A Tale of Two Migrations, One White, One Brown
By David E. Hayes-Bautista and Gregory Rodriguez
What kind of a future could you envision for a population group thatís had a 25% poverty rate, a 50% chance of not completing high school, barely 9% of whom were college graduates and over half of whom arrived in California only recently? Such a group, many agree, would be doomed and inevitably become a state burden. Of course, this is because most people would identify the group as Mexican immigrants.
In fact the statistics make up a composite sketch of California's Anglo population in 1950. Not reflected in the figures, however, are the values and industry of the people who would eventually turn California into a virtual nation-state.
Yet, America's belief that the hard work and dreams of humble immigrants are the engines of the future has given way to immigration -reform activists' and the federal government's new stated preference for foreign-born professionals and millionaires. Some scholars worry about the "quality" of the contemporary Immigrant, as if years of schooling summed up human potential. In a state whose population is now 25% foreign-' born and In which nearly one-quarter of its largest immigrant group to poor, overlooking the values, work ethic and character of the "huddled masses" not only. Ignores California's- indeed America's-secret to success in the past, but endangers our collective future.
From 1940-70, the immigrants who nearly tripled the state's population were considered an essential economic asset. The foundation of postwar California was laid with civic money and a broad consensus to invest in the new population. The largely Midwestern in-migrants and their children were provided with the resources for commerce, development and research, which, when combined with their vigor and character, created wealth Californians not only celebrated growth, they were willing to pay for it.
Republican Gov. Earl Warren, whose administration oversaw the highest population growth rate in 20th-century California, welcomed the young population. He said he preferred the "job seekers" to older, wealthier immigrants of the 1920ís. Even with the many problems that mass migration brought, he saw the newcomers as energy to be harnessed. Warrenís embrace of the state's newest extended to the poor: In 1950, people were not regarded as a dysfunctional, victimized sector of society incapable of abiding by society's norms values and then later condemned for their behavior. Still built into the common understanding of people was a belief in their capacity to improve their lot over time. The underclass theory of a chronic poverty class that has lost its work ethic, which describes only a small portion of America's poor, had yet to be used to characterize all poor people.
Today those who predict doom for California's struggling Immigrants are not as likely to be pro-immigrant liberals as right-wing nativists. The nativists think poorer, less educated immigrants bring the rest of society down. The "liberal structuralists," as Cornel West calls them, have emphasized the political and economic obstacles that can impede a people's progress but virtually ignore those people's ability to scale such barriers. Absent is the notion of social capital-the values, behaviors and attitudes that people bring to their new surroundings.
Berkeley sociologist and historian Franz Schurmann believes that the greatest growth potential in capitalist society can always be found in those people who have the capacity to work for long periods, have strong social and family bonds, are forward looking and have a religion, that encourages a communal view of life. Without conceding the liberal structuralists' belief that the political and economic spheres predetermine all human behaviors, he stresses that these cultural qualities flourish best when the state encourages them.
Latino immigrants today are, in their values and behaviors, much like the earlier generation of in-migrating Anglos who benefited from an exuberant civic spirit. Indicators such as labor-force participation, family formation, birth rates, education and poverty levels for Anglos in 1950 and Latino immigrants in 1990 are remarkably similar. Take away issues of race and language of origin and you are left with profiles of two young, hard working, family-oriented and church-going populations Of course, with the rise of Anglo economic and educational achievements came a simultaneous decline in family formation, work force activity and birth rates.
Today, California's Anglo population is aging-nearly one in two is older than 40-and having too few children to replenish itself. In 1950, Anglos formed families with children at a rate comparable to contemporary Latino immigrants. The percentage of Anglo households in IM consisting of a traditional mother, father and child family is nearly 70% lower than it was four decades ago. The largest-wale foreign Immigration in this century began arriving after the state's dominant group -had reached a plateau, and California began to contract, both spiritually and economically.
In a perverse twist on the "The Field of Dreams," the state, since the mid-1970s, has retreated from investing in infrastructure. "If you don't build, they won't come." Four decades ago, 'a high Anglo birth rate kept the school construction business; humming. During the post-war years, school construction bonds were passed by nearly unanimous votes. Today, too little Js done to ease the overcrowding in predominantly Latino schools in the LA. Unified School District. To the surprise of almost everyone, there are fewer students attending L.A. city schools today than in 1969. The problem, In a nutshell, is that there has been a net loss of open schools in the district. A combination of disregard for the newcomers and an almost apocalyptic view of the future keeps us from harnessing the social capital of new immigrants.
Instead, California passes and enforces laws that hamper the immigrant drive. When we should praise low-income Latino immigrants for their strong work welfare use of any poverty group in the state-- only 17% of Immigrant Latinos in poverty collect welfare, compared with 50% of poor Anglos and 66% of poor blacks-the Los Angeles Police Department arrests street (lower vendors on Valentine's Day and the LA. County Board of Supervisors makes looking for work on a street corner in unincorporated county area a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and $1.000 fine. Rather than welcome and work with an enthusiastically pro-law-and-order population, lawmakers and enforcers have, according to a recent opinion survey by the Tomas Rivera Center, made a majority of Latino Californians, half of whom are immigrants, feel they receive unequal treatment from law-enforcement agencies.
The greatest influx of Latino Immigrants this state has ever seen came at a time when California had already ceased to believe in incorporating migrant dreams into policy. The spirit of the Golden State is now middle-aged and looks more to the past than to the future. As were the postwar pioneers, the now immigrants and their children should be allowed and encouraged to achieve their goals. The only Ingredient lacking is the native-born population's political and economic will to invest in the future.
David E. Hayes-Bautista and Gregory Rodriguez, associate editors at Pacific News Service, are, respectively, executive director of the Alta California Research Center and research fellow at the Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy.