and in both my field– auto mechanics– and my fiance’s field of nursing, EVERYBODY from lily-white Anglo Mayflower descendants to the Filipino immigrants was signing up to get fluent in Spanish. I even had the curious experience of dropping by a cafe downtown and encountering two Anglos conversing in Spanish with each other– they were practicing, they said. You can’t get a job in much of New Jersey without fluent Spanish– it’s an American language now in regular use, period.

    FWIW, I’m a fifth-generation Latino of Boricua extraction, and si, por supuesto yo hablo espanol. My parents actually weren’t taught Spanish in the home originally, but they quickly learned it themselves because it was of fundamental economic and cultural importance, and they made sure that mi Tio Pablo taught us when we were growing up.

    As I learned in my biz class in college, employees who are Spanish-speaking make an average– I’m talking average here— of $250,000 over just a 10-year stretch of their career, compared to those who can speak English. For Anglos this is obviously a motivation to learn and get fluent, but for us Latinos, it’s a stroke of good luck– we can essentially get paid muchisimo dinero just for passing on our native tongue to our kids. *Not* passing on Spanish is just the height of stupidity.

    I can’t tell you how many Latinos I’ve met who grew up in homes where the parents bought into the “Spanish is un-American BS” and forbade them from using Spanish themselves. Now they’re busting their tails to learn Spanish, often rather bitter about it since they’re having to work so hard for this necessary job skill– not to mention to be able to talk to their tias, abuelas y primos– when their parents could have so easily taught them the language at home.

    Honestly, I don’t get Richard Rodriguez– he seems to have this hobbyhorse about reassuring Anglo-Americans, “Don’t worry, we Latinos are duly forgetting the Spanish language and committing cultural suicide.” Um, no, we aren’t. If anything, the higher-generation Latinos like 5th- and 6th-generation Latinos are absorbing and using Spanish more than the fourth-generationers– it’s an upward trend.

    Frankly, I don’t care, and nobody else should, either. In most countries of the world, the majority of folks speak at least two languages– they look at you like an idiot if you’re monolingual. Just as the US has assimilated many groups of people, it’s also assimilated Spanish as one of its major languages in public use. In fact this is guaranteed by treaty, since after the Mexican War the treaty guarantees made Spanish co-official throughout the Southwest (this was the reason we didn’t have decades of guerrilla warfare after 1848, it met a critical demand for the war to cease).

    And the funny thing is, we all seem to be holding together just fine. Two of my cousins have served in the US military and fought in US wars, and Spanish-speaking Latinos serve the country disproportionately in other ways, too. Spanish isn’t breaking up our country or making us any less American– it’s just another novel ingredient of the American fabric that came about due to the unique history of the country esp. in the Southwest, and frankly, it doesn’t cause any problems.

  • Thanks for responding Cancionero de Rosas. I’d like to make a few corrections.

    First, the quote above was not of Richard Rodriguez – Richard Rodriguez is quoted here. The quote above is from Douglas S. Massey who happens to be the co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University, more on him here.

    Second, I don’t think that Massey was stating that not knowing Spanish – either by Non-Spanish Americans or Mexican Americans – is a good thing. I read it as him just stating facts, not implying that it was a good thing.

    Thirdly, your experience is vastly different than mine. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and have now lived in the San Diego area for eight years, two of the areas most populated with Mexicans in the country, and my experience is very similar to what Massey states: few Anglo Americans, and few third generation Mexicans, speak Spanish. I am certainly not saying this is a good thing, only stating facts.

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