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by William H. Benson

August 14,. 2003

     By August 13, 1521 Cortez had effectively conquered the Aztec Indians in present-day Mexico City.  He and his fellow conquistadors established a two-tiered class structure with the very powerful ruling elite on top and always anxious to retain their control and the very poor and subservient people underneath.  A great gulf, or a chasm, stretched between the two social groups then as it still does today. 

     To prevent any chance for reform or a disastrous revolution, the Mexican government looks the other way as the more ambitious and daring of its citizens flee north into the United States to find work, and so immigration has become the ruling elite’s safety valve on Mexican society.

     If the immigrant survives the trip across the burning desert, he or she soon discovers another chasm.  Yes, there are jobs available for the alien in the United States, but they are backbreaking and mind-numbing, the kind of work that the Americans themselves do not want, like field work.

     Victor Davis Hanson, a professor in the Greek and Latin classics at California State in Fresno, described what it is like to pick peaches: “The 12-foot ladder is heavy and unstable, especially when you must clamber up among the top branches 60 or 70 times a day and then descend with 50 pounds of peaches.  You tend to run rather than walk because at piece-rate labor, you can make $90 to $120 in a 9-hour shift.”

     Hanson is a fifth-generation California farmer as well as a member of California’s educational system–the 10 campuses that make up the University of California, including Berkeley and UCLA, and the 23 campuses that compose the California State University system.  Plus there is a web of community colleges.  Together it is a vast public university system and an invaluable source for upward mobility for the recent arrivals–legal or illegal.

     To crawl up that social ladder, up and out of the peach orchard and into the classroom teaching Plato’s Dialogues, required for Hanson’s family 5 generations.  Some families can climb quicker, in just a couple of generations, but most require three or more.

     The news coming out of California is that the Governor, Gray Davis, will face a recall election, and that a variety of personalities, including Arnold Schwartznegger, want the state’s top job.  The chasm in the state’s projections this year yawns wide, and Gray Davis is catching the blame.

     I think that the columnist Mona Charen unfairly pinned the blame when she wrote, “The huge array of government services that these newcomers expect and get are bankrupting the state and will continue to do so absent an abrupt change of direction.”  The presence of the illegal aliens is  only one of several reasons that together have created the state’s crisis.

     But what should California do about the illegal aliens?  And here another chasm gapes open; this one over ideologies.  Victor Hanson in his new book, Mexifornia: A State of Becoming argued forcefully for “assimiliation” which as a model has worked well for centuries in creating happy and productive American citizens.  Immigrants were expected to learn English, adopt America’s history and culture as their own, and form close ties to their new country.

     But then over the past four decades a new ideology, “biculturalism,” has eclipsed assimilation.  The bicultural teachers have taught that the immigrant’s government, language, and culture are superior to anything that America has, which is then depicted as cruel, demanding, and intolerant. The immigrants tend to end up loaded with resentment and feeling victimized when asked to learn English and American history.  It is difficult to climb a social ladder carrying such feelings.

     Californians will work toward resolving their current crisis–with or without Arnold Schwartznegger’s help.  California will continue to deal with the illegal aliens, and the California educational system will be forced to trim its excess fat, to the bone if necessary.

     And today’s immigrant, from whichever corner of the planet, will have a choice: nurse his or her wounded pride that his language and culture and history are not appreciated here or learn the English language and adopt the American culture, which is what Arnold Schwartznegger did.