With its elegant prose and page after page that is chock-full of knowledge and wisdom, it is easy to overlook that Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia: A State of Becoming had a singular message for the reader back in 2003 when it was first published. If immigration policy in America isn’t significantly reformed, many places will become like Hanson’s home region of central California: half Mexico, half California, and hurtling toward social and economic disintegration. In a previous essay in this magazine, compelling evidence was offered from the Government Accountability Office, with disturbing reports from 2005 and 2011, concerning the crime rates of both illegal and legal aliens, that substantiated Hanson’s grave concerns.
The piece also explored Hanson’s perspective on how Mexican immigration to America is different from the immigration of other peoples and why the alien remains in an unhealthy holding pattern regarding his own assimilation. Because Mexico is so close, and crossing the Rio Grande so easy, there is a lot of traveling back and forth, and the campesino ends up having one foot, emotionally and spiritually, in America and one in Mexico.
One reason Cuban immigration was so successful was because there were 90 miles of ocean separating the immigrant from the island prison Castro built. Assimilation, learning the English language, and becoming a part of the American melting pot were not an option but a necessity in order to survive and even flourish.
Hanson, the historian, admits that there has been a history of racism against the Mexican in the American Southwest. However, he doesn’t buy the thesis of the Left, and its legions of ethnic studies professors, that prejudice against “unwhite” groups is the primary reason for Mexican educational and socio-economic disappointments. How can one account, then, for the success of jet-black Punjabis and “unwhite” Asians? Indian Americans earn the highest incomes in the U.S.
Mexico City is at the heart of the immigration mess. By allowing the mostly poor, rural Indians to cross our southern border illegally, they (1) remove a large contingent of people who would otherwise be protesting the failed and racist policies in Mexico City; and (2) they receive the economic boon of remittances sent back to Mexico from the immigrant that sometimes even exceeds Mexico’s oil revenue.
Hanson puts a human face on all the statistics and analysis in chapter 2 of his book: “The Universe of the Illegal Alien.” As someone who is a fifth-generation farmer from hardscrabble Swedish stock, who grew up in Selma, California, he feels he knows Mexicans and Mexican-Americans better than so-called whites and actually feels more comfortable with them (than with whites who grew up in a white majority).
Hanson does not believe that the immigrant, in general, is taking good jobs away from the American, at least not in his neck of the woods where a call to the welfare department to get people to pick his nectarines never brings whites, blacks, Asians, or third-generation Mexican-Americans. He cites a July 2002 U.S. Department of Labor report, that disclosed that, in a time of recession, less than half of America’s teenagers were looking for jobs.
That’s because jobs like picking peaches are very hard work often done in 110-degree heat. The Mexican farmworker ascends and descends a twelve-foot ladder sixty or seventy times a day, ultimately descending with fifty pounds of peaches strapped to his belly.
Such work brings about a sad transformation in the Mexican immigrant. When he first arrives to the U.S. in his early 20s (or younger), he has a smile on his face and a spring in his step because he is making twenty-five times more money than he would be making in the Sierra Madre, but Hanson adds: “Most aliens in their fifties and sixties who are worn out, obese, diabetic, alcoholic or injured, stay indoors, do indeed live on some sort of assistance, and venture out for a day or two each week to pick a few plums, lay four yards of concrete, or dig some trenches for cash between afternoon cartoons and Oprah.”
In this journey to infirmity and the government dole, the alien also befriends a familiar companion in the fallen human drama: Envy. Over and over again, Hanson has noticed that the initial gratitude of the Mexican farmworker for his new prosperity gives way to envy as he is confronted with the reality of getting so little, in comparison to the people he works under and the owners he works for, while doing all the hard physical labor.
He makes $11 or $12 an hour while the contractors who take him to and from work make several times as much and that is just the beginning of parasites he will encounter: the coyote who smuggles him in will make tens of thousands of dollars; the forger who gives him false identification earns hundreds; the landlord who rents him a bed (not a room) with two others gets his cut; the woman who provides him sex, the local market that cashes his check, and the used-car salesman who sells him a car with a cracked engine block, all get a piece of the pie.
And this is to say nothing of the Mexican gangsters who will, with the barrel of a gun, and often without impunity, steal an entire month’s pay from the campesino who often keeps a fat wad of cash in his front pocket. These are the industrious alien’s greatest enemy, not the demented, white, racist redneck of Hollywood movies who shoots him for kicks with his .22 as he tries to cross the border.
The homicide rate for both Latin citizens and aliens is three times higher than that of non-Hispanic whites. Hanson says it is common to open up his daily newspaper and read about bodies dumped in peach orchards or the putrid remains of corpses fished out of irrigation canals. Usually the victim is from central Mexico, and, if the body is presentable, donations are taken in the hopes of sending him back to his pueblo in Mexico.
The rate of cirrhosis of the liver is higher in Latinos than any other ethnic group, and twice that of whites. HIV infection is also generally reported at twice the rate of whites and Hanson is convinced that venereal diseases are epidemic among young, male Mexican immigrants and grossly underreported.
Tuberculosis is thirteen times more likely to be found in Hispanics than whites and the nineteenth-century maladies that are rare in California whites (i.e., whooping cough, hepatitis, and tetanus) are not so rare among illegal immigrants. Hanson observes that, just because a person crosses the border, doesn’t mean that they shed the viruses that they have contracted in the Old Country.
He goes on to catalogue the frequency of theft and fencing of stolen goods among the illegal aliens. When Hanson has something that has been stolen from his property, such as farm equipment, he will visit the Selma Swap Meet on a Sunday, see the item that was stolen, and buy it back at ten cents on the dollar. This is not an infrequent occurrence.
He finds himself habitually replanting vines, because five times in twenty years, inebriated illegal aliens have left the road at high speed and plowed through his vineyard leaving thousands of dollars in damage. All five times the illegal alien has left the scene of the accident.
The California Highway Patrol eventually arrives finding a car without license or registration and the car is impounded for the price of towing it away. In winter Hanson will replant the vines and wait three years for them to bear fruit.
At least once a month Hanson must clear the roadside of trash—not just the occasional beer bottle or fast food remains but also big plastic bags of foul wet garbage, soiled diapers, and assorted household items. At least twice a year, sofas, beds, televisions, washers and dryers, and entire bedroom sets with dirty mattresses appear on his property.
Hanson’s strangest find one morning was “a whole trailer in front of our house—not a two-wheeler, but an enormous cotton model of 1950s vintage with no license plate or identification.” The trailer had three or four tons of trash in it; garbage was stacked ten feet high and the monstrosity eventually had to be removed piecemeal by the county with a dump truck and a skip-loader.
One tragic aspect of Mexifornia that Hanson reveals is the decent, hard-working Mexican farmworker who has a second-generation gang-banger son. On a nightly basis, Hanson picks up “their needles and condoms, and brandy bottles near [his] farm pond.” Such items are a mute witness that assimilation is not happening.
There are many other anecdotes from Hanson about daily life in Mexifornia not mentioned in this essay. For those on the Left and the economic-libertarian Right who glibly say, “Build bridges, not walls,” Hanson would reply, “It’s easy to say that when you don’t live in Mexifornia.”
Such a witness as Hanson should force the undecided and the open-borders crowd to take a second look at the need for tighter border enforcement, reliable identification cards, employer sanctions and the general vision of a measured, legal immigration that is followed by an intentional program of assimilation. It’s time to especially look at the issue through a moral lens and ask the question, “Is it fair to not reform immigration policy and inflict the culture of Mexifornia on people who find themselves in Mexifornia but not of it?”