by Lusiné Mehrabyan, Committee on U.S. Latin American Relations
The United States has earned the nickname of “nation of immigrants,” leading to ongoing debate and controversy in regards to how migration impacts the culture of the country. One theory on immigration is exemplified by the melting pot concept, which argues that a heterogeneous society would over time transform into a homogenous society, thus resulting in the assimilation of the immigrant population into the society and culture.
The melting pot concept may no longer reflect the reality of the U.S., however, as many immigrants retain cultural and familial connections to their countries of origin. Some see the newest waves of immigrants from Latin America as a threat to splitting the United States into two cultures and identities.
This argument is advocated by political scientist Samuel Huntington, who in his 2004 article “The Hispanic Challenge” in Foreign Policy, writes, “Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves — from Los Angeles to Miami — and rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream.” Huntington goes on to say that “the single most serious challenge to America’s traditional identity comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico.”
Huntington is a student of U.S. history. His bold claim, as outlandish and even racist as it may seem, is not new and as such may be frighteningly effective. Similar arguments to his have been used throughout U.S. history to promote anti-immigrant sentiment and divide the poor along racial or ethnic lines.
One historical example is the Nativist Movement of the 19th century, which gained popularity at the time of the mass migration of Irish Catholics to the U.S., who came to escape the Potato Famine. The Nativist Movement that arose utilized its anti-foreign and anti-Catholic mission to promote platforms ranging from extending the length of the naturalization process to protecting American Protestant values. Nativist writers and politicians of the mid-1800s claimed that the founding Protestant values of the United States were under attack from “foreign influence” and advocated against the naturalization of Irish Catholic “paupers” and “wretches,” as they called them.
Tyler Anbinder notes in his 1992 text Nativism and Slavery, “Samuel F. B. Morse charged in a series of published letters that the monarchies of Europe had enlisted the aid of the Catholic Church to subvert the spread of democracy by sending Catholic immigrants to take control of the under-populated American west. By linking Catholicism to immigration, Morse laid the foundation for decades of American nativism to follow.”
Today, the newest, poorest non-assimilating immigrants are Latino and tend to be mostly Catholic. Our intent is not to paint Huntington’s argument as anti-Catholic, but rather to indicate that he is using an argument that has historically worked to sow distrust and even violent hatred between native-born Americans and new waves of immigrants.