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Opinion

What will America stand for in 2050?

The US should think long and hard about the high number of Latino immigrants.

(Page 2 of 2)



Prominent Latin Americans have concluded that traditional values are at the root of the region's development problems. Among those expressing that opinion: Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa; Nobelist author Octavio Paz, a Mexican; Teodoro Moscoso, a Puerto Rican politician and US ambassador to Venezuela; and Ecuador's former president, Osvaldo Hurtado.

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Latin America's cultural problem is apparent in the persistent Latino high school dropout rate – 40 percent in California, according to a recent study – and the high incidence of teenage pregnancy, single mothers, and crime. The perpetuation of Latino culture is facilitated by the Spanish language's growing challenge to English as our national language. It makes it easier for Latinos to avoid the melting pot and for education to remain a low priority, as it is in Latin America – a problem highlighted in recent books by former New York City deputy mayor Herman Badillo, a Puerto Rican, and Mexican-Americans Lionel Sosa and Ernesto Caravantes.

Language is the conduit of culture. Consider: There is no word in Spanish for "compromise" (compromiso means "commitment") nor for "accountability," a problem that is compounded by a verb structure that converts "I dropped (broke, forgot) something" into "it got dropped" ("broken," "forgotten").

As the USAID mission director during the first two years of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, I had difficulty communicating "dissent" to a government minister at a crucial moment in our efforts to convince the US Congress to approve a special appropriation for Nicaragua.

I was later told by a bilingual, bicultural Nicaraguan educator that when I used "dissent" what my Nicaraguan counterparts understood was "heresy." "We are, after all, children of the Inquisition," he added.

In a letter to me in 1991, Mexican-American columnist Richard Estrada described the essence of the problem of immigration as one of numbers. We should really worry, he wrote, "when the numbers begin to favor not only the maintenance and replenishment of the immigrants' source culture, but also its overall growth, and in particular growth so large that the numbers not only impede assimilation but go beyond to pose a challenge to the traditional culture of the American nation."

Obama should confront the challenges by enforcing immigration laws on employment to help end illegal immigration. We should calibrate legal immigration annually to (1) the needs of the economy, as Ms. Jordan urged, and (2) past performance of immigrant groups with respect to acculturation.

We must declare our national language to be English and discourage the proliferation of Spanish- language media. We should limit citizenship by birth to the offspring of citizens. And we should provide immigrants with easy-to-access educational services that facilitate acculturation, including English language, citizenship, and American values.

Lawrence Harrison directs the Cultural Change Institute at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, in Medford, Mass. He is the author of "The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change A Culture And Save It From Itself."

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