When, approximately 500 years ago, the two Americas were discovered and conquered by Europeans, two significantly different social and economic models were brought to bear upon the New Worlds. Spain and Portugal aimed their exploration and conquest to South and Central America and the southwestern part of what is now the United States. The Dutch, English and French aimed their interests toward what is now the U.S. and Canada.
I simplify here, but the conquerors of South and Central America brought with them the social and economic models of control, dominance, and strict social classes. They instituted the social fabric of a rich and controlling upper class, and the subservience of everyone else to that class. There was no fabric of law or social contract that recognized the lower and middle classes. Violence and death were methods of controlling the native population and any other newer immigrants. The “rights” of all but the powerful were of little importance.
Those nations that explored and settled North America and Canada brought with them significantly different social and economic assumptions. First, they did not seek to conquer or enslave the indigenous population. (Their later behavior toward the Native Americans was not so benign) Additionally, as they imposed control over these newly discovered lands, they instituted legal and social rights to the settlers. Land ownership was open to all. Even indentured servants (one method of joining the New World by the poor) were given eventual freedom and the opportunity of employment for gain and land ownership. Property and legal rights enabled a large middle class. The early concepts of capitalism were already at work in the first decades of North American discovery. Even as the exploration pushed west, the ability of the average immigrant to establish a legal and protected business or own his own land was integral to the process. The wisdom of the founding fathers when the first frontier gave way to self-government was based on the theories of the great European thinkers, Locke, Hume, and others who valued the rights of the individual and a state that recognized its own limits and responsibilities.
These two approaches to conquest and settlement between North and South American could not be more different. That difference is still in play to this day. In the ensuing 500 years, though evolving with progress, each concept stayed true to itself and continues in its essence as we speak. The social and economic model of Spain throughout South and Central America has resulted in a vast set of countries that to this day languish in comparison to the United States of America. Canada’s roots are still English and French but its economy is less a vibrant engine than the U.S.’s. It is stunning to view the geography of these contrasting histories. Of all the New World land, all of South and Central America compared to the small geographic footprint of the United States, that such world dominance and impact should come from so small a geographic footprint gives testament to the power of abstract ideas implemented in such a way to unleash the power of individual ideas and imaginations. By the 1950’s, a couple of hundred millions had conquered the world economically and imaginatively versus the somnolence of a billion elsewhere in the Americas.
This brings us back to the border. The Mexican/U.S. border is more than a fence. It is where these two great conflicting ideological forces collide. It is at that fence where the two vastly different concepts of the individual and his or her destiny meet and clash. As the centuries have evolved in the New World, guess which concept has proven the winner? Which way do the feet move at the border? In what direction is the flow? Still….after 500 years…where do the people want to be? This natural flow of people who want a better life than what they have is the source and cause of our immigration problems. Who can deny the impulse to see what is better and want it for themselves and their families? It is a natural want. But as a country, we have to control that process or else the special aspects of America that draw so many can fall apart under the weight of a vast illegal presence. We have always welcomed the aspiring immigrant. We simply have to keep the flow orderly and the assimilation proportional. Otherwise we will kill the Golden Goose. Even those aspirants who come must understand that. They must cooperate, and we must make the process fair and timely.
It is sobering to view the border as the geographic line where these two centuries old models meet. That so vast a geography as South and Central America should prove such a colossal failure compared to the small geographic sliver that the US represents. It is clear evidence of the power of ideas and concepts. It is clear evidence of the power of unleashing the individual. It is the power of an open society versus the stunting of a closed society. The very rich of all the South and Central countries are not clamoring to get into the US. But nearly everybody else is.
Our immediate neighbor, Mexico is representative of all that lies south of them. The riches and bounty of Mexico are controlled by a few. That leads to a vast population of weak or poor citizens. As a solution, rather than unleashing the bounty of Mexico, the Mexican government and the wealthy export poverty to the US, and import their repatriated wages. A simple and economically beneficial solution to their social structure and its limitations. They want a porous border. (They actually encourage illegal emigration by distributing maps and manuals on how to pursue entry and prosper within the social entitlements that may be available in America.) They want to export their excess population rather than solve that population’s needs.
In the early history of the process we described, we drove the Mexicans out of southwestern America. What is much of current California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were originally part of the Spanish conquest of North America. Compare current California to Baja California immediately to its south. Compare San Diego to Tijuana immediately to the south. Compare the current boundaries of Arizona, NM and Texas to current Mexico immediately south of that border. The contrast speaks volumes to the competing social and economic models we portrayed in this essay. The vast vestigial Spanish American land grants that lingered in these states well after the Mexicans were driven south, are testament to the premise of the rich and vast land owners and the many with no land at all.
It is a testament to the power and longevity of ideas and culture that after some 500 years, the contrasting ones brought to the New World by the Spanish on the one hand and the Dutch. English and French on the other should still so influence our immediate world. That immigration should be such a hot button at this very day in our country gives proof to that power of ideas and culture over the centuries. Don’t take ideas lightly. Disregard the fundamentals of your culture at your peril. The discussions in our country today of Founding Father values versus neo-progressive values are divisive but important. The new immigrants from the south bring their old Spanish traditions with them. Too often they cling to them unlike earlier immigrants. The truth lies before us. In spite of all it vicissitudes, the US model is the right one. It has clung to its principles over 500 years of challenge by great and powerful forces. With persistence, we will prevail over this challenge as well. Are the new immigrants going to be in our play, or are we going to succumb to theirs? Are we going to continue to play in the script written by our Founding Fathers or are we going to shift to the play being written by the new progressives who see the Founding Father’s play as an old outdated script too prone to irrelevant narratives in today’s world? There are strong players on both sides of this current struggle of ideas. Scripts and Narratives are important to a culture. You need to be involved. You need to invest your energies in one script or another. You cannot live outside of a script. You would do well to be self-aware within which script you choose to live.