I arrived in Panama a few days after the U.S. invasion in December 1989. Mayín Correa, who later would become the capital’s very popular mayoress, had secured me an interview with Gen. Marc Cisneros, head of U.S. forces.
I didn’t have time to prepare, so I began by asking him when he had arrived in the United States, or if he was born on U.S. soil. He looked at me with polite patience.
“I didn’t come to the United States; the United States came to my family,” he answered. “We had been in that territory for a while. We arrived there when it was Spain. We were there when Texas was born and a little later when it transformed into the United States. I am the tenth or eleventh generation that settled in the nation’s west.”
Countries are elastic. They grow or shrink. Slowly, but it happens. At one point in time, Spain included Portugal and the region of Rousillon. Later it lost those territories, as it lost the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Alsace and Lorraine have been French, German and French again. Chile grew 120,000 kilometers at the expense of Bolivia, but in the same period shrank 750,000 kms. by turning over to Argentina much of its geography in Patagonia. In 2017, no nation on the planet has the same boundaries as it did 180 years ago.
Sometimes, the changes are induced by the political powers or war, but other changes are the result of demographics. The border between the United States and Mexico is more than 3,000 kilometers long. Every year, more than 50 million people cross it legally in one direction or the other. One million Americans, most of them retired, live in Mexico and the U.S. is home to 35 million Mexican-Americans, almost all of them immigrants who arrived in the past several decades, or children and grandchildren of those immigrants.
According to unfair stereotypes that are present at all latitudes, many Americans are secretly annoyed by the presence in the U.S. of millions of people who speak Spanish, have and display values and attitudes that are different from those in the mainstream, are fundamentally different and have, in their estimation, an IQ lower than “the whites’.”
By contrast, other Americans understand that it is impossible to ignore the presence of Latinos, even if only because they number more than 600 million in the New World, so they celebrate ethnic diversity as an appreciable social virtue, or at least as an inevitable fate.
After all, these enlightened Americans are aware of the country’s demographic trends and know that, by the mid-21st Century, Latinos will number 100 million. But in 2117, just one century from now, given the differences in the rate of fecundity, there will be as many Hispanics as Anglos in the United States.
Logically, that circumstance will have social consequences. Not all groups generate the same results, as can be seen in the United States’ ethnic mosaic. The second generation of immigrants from India, Lebanon, Israel, Greece, Armenia, Japan, South Korea and China have better income and higher levels of education than average white Americans.
This should spur U.S. society to devote itself to the education and integration of Hispanics. Rather than deny permanence in this country to the Dreamers — no less than 800,000 Latinos brought clandestinely by their parents to the U.S. when they were children and by now of college age — the sensible thing to do would be to build bridges to them and encourage them to remain here.
Almost 100 years ago, one of the arguments wielded in Congressional debates in Washington against the immigration of Asians was that those people had minimal intellectual capacity. Today, they’re considered to have an IQ higher than the average white American, and their presence in scientific schools in the best universities is overwhelming.
It is evident that the United States, the world’s leading power in our times, has clear symptoms of grandeur, but if the White House wants to preserve them it would be wise not to build walls against Latinos and close the doors to them. Rather, it should build bridges, open to them the doors to education and encourage them to play a brilliant role in this country for the benefit of all.
Published in Spanish by El Blog de Montaner on Saturday September 9th, 2017