A recent family vacation to Northern California,
including driving up through the agriculturally lush
Central Valley and down past Big Sur along the
meandering, breathtaking Highway 1, was a telling
reminder of why so many people continue to flock to this
Golden State. It's hard to imagine a more beautiful and
Yet despite all the glories of California, the state
is changing so rapidly and in so many ways that another
mass exodus of the middle class to other states appears
to be in the offing. A lot of it has to do with the
tanking dot-com-based economy up north, and the results
of unchecked liberalism - high taxes, high utility
rates, punitive regulations on business, an excess of
entitlements and social-engineering legislation.
But there's something else that is building a sense
of uncertainty and unease among longtime Californians.
It's an issue that cannot be discussed in polite
company, lest one be called a xenophobe. That something
is called immigration. There are many good things about
it, especially in this land of immigrants, but there are
many problems as well.
Unfortunately, a politically correct ethic has
squelched a forthright discussion of the matter. There's
talk about tax burdens and changing demographics and
increased needs for public services. These often are
euphemisms for the real issue - the aging of the
wealthier Anglo population, and its replacement by new
residents mainly from poor regions in Mexico, who often
break the laws to get here.
If the forthrightness of that sentence takes you
aback, then you'll appreciate "Mexifornia," an analysis
of the immigration issue by Cal State-Fresno classicist
Victor Davis Hanson. It's a fair-minded and refreshingly
honest account of how California is changing in the face
of the immigration influx, and draws heavily on Hanson's
experiences on his family farm in a small town in the
San Joaquin Valley.
Hanson laments the loss of the old assimilation
ethic, which has been replaced by the multicultural,
grievance-mongering, government-preferences model. The
book is not an anti-immigration diatribe, but it might
strike some readers that way simply because Hanson deals
directly with questions that are often left unanswered
in polite company.
Why do they keep coming?
"Simply put, Mexican elites rely on immigration
northward as a means of avoiding domestic reform,"
Hanson wrote. "Market capitalism, constitutional
government, the creation of a middle-class ethic or an
independent judiciary will never fully come to Mexico as
long as its potential critics go north instead of
marching for a redress of grievances on the suited
bureaucrats in Mexico City."
Do the new immigrants take "our" jobs?
"Ban our yearly contingent of tough, lean Mexican
immigrants completely from California tomorrow, and I
think within a year or two the state would be almost
paralyzed - much of its food decaying, its hotels dirty,
its dishes unwashed, its lawns and shrubs weedy and
Aren't the new waves of mostly Mexican immigrants
the same as previous waves from other nations?
Yes and no. The issue, Hanson argues, is one of
assimilation. Many Central Valley towns where he lives
are inhabited almost completely by Mexican nationals,
who live in impoverished enclaves. This isn't much
different from other waves of immigrants, who struggled
for years in ghettoized communities until reaching the
American middle class. Indeed, large numbers of Mexican
immigrants reach the highest levels of society.
But there is a difference, born of sheer numbers from
the close proximity of Mexico: "As it now stands, the
constant stream of new arrivals means that for each
assimilated Mexican, there are always several more who
are not. Unlike Southeast Asians, who came all at once
to California and from thousands of miles away following
the disaster in Vietnam, Mexicans have had no
opportunity to mature together and slowly evolve as a
distinct cohort into Americans."
Throw in the new politically correct ethic that
teaches the new immigrants that they are exploited by
the white man, large percentages of immigrants who are
here illegally and therefore survive in an underground
economy, and an enormous welfare state available to all
comers, and the divisions in California keep getting
greater and more explosive.
How is this changing the state?
As new immigrants flock to our state, the aging
liberal white establishment pushes hard for growth
controls and other measures to keep their expensive
enclaves as they always have been.
This exacerbates tensions. During my drive a week
ago, I saw some of the many barrios and farm towns in
the Central Valley. But I also saw the many cities and
towns closer to the coast where only the outrageously
affluent can live. In places like Monterey, Carmel, San
Luis Obispo and especially Santa Barbara, home prices
have reached unimaginable proportions (median prices
approaching $1 million) due in part to development
We all see it happening - the Third Worldization of
California. The "haves" live in their
multimillion-dollar enclaves with views of the coast,
while enormous barrios house the "have nots."
Meanwhile, the politicians increasingly reflect the
tony liberal (and guilt-ridden) views of the wealthy
elites, and the disgruntled class- and race-based
politics of the growing underclass. Together they
increase taxes, expand racial preferences, punish
businesses - even as new waves of middle-class people
and retirees move to other places.
What does this mean for the future?
"Because too many unskilled Mexicans will come in
numbers too great to be easily assimilated, and since
their children will no longer be taught the need to
accept the common protocols and heritage of American
culture, the present pathology will only worsen," Hanson
wrote. "Either we lower standards ... or we maintain de
facto a permanent class of modern helots who do the
dirty jobs for their Spartan overlords, without ever
joining fully in the management of the world that their
hard work has helped to create."
It's controversial, but Hanson's book is a
refreshing, frank and fair-minded parley into this
A State of Becoming," by Victor Davis Hanson. Encounter
Books. 150 pp. $21.95