Countering Huntington with 'Latino Sun, Rising'

By Marco Portales

COLLEGE STATION, TX (Sept. 28) This is Hispanic Heritage Month here at Texas A&M and across the
nation. We are celebrating the contributions of Latinos to the great
country that the United States has become and is in the process of
becoming. I say becoming because the U.S. has always been evolving. It
has always been in flux, and we have some great accomplishments of
which we can be proud, just as we have some events and periods which we
would rather not discuss. My point is that it is up to us, the common
citizenry, and to the leaders we elect to continue to work to make the
United States progressively better. Some people seem to believe that
our best days are behind us, but personally I won’t accept that. I
believe that we have not yet reached the point when the Constitution
protects everybody equally. When the Constitution arrives at that
point, then the U.S. will be at its true apex.

In previous years when I have been invited to talk about Hispanics,
I have sometimes consciously included what I knew would be some sour
notes. I have done so because I have felt the need to make some
realistic observations about the Latino condition in this country that
have not agreed with the positive outlook that most of us
understandably prefer to hear. I must confess that I, too, would rather
hear a cheerful message; but, we have to be real, we have to understand
the world we live in and we have to be sensitive, practical and
committed to improving the United States for everyone. In 2000, for
example, Temple University Press published my Crowding Out Latinos:
Mexican Americans in the Public Consciousness, a study where
reluctantly I took pains to point out how Latinos have been elbowed out
of the consciousness of this country. That was my assessment of the
20th century for Latinos, but I did so because I was concerned with the
21st century, because what happened during the last century will
continue to affect Spanish-speaking people today—if we do not speak
out. Since then I have taken several hits because people, including
some forward-looking Latinos, did not like that message. People do not
like to hear how the reality of our situation has been different from
the rhetoric that we would rather embrace and advance.

This year I have not had to work as hard as in previous years
because part of our reality has made manifest what I have been saying
about Latinos for some time. This year, five years after Crowding Out
Latinos, we are currently awaiting a lecture by Distinguished Harvard
Professor Samuel P. Huntington who will be on campus early next month
to tell us just how threatening the continued immigration of Latinos is
to the cultural make-up of this country. He is not only interested in
crowding us out; he is interested in keeping us out of the U. S. The
problem is that most of us were born here in the U.S. Huntington
believes in the innate inferiority of some cultures, and among the
inferior cultures he nonchalantly locates Mexicans and Latinos. I find
his views unacceptable, and I hope you will, too. One day soon we will
develop a true appreciation for the Latino presence and for the
contributions of our people. In two books by Huntington titled Who Are We: The Challenges to
America’s National Identity (2004)) and in The Clash of Civilizations
and the Remaking of World Order (1998), he misrepresents people from
Mexico and from Latin America. By doing so, Huntington displays a
fundamental misunderstanding for people who speak Spanish and for
people whose ancestral roots are connected to the Spanish language and
heritage. His misrepresentations are particularly exasperating because
instead of looking for points of harmony between cultures, Huntington’s
publications emphasize cultural differences that he uses to encourage
cultural clashes. What is ironical is that his views basically counter
our highest document, the Constitution of the United States. The
Preamble of the Constitution, for instance, is succinct enough to quote
in its entirety:

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect
Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the
common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings
of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States of America.

The founders literally capitalized the following nouns in the
Preamble: We the People, United States, Union, Justice, Tranquility,
Welfare, Blessings of Liberty, Posterity and Constitution. These are
all wonderful words that express some of humanity’s highest ideals.
Professor Huntington’s writings do not equally bestow these civic
virtues upon all Americans. What distresses me about the 816 pages of
Professor Huntington’s two books is that he argues that only a
“nativist” and Anglocentric emphasis is important enough in the
U.S.–as if the descendents of the New England Puritan tradition had so
special a claim to America that everybody else, including the

indigenous people of the Americas, never existed. Basically that is
what Professor Huntington says again and again. He erases or tries to
erase what he does not like. And he erases, or desires to erase people
he dislikes and who do not comfortably fit into his Boston American
world. But, since when is Boston not a multicultural world, too–just
like the rest of America today?

Everybody who is not White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, Huntington
sees as peripheral or of secondary importance to his own heritage.
Indeed, that is why I wrote Latino Sun, Rising—to show that U.S.
Latinos also have a heritage that we have been struggling to articulate
so that people can see how we have contributed to the American mosaic
and how we can contribute more, given opportunities and the good will
of others. My question is: why would he come to Texas, given the
message of his books? To tell Latinos and non-Latinos that the heritage
that we are celebrating this month is no good, that we are not part of
the great American culture to which we all belong? Why separate us and
then encourage others to see us as he does?

That is what is especially galling to those of us who feel the
responsibility of celebrating the contributions of our ancestors. For
our ancestors arrived here so that we can enjoy lives that
unfortunately they never had. That is what Latino Sun, Rising, seeks to

According to Professor Huntington, there are 7 or 8 world cultures
today that our national leaders should be mindful about when shaping
U.S. foreign policy. In world circles that thesis would not appear to
offer an especially profound insight, for it is not a political
revelation of much consequence or novelty. So, to incite the views of
people who do not like Mexican and Latin American immigrants,
Huntington’s book declare as undesirable not only Hispanic cultures but
all cultures that are different from his sense of what the United
States is or ought to be. That is why his publications have elements
that offend almost every other culture that is not American, that is to
say, the rest of the world’s major civilizations, including the Eastern
Orthodox, Latin American, Islamic, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, and
African cultures. As a one-time presidential advisor, what should we
think of diplomatic views like this? With such a global view, what kind
of foreign policy can the U.S. mount that will allow us to deal with
integrity with the rest of the world?

Cultures that exhibit diversity he finds particularly threatening
and irreconcilable. To fit neatly into his views, for example,
Huntington wants to believe that Latino culture exhibits a monolithic
uniformity that he finds antithetical to American culture today.
Actually, this very diversity is what is increasingly defining
America—and all to the good. Why? Because the diversity movement is
progressively granting more U.S. residents the protection of the
Constitution. Th

e Constitution, Huntington must be informed, is not a
document only for white people; it is for every American, including
Latinos, regardless of race, color, creed, and gender. According to his
published theories, Spanish-speakers belong to a civilization that
celebrates values and mores that are so different from Americans who
trace their descent to England and Puritan America that Latinos will
never assimilate or acculturate. He doesn’t appear to understand that
there are many more Latinos like myself who were born here and who have
studied in the U.S. all of the days of our lives. As such, we know not
only about the good side of the Puritans but also about their
intolerant ways. We also know, however, about the Iroquois, the
Chippewa, the Pawnee and the Comanche, the Karankawa and the Caddo here
in Texas, among others. We know about the French effort to colonize
America as well as the Spanish one. This is a part of history that no
one can ignore because it continues to shape so much of what we
continue to live with today.

The U.S. is a wonderful conglomeration of everything that has
happened before, and we ought daily to celebrate that, as Whitman,
Emerson and others repeatedly pointed out in various ways. However,
because there are always people like Professor Huntington who insist
that only certain people are the rightful Americans, we have to assert,
yet again, that the only people who may not be interlopers in America
are the indigenous people who were clearly here when Columbus arrived.
The rest of us are interlopers, Johnny come latelies and Mary come
latelies, Juans and Marias who came to the U.S. generations ago or as
recently as yesterday, all propelled by the Americano Dream of owning a
house and living a better life. There is no greater country in the
world. The United States has no parallel, and there has never been
another country like it, mainly because we have a Constitution that
promotes and encourages freedom and diversity.

In America people are free to acculturate or to assimilate to the
degree that each individual desires. In the United States, “we the
people” have the freedom, guaranteed by the First Amendment, to express
ourselves in however way we choose, so long as we do not impose or run
rough-shod over the freedoms and property of other Americans. Indeed,
it is this very freedom that allows Huntington to express his views,
but we should not be deluded by his message. A counter message, in
effect, is what I endeavor to show in Latino Sun, Rising.

Writing about Latinos today is not an easy job. It is not easy to
come up with a neat synthesis that convincingly explains why I believe
that the Latino Sun is finally rising, even in the face of
disparagements like Huntington’s. It is a difficult task to look at
some of our realities today and still to maintain hope. It is
difficult, for example, to see our high Latino dropout numbers and
still hope that our students can somehow take a quantum leap that will
allow them to enter a University like Texas A&M. Nonetheless, that
is the nature of our challenge. Some non-Latinos might even say,
Hispanics don’t even know what to call themselves, they are so
confused. But we are not. Everything depends, of course, on whom you
are talking to or about. We definitely feel comfortable using the names
we do; the problem is that other people have not taken the time to
learn about us. Huntington, for instance, makes no distinctions between
Latinos. For him, a Puerto Rican, who is an American because the island
is our commonwealth, is the same as a Peruvian. But there is a wealth
of difference between the two, just as being a Nicaraguan is totally
different from being a Bolivian.

Spanish-speaking people employ terms like Hispanics, Latinos,
Chicanos, Mexican Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, and Cuban
Americans, for example, to express our nationality and ethnicity. Our
members hail from all of the existing races. Latinos exhibit all the
colors of the human spectrum, and the point of commonality is that we
speak Spanish or that our ancestors spoke Spanish. Spanish is the 4th
most used language in the world, after English, Chinese and Hindustani.
In the United States, we currently have a little more than 41.3 million
Latinos, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and Spanish-speakers have
roots in all twenty-one Spanish-speaking countries. Sixty seven (67)
percent of U.S. Latinos are Mexican American; Puerto Ricans make up
nine (9) percent of this population; Cuban Americans comprise four (4)
percent; and all of the other Latin American countries, including
Spain, make up the remaining twenty (20) percent. These are particulars
that Huntington is not concerned with when he writes about the scourge
of the immigration problem which he feels is currently threatening to
destroy civilization in the United States. That, however, is hardly the

Out of the current 293 million Americans, about fourteen (14)
percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic. It is true that certain
states, like California and Texas, to name the largest two, are
projected to become what demographers call minority majority states
some time in the next quarter century. But even when that happens, I
have been seeing this immigration where I grew up in South Texas most
of my life, and I am convinced that Latinos are not arriving in the
United States to weaken and to destroy it, as Huntington believes.
Mexicans and other Latinos have been immigrating for 157 years, that
is, since the U.S. War with Mexico ended in 1848. What Latinos have
been contributing, indeed, are the energies and the talents of their
lives, replenishing and reshaping the United States in the process. As
a people, we have sacrificed and we have worked for the mutual benefit
of this country as well as ourselves, as so many different types of
testimonials assert. Yet it is exactly this transformative interaction
between immigrants and the residents already in the U.S. that
Huntington apparently fears. Frankly, I do not see how Huntington can
see Spanish-speakers as an undesirable threat to the United States, so
I am left with supposing that it must be because Latinos are not
directly connected to the English Protestant background that he write
and talks.

The 1846-1848 War with Mexico is the historical event that
culturally constructed Spanish-speakers as less than the
Anglo-Americans who defeated the Mexican soldiers. The end of that war
ceded or turned over roughly fifty-five (55) percent of the Mexican
territories to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on
February 2, 1848. That land amounted to the current-day states of New
Mexico, Arizona, California and parts of Nevada, Utah and Colorado.
Texas, you may recall, had given up its independent status as a
republic and joined the union a year before in 1845. To make up for
damage to Mexican property during a war where the U.S. was the
recognized aggressor, the U.S. gave Mexico $15 million, the same amount
that Thomas Jefferson paid France in 1803 for the Louisiana Purchase,
or all the land drained by the Mississippi River.

Historians claim that roughly about 70,000 Mexicans lived in the
lands turned over to the United States at the end of the war in 1848.
The treaty gave the Mexican citizens in those territories one year to
return to Mexico, or to stay where they were and become American
citizens. Some, of course, returned to Mexico, but most stayed where
they had their homes, lives and possessions. After the war, the U.S.
Congress actually considered annexing all of Mexico, an idea that most
of us have forgotten or never knew. And there was some support for
making Mexico part of the United States, but for Senator John Calhoun
of South Carolina. The story is that he stood up in Congress and said
that the U.S. could not bring all of Mexico into the union because that
would make the U.S. a bilingual nation, and speaking both English and
Spanish would tilt political power. Calhoun prevailed, and the American
troops were pulled out of the Mexican capital, lea

ving Mexico as a
sovereign country. One can see a certain ideological connection between
Professor Huntington and Senator Calhoun, for neither embraces Mexico
or Mexicans.

Now, how “American” could the Mexican citizens in the lands ceded
to the U.S. become? After all, at the end of 1849, the year of the
storied California Gold Rush, the people still looked Mexican and they
likely still spoke Spanish, with perhaps a little English. And, if this
first generation of 1849 Mexican Americans could or would not become
full-fledged “Americans,” what about their sons and daughters? What
does it take to become a “full-fledged American”? I guess it takes the
full desire of the individual, the full desire of a society that is
willing to leave its heritage behind, and the full desire of the
society being courted. As soon as we itemize what it takes, we begin to
see why assimilation and acculturation have been so difficult all of
these years. First, not too many self-respecting group of people will
choose to leave their traditions behind completely; second, no group of
people will uniformly work together toward accepting another group of
people into their fold; and, third, that should explain why
assimilation and acculturation tend to take place on an individual
basis, with some people desiring that goal, while others take comfort
in the culture into which they were born.

My point is that we have people living all along the
assimilation/acculturation spectrum, telling us that people have every
right to position themselves wherever they culturally want, wherever
they feel most comfortable. That is what gives individuals their
personal identity, their link to the heritage they are born into or the
one they choose. Doing so makes us a stronger, more diverse country,
because people will then be motivated and propelled to make their
contributions to society by relying on their strengths and talents, and
not according to what someone else thinks or what the government
happens to believe.

The transformative, social vehicle helping to shape where people
are on the assimilation/acculturation scale that I have sketched would
have fallen to the schools. But how good were the mid-nineteenth
century schools of the Great American Southwest? Although it has now
been more than 150 years, more than 7 generations, to what extent are
the Spanish-speaking people of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California,
Nevada, Utah, and Colorado Americanized? What we have is what people
have rightly chosen, given the opportunities afforded them and their
prerogative to choose. The issue is not a matter of blaming anyone. It
is a matter of understanding how past opportunities have shaped the
mores, the values and the life decisions that people have made, given
their constitutional rights to choose.

Latino Sun, Rising discusses these issues and considerably more.
The book is divided into 3 parts, Youth, Parenthood and Public Policy
issues. It is comprised of 43 nonfiction essays and a fictive one,
covering 3 generations of my own family–not because it is my family,
but because I believe that the experiences of the Portaleses are
representative of what other Latinos have also gone through in this
country. My grandparents came to the United States in 1918 toward the
end of the Mexican Revolution. They arrived in Buda, Texas outside of
Austin, where my six-year old dad started picking cotton with his mom
and father and brothers to feed the family. If I was paid $2.50 per 100
pounds when I picked cotton in the mid-1960s, we can imagine how much
they must have gotten paid forty years before in 1920. I mention the
pay mainly because I want to underscore the fact that our family, like
countless other Hispanics, just happened to arrive in the U.S. before
the Roaring Twenties. The Rio Grande River was our Ellis Island, but I
do not see that the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the
Interior has spent $162 million as it did in 1990 setting up something
comparable on our southern border to an Ellis Island Immigration Museum
to commemorate the millions of Latinos who have also crossed searching
“for freedom of speech and religion, and for economic opportunity in
the U.S.” Why not, we may well ask. What’s the difference in the
immigration stories from Europe and the ones from Mexico and Latin
America? Why honor immigrants from Europe and why fail to appreciate
the Spanish-speaking ones?

When the Border Patrol, the same one that chases illegal immigrants
today, was established 81 years ago by Congress in 1924, my ancestors
understandably moved to Edinburg, the seat of Hidalgo County, where I
was born 24 years later. My dad and his mother, who lived to be 97
years, never told us much about those difficult years. He and my mom
wanted my brother and me to succeed in America, so they provided us
with the best they could and sufficient love and encouragement. We had
what would have been a middle-class upbringing by 1950 standards
because my dad worked until he was able to build a neighborhood grocery
store in 1946 on which the family relied for twenty-three (23) years
when he passed away. Latino Sun, Rising sketches the trajectory and
evolution of our family’s history, including the barrio where my
brother and I joyfully played as kids, and then the school years, all
the way to my Ph.D. in English in Buffalo, New York. Today, my brother
works for Lockheed-Martin located by the NASA Johnson Space Center. I
believe people today will say that we have “made it,” which to me means
that, with the proper support and encouragement, other Latinos can be
successful, too, suggesting that what Professor Huntington says about
Hispanics is simply wrong.

For, we, too, are interested in building America in the 21st
century. We have assimilated and become acculturated to the extent that
we have wanted to, and to the extent that society has encouraged and
discouraged us. America, I nonetheless feel, is a great place because
it should provide all people with opportunities, and everybody is aware
that opportunities require hard work. I know that Latinos have never
been scared of that because life has shown me that we tend to be pretty
good at hard work.

My wife Rita and I wrote our most recent book, Quality Education for
Latinos and Latinas: Print and Oral Skills for All Students, K-College,
because we are eager to share what we have learned in more than thirty
years of teaching apiece. We want to show people how we can all
capitalize on opportunities that can make the U.S. a better place for
everyone. Hispanics continue to enrich and contribute to American
society, as we have demonstrated again and again during Hispanic
Heritage Month and throughout the year. The Latino Sun is shinning
brighter than ever before, making our Spanish-speaking world a
stronger, better partner in the effort to create a fairer U.S.A. For
that we should all be proud. We have, of course, more to say, but let’s
talk about that book on another occasion. Thank you for your kind
attention today.

Note: Remarks prepared for Hispanic Heritage Month
Presentation at Texas A&M University Evans Library, 204E; 3:30 p.m.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005.

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