Instead of a “Melting Pot”—a Melt Down
Mexifornia: A State of Becoming

by Victor Davis Hanson
Encounter Books, San Francisco, 2003

Review By Susan Freis 

President George Bush should read this book. 

Author Victor Davis Hanson—a fifth-generation Californian, a family farmer (he talks of nectarines and grapes), a classics professor, and a military historian—takes a hard look at what happened in central California after we junked the ideal of the melting pot. 

Around 1970 a new approach to immigration emerged, says Hanson, to displace the traditional expectation that most immigrants would arrive legally, would strive for assimilation, and with hard work most would achieve it. 

The new approach, now regrettably dominant, is based on “the evolving concept of multiculturalism—which holds that Western civilization merits no special consideration inasmuch as all cultures are of equal merit.” 

A “Devil’s Bargain” 

Three decades later, California, with its “de facto open borders,” is increasingly shaped by a “devil’s bargain” in which all the major players get something they desire—but each pays a heavy price. 

Middle-class central California families get gardeners and maids. Even during a recession and labor shortage, their idle children come of age as valley girls and mall rats—off limits to the worker-starved farmers just a few miles away. 

U.S. businesses get an endlessly renewing supply of cheap workers, shoppers in Michigan get fresh produce in February, and the country’s most populous state hardens into an ethnic class system that morphs into “Mexifornia.” Mexico gets a safety valve for discontent, thereby avoiding needed social reforms. “Professional Latinos” produce a dead-end ideology of reverse chauvinism and entitlement, while settling for professor status in ghettoized departments of Chicano and Chicana Studies. 

The young Mexicans who come here, most of them illegally, take the unwanted jobs—washing dishes; laying tile; and, of course, the hot, hard, and sometimes dangerous job of picking produce. 

As Hanson points out, the body can only take this kind of work for 20 years or so before something gives. When a Mexican illegal reaches his 40s, the typical hazards of a young trabajador —getting hurt in a drunk-driving accident, getting stabbed in a fight, going to jail for fencing stolen goods or drugs, catching venereal disease—are replaced by new problems—arthritis (which often ends his career), chronic illnesses like tuberculosis, and merciless competition from newer, younger migrants. Typically, he lives out his not-quite voluntary retirement on a disability check. 

America’s traditional promise of a better life for the children of immigrants has been the most serious casualty. A Spanish-only subculture, a Marxist-lite, separatist ideology, and public schools that lack “real civic education about American history, culture, and values”—all make it very hard for children of Mexicans to reach economic parity. Meanwhile, notes Hanson, the children of Korean, Japanese, and Punjabi immigrants mostly assimilate and prosper. 

Some Mexican families do manage to escape the traps, of course, but the social problems remain, because the successful and assimilated are engulfed by each day’s incoming tide of just-arrived illegals. 

Doing Some Things Right 

We’ve been doing everything wrong, writes Hanson. “[A]lmost every well-intentioned and enlightened gesture designed to help immigrants in the last three decades—de facto open borders, bilingual education, new state welfare programs, the affirmation of a hyphenated identity, a sweeping revisionism in southwestern American history—has either failed to ensure economic parity or thwarted the processes of assimilation.” 

Hanson’s remedies are straightforward. We have to stop the flow of illegals, institute a “domestic Marshall Plan” to promote “rapid assimilation,” or, better, both. Public schools need to shoulder their old role, to “inculcate the norms and values of traditional education—a core curriculum that emphasizes the American heritage and unifies us through civic responsibility rather than divides us through an obsession with race.” 

Hanson does not wear Beltway Blinders; nor is he captivated by the plan to secure the Hispanic vote, as noodled out by Republican insiders. Instead he reports—with a clear eye and much compassion—on the effect of uncontrolled illegal immigration and multicultural cant on his home town of Selma, California, on his academic colleagues, on his students, and on the farm workers on whom he depends. 

This is an unusual book. Hanson is a gifted writer who develops his policy arguments within a moving memorial to the old agricultural California that he once knew well and where he still lives. Many of his concerns apply equally well to Texas, which tracks almost half of the 2,000 mile Mexican border. His insights suggest much about the possible effect of that hemorrhaging border on the country as a whole.

That is why the President should read this book. As Hanson says, we’d better start doing some things right.


Susan Freis ( is an independent writer with extensive experience in social welfare issues. She is also part of the leadership of the Maryland Taxpayers Association.