Comparing Secondary Sources
The study of history informs how we think about society today. Comparisons with the past are an essential part of how policy makers and citizens debate key issues. For instance, one of the most controversial topics in American society is immigration, and many arguments hinge on comparisons to past generations of immigrants and how they were perceived at the time. For Part 7, "The American Age," the issue of Latino immigration demonstrates how history influences contemporary political debates. For this exercise, you will be taking on the role of historian, and thus you should focus on evaluating the uses of history, not current immigration policy.
For this exercise you have two tasks:
Part 1: Compare the ways that history is used in the two secondary sources on contemporary Latino immigration.
Part 2: Using primary sources, evaluate the arguments of the two secondary sources.
Part 1: Comparing Secondary Sources
Each of the following secondary sources was written by a scholar of contemporary immigration politics. In these selections, the authors draw comparisons between the issues surrounding past generations of immigrants and the issues surrounding immigrants today. The first is from Dr. Jason Richwine, a contributing writer at the National Review and former senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. The second text is from Leo Chavez, a professor of anthropology at the University of California–Irvine. While Richwine is interested in assimilation, immigration, and national culture, Chavez is concerned with how immigrant groups are represented in contemporary discourse.
Compare the views of these two scholars by answering the following questions. Be sure to find specific examples in the selections to support your answers.
What issues that surround Latino immigration to America does each author address?
What comparisons does each author make to historical immigration groups?
In what ways might these authors respond to each other's work?
Based on what you have learned, what examples from American history can you think of that would support or refute each author's argument?
Jason Richwine, "The Congealing Pot" (2009)
They're not just like the Irish—or the Italians or the Poles, for that matter. The large influx of Hispanic immigrants after 1965 represents a unique assimilation challenge for the United States. Many optimistic observers have assumed—incorrectly, it turns out—that Hispanic immigrants will follow the same economic trajectory European immigrants did in the early part of the last century. Many of those Europeans came to America with no money and few skills, but their status steadily improved. Their children outperformed them, and their children's children were often indistinguishable from the "founding stock." The speed of economic assimilation varied somewhat by ethnic group, but three generations were typically enough to turn "ethnics" into plain old Americans.
The challenge of assimilation for Hispanic immigrants
This would be the preferred outcome for the tens of millions of Hispanic Americans, who are significantly poorer and less educated on average than native whites. When immigration skeptics question the wisdom of importing so many unskilled people into our nation at one time, the most common response cites the remarkable progress of Europeans a century ago. "People used to say the Irish or the Poles would always be poor, but look at them today!" For Hispanics, we are led to believe, the same thing will happen.
But that claim isn't true. Though about three-quarters of Hispanics living in the U.S. today are either immigrants or the children of immigrants, a significant number have roots here going back many generations. We have several ways to measure their intergenerational progress, and the results leave little room for optimism about their prospects for assimilation.
First, the second generation still does not come close to matching the socioeconomic status of white natives. Even if Hispanics were to keep climbing the ladder each generation, their assimilation would be markedly slower than that of other groups. But even that view is overly optimistic, because of the second, larger problem with Hispanic assimilation: It appears to stall after the second generation. We see little further ladder-climbing from the grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants. They do not rise out of the lower class.
So why do Hispanics, on average, not assimilate? Theories abound. Popular explanations from the left include the legacy of white racism, labor-market discrimination, housing segregation, and poor educational opportunities. Those on the right tend to cite enforced multi-culturalism, ethnic enclaves, and a self-perpetuating culture of poverty. . . . [T]he lack of Hispanic assimilation is likely to create ethnic tensions that threaten our cultural core. Human beings are a tribal species, and this makes ethnicity a natural fault line in any society. Intra-European ethnic divisions have been largely overcome through economic assimilation—Irish and Italian immigrants may have looked a bit different from natives, but by the third generation their socioeconomic profiles were similar. Hispanic Americans do not have that benefit.
Persistent ethnic disparities in socioeconomic status add to a sense of "otherness" felt by minorities outside the economic mainstream. Though it is encouraging that Hispanics often profess a belief in the American creed, an undercurrent of this "otherness" is still apparent. For example, a Pew Hispanic Center Survey in 2002 asked American-born Hispanics "which terms they would use first to describe themselves." Less than half (46 percent) said "American," while the majority said they primarily identified either with their ancestral country or as simply Hispanic or Latino. . . .
The stalling of Hispanic assimilation after the second generation
It is difficult to see how a unifying national culture can be preserved and extended in that environment.
Source: Richwine, Jason. "The Congealing Pot." National Review August 24, 2009, pp. 37–39.
Secondary Source 2
Leo Chavez, The Latino Threat (2008)
This book grew out of my attempt to unpack the meanings of . . . [negative] views about Latinos. Rather than considering them in isolation, I began to see them as connected, as part of a larger set of concerns over immigration, particularly from Mexico and other parts of Latin America; the meaning of citizenship; and the power of media spectacles in contemporary life. The Latino Threat Narrative provides the raw material that weaves these concerns together.
The Latino Threat Narrative posits that Latinos are not like previous immigrant groups, who ultimately became part of the nation. According to the assumptions and taken-for-granted "truths" inherent in this narrative, Latinos are unwilling or incapable of integrating, of becoming part of the national community. Rather, they are part of an invading force from south of the border that is bent on reconquering land that was formerly theirs (the U.S. Southwest) and destroying the American way of life....
The contemporary Latino Threat Narrative has its antecedents in U.S. history: the German language threat, the Catholic threat, the Chinese and Japanese immigration threats, and the southern and eastern European threat. In their day, each discourse of threat targeted particular immigrant groups and their children. Each was pervasive and defined "truths" about the threats posed by immigrants that, in hindsight, were unjustified or never materialized in the long run of history. And each of these discourses generated actions, such as alarmist newspaper stories (the media of the day), anti-immigrant riots, restrictive immigration laws, forced internments, and acrimonious public debates over government policies. In this sense, the Latino Threat Narrative is part of a grand tradition of alarmist discourse about immigrants and their perceived negative impacts on society. . . .
Latinos have been in what is now the United States since the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, actually predating the English colonies. Since the Mexican-American War, immigration from Mexico and other Latin countries has waxed and waned, building in the early twentieth century, diminishing in the 1930s, and building again the post-1965 years. These migrations paralleled those of other immigrant groups. But Mexicans in particular have been represented as the quintessential "illegal aliens," which distinguishes them from other immigrant groups. Their social identity has been plagued by the mark of illegality, which in much public discourse means that they are criminals and thus illegitimate members of society undeserving of social benefits, including citizenship. Latinos are an alleged threat because of this history and social identity, which supposedly make their integration difficult and imbue them, particularly Mexicans, with a desire to remain socially apart as they prepare for a reconquest of the U.S. Southwest.
Source: Chavez, Leo. The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation. Redwood City, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008. 3–4.
Part 2: Using Primary Sources to Evaluate Secondary Sources
When historians confront competing interpretations of the past, they often look at primary-source material to help evaluate the different arguments. Below is a selection of primary source materials relating to some of the historical issues surrounding immigration and assimilation raised by the two authors. The first document is excerpted from a short essay, one of the first works on demography, by Benjamin Franklin in 1751. The second document is an 1878 statement from the California State Senate to Congress requesting that Chinese immigration to the United States be restricted. The third document is an article by Republican senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, a leading immigration restrictionist who was instrumental in the passage of such legislation in the 1920s. The final document is from the 1963 book Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City by sociologist Nathan Glazer and future U.S. senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. This book appeared just prior to the liberalization of U.S. immigration policy in 1965 and explores the assimilation of various ethnic groups in New York City.
Carefully read each of the primary sources and answer the following questions. Decide which of the primary source documents support or refute the authors' arguments on immigration and assimilation. You may find that some documents do both but for different parts of each author's interpretation. Be sure to identify which specific components of each author's argument the documents support or refute.
How does each document address the issue of assimilation and identity?
Based on these documents, what pattern do you see in how Americans historically have responded to the arrival of new immigrant groups?
Which of the primary sources do you think Richwine and Chavez would find most useful, and how might they use them to support their arguments?
Which of the secondary sources do you think is best supported by the primary source evidence?