By the usual counting methods, the U.S. today has over 20 million Hispanics. Since they are overrepresented among immigrants and have above-average fertility rates, they are increasing far more rapidly than the population as a whole — perhaps five times as rapidly. Which is possibly among the reasons Republicans are beginning to talk about aggressively courting their vote. Thus far, however, it is unclear where Republicans stand on the big question for Hispanics.

 

As we have been lately learning from Out of the Barrio, by Linda Chavez, Hispanic politics nowadays can be viewed as one large, nasty wrangle between assimilationists and separatists. Ms. Chavez, a Reaganite who once worked for Ron in the White House, favors rapid assimilation of Hispanics into the American mainstream, and believes that this is in fact happening.

 

Much of the published income data appear to show Hispanics lagging badly behind whites, but these time series have been distorted by the avalanche of unskilled immigrants from Latin America. Working with unpublished government data on native-born Hispanics, Ms. Chavez says their earnings “do not lag significantly behind those of comparable non-Hispanic whites.”

 

A lot of politicians, educators, and campus radicals are nevertheless driven to support separatist goals. Many Hispanic solons yearn to keep voters in ghettos and dependent on government handouts. Many activists now talk as though you are not a “real” Hispanic unless you are still in the barrio. Only in America readers may recall the row in the San Francisco Fire Department over whether minority status (and the affirmative-action breaks that come with it) could be given to Hispanic firemen who seemed middle class.

 

Separatist politics got a considerable lift from the 1975 and 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, which solidified the perverse notion that underrepresentation of Hispanics among successful candidates was per se evidence of discrimination. This presumption leads endlessly to judicial support for more and more ghettoized districts guaranteed to vote in Hispanic candidates. To the dismay of Ms. Chavez, the Reagan Justice Department participated in Voting Rights Act lawsuits demanding more such districts, e.g., in Los Angeles.

 

The politicians who like electoral ghettos also tend to favor heavy government support for bilingual education. Out of the Barrio supports bilingualism to the extent that it involves merely instructing immigrant children who have not yet learned to speak English. But the educationists who today run the program in thousands of school districts are in large measure allied with local politicians eager to define these programs so that they have no natural termination point. Boston, for example, has kids deemed to still need instruction in Spanish after seven years in school.

 

The row over bilingual education is now widely understood to involve far more than pedagogy. The real issue might be framed about as follows: Will Hispanics do better in America by cutting loose from their immigrant past and pushing into the mainstream — or by demanding more of the entitlements presumed to be available for minorities?

 

The answer provided by the assimilationists is deemed threatening and politically incorrect on many campuses. Twice in the past year, Linda Chavez has been disinvited by college administrators who had asked her to speak and then ran into flak from the militants. Late in November she was supposed to speak at Hostos Community College in New York City but decided not to go onstage after being threatened with barrages of eggs; while leaving, she was slugged on the sidewalk. It is not easy for a Reaganite to be a “real” Hispanic.

 



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