What If Spanish Catholics, Not Anglo Protestants, Colonized The U.S.?

Well, we’d just call it New Mexico

March 4, 2004 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

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Samuel P. Huntington, the author of “The Clash of Civilizations” who is coming out with a new book that among other things predicts the cultural takeover of the American Southwest, talks like an anthropologist, but his interest is power.

“With the collapse of communism,” he wrote in his 1996 bestseller, “culture replaced ideology as the magnet of attraction and repulsion, and Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union came apart and divided into new entities grouped along civilizational lines.”

Similarly, “As the Western power declines, the ability of the West to impose Western concepts of human rights, liberalism, and democracy on other civilizations also declines and so does the attractiveness of those values to other civilizations.”

So force, not persuasion, is way to go. It’s a neoconservative message. And an excerpt from Huntington’s forthcoming “Who We Are” carries the same message with regard to his predicted cultural clash in the American Southwest.

The forewarning came in the picture of people marching through Los Angeles waving Mexican flags and dragging upside down American flags. Huntington used the image in his 1996 bestseller “The Clash of Civilizations,” and it appears again in an excerpt from his next book.

The LA marchers were demonstrating against California Proposition 187, which restricted welfare for illegal immigrants. In his excerpt in the current Foreign Policy, Huntington adds another image from a 1998 soccer match between Mexico and the United States: the national anthem being booed and U.S. players being assaulted by fans.

“As their numbers increase,” he says, “Mexican Americans feel increasingly comfortable with their own culture and often contemptuous of American culture.” He defines American culture as “Anglo-Protestant,” as opposed to Latino-Catholic. And if immigration continues the way it has been going, the U.S. will be divided into “a country of two languages and two cultures,” Huntington says.

First the Mexican flags, then the soccer rebellion. Can invasion by Mexico be far behind? Huntington doubts it, but he does mention that Vicente Fox describes himself as president of 123 million Mexicans, 23 million of whom live in the United States. And, he says, “History shows that serious potential for conflict exists when people in one country begin referring to territory in a neighboring country in proprietary terms and to assert special rights and claims to that territory.”

The advance excerpt is already causing reaction as if it were full of startling new ideas. But Manifest Destiny has been around since the Yankee conquest of the Mexican territories in 1846. And it is not new for a Yankee thinker to ask, as Huntington does, “Would the United States be the country that it has been and that it largely remains today if it had been settled in the 17th and 18th centuries not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish and Portuguese Catholics?” No, he answers in a context of superiority. “It would not be the United States; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.”

But if it were settled in the 17th and 18th centuries by Spanish Catholics and then conquered in the 19th century by Anglo Protestants, who remained in the minority until the mid 20th century, what would it be? It would be New Mexico.
To explain Huntington’s culture thing, check out his earlier book. Published before the 9/11 attacks, it predicted future wars involving huge cultural entities – among them, Islamic civilization and Western civilization — not nations. He was uncompromising about this, saying, “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

A corollary was his rule of abstention: “The principal responsibility of Western leaders is not to attempt to reshape other civilizations in the image of the West, which is beyond their declining power, but to preserve, protect, and renew the unique qualities of Western civilizations.”

“Because it is the most powerful Western country, that responsibility falls overwhelmingly on the United States of America,” he wrote.
And now he finds that the most powerful Western country has a huge culture thing growing in the sunshine of its own Southwest corner. But to equate Latino-Catholic culture with Arab-Islamic culture is essentially misleading. In Latin America the church is not the basis of law and government. Religion is on the contrary a refuge from politics.

Which brings us back to New Mexico. Because of our diversity, we are a rich field for anthropology, defined as the scientific study of culture. After initial violence on both sides in the 19th century, a public civility evolved here that has been good for everybody in general. We respect the idea that people are born into a culture, that changing cultures is hard because your culture is everything you need to know to be a member of your society.

Anthropologists explore the difference between attitude — represented, for example, by the public posturing of flag wavers or soccer fans — and day to day behavior. Anthropologists study cultural change and the evolution of new cultures out of conflict, as in the Indo-Hispanic heritage of Mexico.

If Huntington is going to talk like an anthropologist, he ought to do some field work. But that’s not his purpose. He is making a political argument that cultural survival depends on cultural conformity and that, on the contrary, “In the final decades of the 20th century the United States’ Anglo-Protestant culture and the creed that it produced came under assault by the popularity in intellectual and political circles of the doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity.”

So in his view America is not all about diversity and the frontier experience, and so forth. It’s about “us versus them.” The consequences of this mentality are well known and long established. The ancient Chinese built a wall against the barbarians. The Soviets built a wall against the West. Israel is building a wall against the Palestinians. The U.S. borders, meanwhile, remain open, but if Huntington’s view prevails, not for long.