February 18, 2006


The Multiculturalism of the Streets: When Americans eat at Baja Fresh or Panda Express, they’re digesting more than they think. (Joel Kotkin, Spring 2006, American Interest)

The fate of the West in the 21st century may depend on how well its nations integrate ambitious people from the rest of the world into its fold. No advanced Western country—not even America—produces enough children to keep itself from becoming a granny nation by 2050. So unless indigenous birth rates rise beyond pattern and probability, only immigration—and the industry and energy these newcomers and their children bring—can provide the spark to keep Western societies vital and growing.

We see the dynamism of immigrant culture already before our eyes. Many of the most bustling sections of Western cities today, from Belleville in Paris to the revived communities along the 7 train in Queens, are precisely those dominated by immigrant enterprise. Sergio Muñoz, a Mexican journalist and a long-time resident of Los Angeles, calls what is happening in these and so many other places “the multiculturalism of the streets.” These are the true laboratories of successful ethnic integration—a form of multiculturalism that takes place through face-to-face contact, informal cultural exchange and, above all, capitalist commerce.

This “multiculturalism of the streets” differs enormously from the political variety of multiculturalism taught in ethnic studies programs or embraced by governments in racial quotas and “official” Islamic councils. It is also very different from the futile French cult of enforced secularism, which denies ethnic differences and bans individual expression such as the cross, kippah or headscarf. Whenever multiculturalism is formally enforced or officially banned, it distorts natural impulses to ethnic association and invariably causes problems. This is particularly true when the chance to operate a street-level economy is stifled by state intervention— through taxes, labor regulations, certifications— as it is in much of western Europe.

Here in America, as well, we have distorted the benign multiculturalism of the streets in other ways, through militant ethnic studies programs at many American universities, racial quotas and sectarian politics, all of which are associated with the Left and with parts of the Democratic Party. The cadences of America’s culture wars being what they are, such manifestations of institutional multiculturalism have evoked dire warnings from the Right about the dangers to national unity posed by our increasingly diverse population. These concerns, raised in works such as Samuel Huntington’s Who Are We? and Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia, focus primarily on ideological and linguistic perspectives. Huntington worries about the future of Anglo-Saxon democracy and fears that our newcomers—whom he calls ominously a “migrant tide”—will become part of “a continuous Mexican society from the Yucatan to Colorado.” Hanson focuses largely on the Hispanic population in places like his rural homeland near Fresno, California. He plays back the pronunciamentos of some Latino politicians, academics and student activists who advocate a separate Spanish-language quasi-state in the American Southwest. Like Huntington, Hanson fears that the rise of a primarily Spanish-language Mexifornia will infect America with the often dysfunctional social, political and cultural patterns of Latin America.

These concerns are not frivolous, particularly in reference to illegal immigration, but they do seem exaggerated. The rural Central Valley near Fresno has long been a center of backwardness, poor schools and social dysfunction. Parts of it resemble Mexico more than they do the modern United States, and integration there may continue to prove difficult. Yet the Hispanic population of the rural Valley constitutes less than a tenth of the overall Latino presence in California, which clusters in large cities and suburbs where mixing is much easier and far more common.

Huntington and Hanson are also correct about the need to bolster the Anglo-Saxon political heritage against the depredations of leftist intellectuals, Latino or otherwise. Yet there is little evidence that Mexican-Americans as a whole have bought into campus-minted separatist notions. Latinos represent a growing proportion of the U.S. military—hardly a sign of disaffection from the national culture. And while Huntington and Hanson are right, as well, that many recent arrivals have primary loyalty to another country and culture and plan to return home, this is nothing new. So it was in the 19th century, too, when many British, Italian and Greek immigrants ultimately returned home. The difference is that immigrants today are far less likely to return to their native countries after sojourning here.

Most important, we must not confuse the intellectual emanations of our culture wars for real life. The sights, smells and sounds of the street are not sources of national disunion today any more than they were a century ago. In 1907, after a long voluntary exile in Europe, Henry James complained bitterly about his “sense of dispossession” as he walked down the streets of American cities. He particularly disliked the guttural tones and business methods of the Jews who crowded New York, Boston and other East Coast urban areas.

Yet the Jews, Italians, Irish and other migrants so detested by James later became the parents of a whole generation of great American writers, as well as some of the nation’s leading politicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and soldiers—not to mention its solid, ordinary blue-collar families. If we look at today’s new Americans, we see the same pattern.

As in all things, it is the intellectuals who are the enemy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 18, 2006 8:56 AM

We see the dynamism of immigrant culture already before our eyes. Many of the most bustling sections of Western cities today, from Belleville in Paris to the revived communities along the 7 train in Queens, are precisely those dominated by immigrant enterprise.

You know, this could just as easily apply to a spring training story about Omar Mineya and the Mets...

Posted by: John at February 18, 2006 11:11 AM

Great essay!

"Contrary to the concerns of some conservative critics, or the hopes of P.C. campus radicals, the emerging American national reality will not be shaped by the pronouncements of either left-wing academics or conservative political warlords. The new America will be more the product of the street-level trends that operate below the radar of intellectualsjust as it always has. If were smart, well let what comes most naturally to American society take its course."

I would only re-emphasize his point that diversity cannot be legislated but will occur within the marketplace as a result of free choice within society for the better option, as compared to those available. You see, Adam Smith was not just an economist; his theories had wide socialogical implications. We should have a holiday named for him.

Posted by: Genecis at February 18, 2006 11:18 AM

Conservative critics of immigration are confused while leftist purveyors of multiculturalism do have an ulterior motive,i.e. the debasement of what it means to be an American. The former is fearful of the 'other' while the latter seethes with self-loathing. The American IDEA is what matters and conservative critics, at least, understand that simple truism and criticize immigration as a matter of law. Now, as far as immigration policy toward adherents of Islamic literalism is concerned...

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct. at February 18, 2006 11:40 AM

Excellent comments all. Tom says it very well, lefties want the debasement of what it means to be an American.

Posted by: erp at February 18, 2006 12:12 PM

where i grew up (OC) it used to be farming towns that recently morphed into suburb type places. while not quite a mono-culture (our mexican brothers have always been here) it was definitely limited in terms of cultural and entertainment offerings (Disneyland next door not withstanding). fast forward 40+ years and the place has changed completely, and imo, for much the better. it is more crowded, and housing is completely distorted, but it is now this new kind of urban/suburban hybrid. there are so many hies and textures, so many kinds of restaurants and shops. and for the most part there is very little racial tension (none in my town, but l.a. still has the typical big city corruption that thrives on manufactured hate). anyway, from where i am typing, the present is amazing and the future looks even better. went to the beach last week-end; 85 and sunny :)

Posted by: toe at February 18, 2006 12:58 PM


As do Righties.

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2006 2:20 PM

Yep, here are the Scylla and Charybdis through which Juddian conservatives must pass. On the one hand, we need to avoid the racialism, genetic determinism and ossification of the nativists, and on the other hand we must shun the denaturalization and alienation of the left.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 18, 2006 2:31 PM

America is just a set of ideas that anyone can adopt, though it will mean leaving considerable portions of their prior culture on the waste heap. Simultaneously, the mere fact one is born here doesn't make one American should they cease to believe in those ideas.

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2006 2:35 PM

oj. Who are the righties?

Posted by: erp at February 18, 2006 2:44 PM


People who think others should be denied the opportunities of America.

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2006 2:59 PM

"America is just a set of ideas anyone can adopt"

This is our fundemental point of contention (as much as you would like to pretend otherwise). Conservatives favor sensible restrictions on immigration because we do accept the modern liberal notion that America is a 'propostion', or creedal nation. We agree with John Jay, who wrote in Federalist #2:

"With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people--a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties."

I am greatly concerned that given Mexico's proximity and the sheer number of immigrants from Mexico it threatens to split America into "alien sovereignties". Unfortunately, those favoring open borders do nothing to allay these concerns. The ones on the left promote multiculturalism, and ones on the right, who refuse to live among immigrants (the 'unsocial' split Jay refers to already exists), assume assimilation occurs by magic.

Seriously, what are you doing to ensure the assimilation of immigrants?

Finally (before I speak no more of immigration here ever again), from the article:

the dynamism of immigrant culture already before our eyes. Many of the most bustling sections of Western cities today, from Belleville in Paris

Given all the arsons immigrants have set there, I think France (which unlike the US is a proposition nation) could do with a little less dynamism.

Posted by: Carter at February 18, 2006 3:34 PM

Foreign born heretics, communists, racists and witches should be excluded from citizenship. Orrin?

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct. at February 18, 2006 3:40 PM


What is there in France to assimilate to? Nobody puts his life on the line to defend the left-wing conception of "egalite," or equality. People will die, however, to defend freedom.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 18, 2006 3:55 PM

oj. I'm not trying to be obtuse, but give me some names. Do you mean people who want to close the borders? People like Buchanan?

Posted by: erp at February 18, 2006 4:18 PM

Carter: Even when Jay wrote that, it was nonsense if understood the way you propose we should understand it.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 18, 2006 4:25 PM

Matt: So the American proposition is 'freedom'? I thought it was, as in France, 'liberty'.

How can you expect illiterate, non-English speakers to be transformed by the American creed if you don't even know what it is yourselves?

"people will die to defend freedom"

They will? What wars were those? Note that freedom has to be low on the list of things people will die for, otherwise there would be no need to defend it.

Posted by: Carter at February 18, 2006 5:30 PM


And native.

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2006 5:32 PM


Yes, you're a nationalist. America isn't a nationalist country. It's a patriotic one. Nationalism is a European disease.

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2006 5:34 PM


Yes, people who believe that being born of a certain ethnicity, religion, etc. makes it impossible to assimilate into Amnerican culture or to make your own liberal democratic. Those on the Left just believe that it is wrong to assimilate them into ours or change foreign cultures.

Pat is the saddest case. He was patriot during the Cold War, dedicated to ideas like capitalism, democracy, and religion, here and abroad, pro trade, immigration and intervention. But he's become an archetypal nationalist/nativist--isolationist, anti-immigration, and protectionist. Of course, one of the oddities of nativism is that it's generally advocated by the children and grandchildren of the last wave of immigrants we tried keeping out unsuccessfully.

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2006 5:37 PM


Liberty, not freedom. No one will fight for mere freedom.

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2006 6:04 PM

Thanks, I get who you mean now, but why call them righties? Like Nixon, I reject that they are upper or lowercase conservatives and I don't want them at my party.

I read the link you gave me about freedom and liberty and still didn't get it and I don't have the patience to plow through Isaiah Berlin's works, so I wonder if you would give us short definition.

Posted by: erp at February 18, 2006 7:36 PM


The far Right is the cross we bear and we're responsible for denying their arguments at every turn.

Freedom is the idea that there should be no societal controls of any kind, that everyone ought be allowed to do his own thing. Liberty is the acknowledgement that a decent society requires limits on freedom, but that those limits must be consensual and apply uniformly. If you're limited to 55 mph you're not "free" but if everyone is so limited and we passed the law democratically then we've preserved liberty.

Posted by: oj at February 18, 2006 7:55 PM


Whatever you wish to call it, you know what I mean -- I'm referring to "liberty" in the sense OJ defined. And history is replete with examples of people dying for liberty, or what they perceive to be so.

You also argue that freedom (i.e. liberty) is low on the "fight for" list because it so often has to be defended. Using that logic, there must be values at the top of the list that are extremely precious to people and yet rarely if ever have to be defended. What are they?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 19, 2006 12:28 AM

By your definition of liberty, in what way is Mexico different than the US? What is the specific proposition that an illegal immigrant is accepting that he could not likewise accept by staying in Mexico?

I agree that we benefit enormously from immigration. The only difference is that, I would say that we benefit more from certain immigrant groups than from others. EVEN IF I'M WRONG (been known to happen), what damage is done to your proposition. Contra my view, is yours which seems to say that the "proposition or idea" will be known to us after immigrants tell us what it is.

By the way, Carter asked a good question about the assimilation process and your proposals for assuring it occurs. Assimilation is always in effect a "negotiated settlement" between two cultures, especially so in a democracy.

Posted by: h-man at February 19, 2006 6:23 AM

There aren't enough Mexicans to threaten the U.S. by "taking over", although of course there may be a few states who suffer through a painful assimilation period with their large immigrant populations.

If 40 million Mexicans migrated, that wouldn't be enough to permanently change the heart of American culture, but it would change Mexican society for the better.

I don't advocate such a thing happening, nor do I believe that it will, I merely note that the worst case scenario isn't so bad from a national level, American or Mexican.

Posted by: Noam Chomsky at February 19, 2006 7:40 AM

oj: What has come over you? You are preaching non-racial cultural triumphalism--actually admitting the existence an American Geist which exists apart from ethnicity.

Fuchida, in his great little book, Midway, The Battle That Doomed Japan, mentions how when Genda saw the Devastators sacrificing themselves to allow the Dauntlesses to win the war in an hour, he knew Japan would lose everything. They had been relying on Yamato Damashii--the Japanese spirit--to see them through, but when the American torpedo planes died like samurai in order to draw down the Japanese fighters away from the American dive-bombers, he knew that Yankee damashii was greater.

Excellent. Keep it up and I'm not going to have anything to put in my comments.

Better yet, take it to the next stem by losing the soft bigotry of lowered expectations which accepts unfolkish witchcraft just because the witches happen to be of another race.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 19, 2006 7:59 AM


Mexico has liberty, they've just drawn their lines at a different place than we have. Our immigrants choose to live where we've drawn them.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2006 8:24 AM


It's not American. We got it from England.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2006 9:04 AM

H: American nationalism is dedicated to the truth of the Declaration.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 19, 2006 9:07 AM

Which isn't nationalist.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2006 9:10 AM

Are you guys going all Zen on me?

Liberty requires self control. Check. You're free to function within some self-imposed guidelines, like obeying the laws of the land, observing your religious tenets, or even following the Kiwanis club by-laws.

Liberty and freedom aren't synonymous with license and anarchy.

Posted by: erp at February 19, 2006 11:48 AM

wouldn't liberty require at a minimum the rule of law being respected and practiced ?

Posted by: toe at February 19, 2006 1:42 PM


freedom is.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2006 1:45 PM

erp: that's why the motto on Orrin's license plate's been amended to read "Live in Ordered Liberty or Die."

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 20, 2006 8:16 PM

No one is free or secure without ordered liberty--that's why those who seek absolute security or absolute freedom are so dangerous, though well-intentioned at both ends of the spectrum.

Posted by: oj at February 20, 2006 8:35 PM

By the way, what is he doing with a license plate, anyway? Goldanged hairy libertarian freak.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 20, 2006 11:48 PM