Friday, September 23, 2011

The regional basis of a hard heart

Last night, during the Republican presidential debate in Orlando, Florida, Governor Rick Perry defended his state’s decision to admit the children of illegal immigrants into Texas universities at in-state tuition rates. “If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought there through no fault of their own,” Perry concluded, “I don’t think you have a heart.”

Perry’s words have been roundly booed by the right, and even my colleagues at Commentary, who are likely to agree with Perry on the substance, winced at the comment (here and here and here).

What has gone little remarked is that the Texas House adopted the original state law (HB 1403) in 2001 by a vote of 130 to 2, while the state Senate voted 27 to 3 in favor. How can it be that a law which won overwhelming approval from a Republican-dominated legislature has come to be almost unanimously rejected by the national party just ten years later?

If you grow up in California, Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas, you don’t grow up thinking of your Mexican-American friends and classmates as illegal immigrants or children of illegals. The cultures of the border states are shot through with Hispanic influences. Larry McMurtry says somewhere that the most interesting cities in America are those that are the most thoroughly Hispanicized. You are at home with the influences, because you are home in California, Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas.

Thus Governor Perry struck a chord with many of us when, in the first presidential debate, he spoke of “Anglos” instead of “whites.” Northern conservatives were disgusted, but I’ve always preferred the spicy ethnic term. “White” erases differences—between Catholics, Jews, and Protestants, for example—while “Anglo” acknowledges the most significant difference in the southwestern states. The counterbalancing term is chicano. Together they identify the inhabitants by their history.

My guess is that Bostonians would consider anyone heartless who wished to stigmatize their Irish classmates, and those who grew up in Buffalo would probably feel the same about their Polish friends. Heartlessness is a regional phenomenon; no one can accept without protest that the people he grew up with are somehow alien. Those from outside the region who speak of them like that—they are the ones whose voice and phrasing sound so strange.


Dick Stanley said...

Happily, Rick doesn't seem to be bothered by the criticism. Possibly because the critics would prefer Romney.