What is “the American culture?”
One of the sub-issues in the larger immigration issues is the argument that immigrants from south of the border are eroding the American culture (meaning, for sake of brevity, the United States’ culture). The argument is: we should exclude immigrants in order to prevent the “subversion of the American culture by massive numbers of Mexican immigrants, who have surplanted (sic) our culture for theirs in large parts of the country with no apparent plans of assimilating. I support this position because I believe that American culture is, for various reasons, worth defending,” writes John from Locusts & Honey.
I am not sure what exactly this entity called the “American culture” is. One thing is certain; it is not as monochromatic as many seem to think. We are an enormous, diverse nation of people of all walks of life, all ages, all races, all nations including those native to this country, all economic classes. We have soul bands and symphonies; sprawling suburbs and crowded cities and tiny little towns; cat people and dog people; Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans; NPR and WWF; etc. etc. Will the real “American culture” please stand up?
It seems to me that identifying the American culture might mean pointing to some of the principles that undergird the milieu I hint at above. Freedom is right up there. Individuality. The pursuit of happiness, and all that jazz. Are these things “culture?” I’m not sure.
Whatever “American culture” is, I think it is clear that one of its most noticeable aspects is its frantic pace. Fast food restaurants, microwave ovens, garage door openers – so much of what we do as a nation is designed to make things happen faster. We are impatient when our computer takes too long to boot up. Our attention spans have been shortened by years of Sesame Street and MTV. Recently I played an online computer game that involves playing four different simple games at the same time on the same screen.
Maybe the United States of America could use a siesta. Maybe an influx of Latino culture would be good for us, in that it would slow us down a little bit. I am definitely over-generalizing here, and running the risk of stereotyping, but there is an observable distinction between the pace of life in North America and the pace of life in Central and South America. I have traveled south of our border three times, to Mexico, Guatemala, and Brazil, and each time there was a palpable lessening of intensity and a more relaxed approach to life in general.
Traveling by boat on the Amazon River to visit a village in the forest, our seminary group had nothing to do but swing on our hammocks and watch the river for 24 hours straight. That, for me, symbolizes the slower pace of life exhibited by our neighbors to the south. Things happen slower, with more intentionality. We have the rat race, rush-rush-rush, gotta meet the deadline kind of life. As opposed to: spend an hour in conversation with a friend, linger over lunch, close your eyes in the afternoon, dinner after dark, and what doesn’t get done today will wait until tomorrow.
Passion for life, devotion to family, the rhythm of the tango, hospitality toward strangers, hand-made corn tortillas hot right off the griddle - these things are good, and not to be feared! In other words, far from being a negative thing, maybe the influence of Hispanic culture in the United States would “erode” some of what is bad here, one example of which is our frantic pace of life. I mean, who couldn’t use a siesta now and then?