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State of the Valley

Minority report

Nativism is an ugly byprodect of uncertain economic times

The e-mail sat in my in-box, an angry bullet fired by a frustrated white man. Minutes before, he’d heard San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Ruben Navarette refer to white Americans as “lazy.”

It’s a characterization that I’ve heard others, including illegal immigrants, use on our program when describing Anglos in this country and this region. In flush times, we leave it to others to build our homes, trim our yards and watch our children, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the derogatory characterization of whites. I let it go, and moved on to the next phone call.

“Why didn’t you defend white people?” the e-mailer demanded to know. “You can’t let him get away with that. You have a responsibility to defend this country.”

These are uncertain times for many Anglos, as they watch their cultural dominance dwindle. There’s the reality of jobs lost to low-skilled, low-wage workers who come from other countries. There’s the discomfort that comes with billboards in foreign languages and phone operators who remind us to “press two” for Spanish. There are religious and cultural practices that appear foreign, differing dress codes and music with foreign rhythms.

We’ve seen it before, and although Irish, Italian, German and Russian émigrés sounded different from mainstream Americans, they looked similar.

Nationally, an unknown number of Americans are frightened by the candidacy of Barack Obama, a man with a foreign-sounding name who looks nothing like those who have come before him. How else to explain the e-mail campaign that’s making its way around the Internet, questioning Obama’s patriotism, his religion, his lineage?

The face of this country is changing much faster than expected, and that e-mailer believes it’s time to defend whites. Just look to the recent numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau: Ethnic and racial minorities will constitute a majority of the nation’s population in a little more than a generation—by 2042, to be exact. The chief reason for the accelerated transformation, reports The New York Times, is significantly higher birthrates among immigrants.

“No other country has experienced such rapid racial and ethnic change,” demographer Mark Mather told the paper.

To hear best-selling author Julia Alvarez tell it, the Latino-ization of the country and this region is having a real impact on our public schools, where graduation rates are plummeting. Just look to Del Sol and Western High Schools, and you’ll find graduation rates hovering at 35 percent, according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University.

Clark County School District officials say the numbers are actually better, but Johns Hopkins researchers question the school district’s methodology. Alvarez, author of the book Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in America, argues that the dropout crisis is exacerbated by the fact that one of every three Hispanic males and one of every four Hispanic females fails to complete high school.

She points to school systems that lack money, teachers and a commitment to educating a wave of Latinos and Hispanics who are growing up at a time when the traditional classroom fails to connect with children who need more.

“We can’t afford to lose these kids,” Alvarez says, “and that’s what’s happening. We’re not doing enough”

Nativism typically raises its head during tough economic times. Jobs are scarce, wages are flat or declining, and foreign workers are viewed as unneeded competitors who drive down pay. There’s often a backlash. In the past we’ve seen Congress pass laws that returned Chinese, Japanese and Mexican workers to their home countries.

But this is different. Just as Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were too big to fail, sparking Congressional bailouts, this country’s Hispanic population, whether here legally or illegally, is too big to force out of the United States.

The 2004 movie A Day Without A Mexican portrayed what could happen if illegal immigrants were sent home. Businesses collapsed. Home construction ceased. Cars were abandoned on the street. Apartments sat empty.

The e-mailer who demanded that I defend white people swore that he’d no longer listen to our program. I’d let him down, and he warned that this Valley will be overrun by Spanish-speakers who care little for English-language radio, TV, magazines and newspapers.

A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that by the third generation, 91 percent of U.S. Hispanics are fluent in English, but the angry e-mailer was having none of that. “Fair and balanced journalism,” he wrote, demands that you stand up for this country. “If you can’t do that I’ll never listen to you again.”

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