California's current cultural confusion is the byproduct of an evolutionary global event whose effects will be felt for at least another 500 years. One of the five major migrations in this continent's history is forging Greater America--the coming together of the Anglo-Protestant North and the Latino-Catholic South. By 2020, a new group will assume majority status: Latinos. Anglo Americans will weigh in at around one-third of the population. Asian- and African Americans combined will make up no more than 15% of the state. Like all major demographic shifts, this one sorely tests the very assumptions of our society. Post-minority Californians are doing no less than synthesizing a new hybrid American culture. The center of this emerging cultural matrix will gradually move from Anglo to Latino.
Of course, this is all happening at the same time many are calling for the salvation of American civilization. While mass migrations often revitalize and reshape civilizations, they have not been known to preserve any. If those clamoring for redemptive change didn't so often sound like curmudgeons nostalgic for a racially simpler past, they'd perhaps see the population changes as the best hope for American cultural renewal. In fact, our best hope to weather such a massive demographic transition peacefully is to allow society to reinvent and put itself back together again around its new center.
The unrecognized genius of America has always been the essentially unfinished nature of its cultural identity. Despite the many attempts to link "Americanness" to a single racial group, America's promise still lies in its liberation from Old World notions that political and ethnic identities are one and the same. The advent of the post-minority era forces us to re-explore what it is to be American.
"Americanness" is a belief in a civic ethos and ideal that has its origins in Western Europe, but yet is not racially or culturally exclusive. For centuries, immigrants have come here to enjoy the principles of democracy and the pursuit of happiness. Large influxes of immigrant groups have always contributed to the larger society without destroying "American values." The fatal flaw of American culture, the Faulknerian family secret that threatens to destroy us, has always been its inability to recognize its own hybrid nature. Rigid racial categories have never allowed us to acknowledge that we are all black, white, yellow, red and brown mixed peoples, that we are indeed a hybrid nation. Ethnic, racial and cultural synthesis is not only inevitable; it is also the greatest hope for post-minority society to cohere.
The new California is being born without much consideration for racial or ethnic purity. The future is being made in daily interactions among neighbors far removed from the fearful rumblings from Sacramento and Washington. If we are to become a truly unified society, we'd best clear away the stifling, zero-sum American dialogue on race and ethnicity and accept that what's happening in California is bigger than all of us.*