You'd have to describe Mexican President Vicente Fox as charming and handsome. Throw in intelligent, articulate and bold.
Yet the sight of him probably makes many Southern Californians cringe.
His dash last week through the Golden State--from south to north--no doubt reignited many people's fears that California won't be California much longer. Instead, I'm sure they fear that if Fox has his way, the state will become one giant "Mexicali."
After all, Fox talks of a Mexican-American border that isn't really a border. He talks about breaking down barriers between Mexico and the United States, and even encourages Mexicans now living in America to stay active in Mexican political affairs.
That's just the kind of "one world" stuff that has nervous Nellies in our midst fretting that America will lose its "identity" in the decades ahead. New U.S. census figures showing a rising Latino population--from coast to coast--only fan the fears.
So I'm prompted to say what I always say on such occasions: phooey.
This time around, I'm bringing in an expert witness--Frank D. Bean, director of the Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy at UC Irvine. The center is nonpartisan, Bean says, and doesn't advocate on any side of the immigration issue.
Not having met Bean, I didn't know what his world view was. Imagine my glee, then, to see he shares mine.
The difference is that he's an expert on the subject.
I've argued before--as nicely as I could--that American culture is too powerful to be overrun by any other. Plus, I don't see that much difference between the Latin American immigrant experience and that of other ethnic groups in our history.
Nor does Bean. He says he expects the Latin immigration of this generation to resemble the pattern of Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries. That is, over time, they blended into American society while maintaining some of their own ethnic culture along the way.
Following European Footsteps
Bean acknowledges that a segment of the American population--and not simply those with reflexive anti-immigrant tendencies--fears a loss of American identity. "I don't want to be disrespectful to them, because I think there is a group that is not badly motivated, but I don't think things will turn out badly like they fear."
For one thing, he doesn't foresee a bilingual America. "All the research shows that children of immigrants are learning English," Bean says. "English is about the only thing they speak. Then there's this further irony which we forget sometimes, which is that, more and more, people in Mexico are speaking English. Students in Mexico now study English. Twenty years ago, they didn't do that."
On top of that, an increasingly interconnected global economy isn't being driven by Spanish-speaking countries.
"If one can imagine the global economy doing a U-turn," Bean says, "and heading back into the dark ages--and I don't know of anyone who is predicting that--then maybe something like that will happen. But that's just not what is going on in the world."
Which brings us to President Fox. He's simply too savvy not to know which way the world is spinning.
"He strikes me, in some ways, almost like a poet," Bean says. "He's speaking metaphorically, I think, and he's something of a visionary and he's trying to establish a long-term objective to move toward, to redefine and recast the nature of thinking with respect to U.S.-Mexican relations."
That's exactly what people are afraid of, I suggest. Not to worry, Bean says. "I don't think he means it, literally, in the sense of having open borders next year."
It's safe to say that everything Bean knows about contemporary society and immigration, Vicente Fox also knows.
Fox is much more than good-looking and charming. Instead of cringing when Fox talks, Americans ought to listen carefully and rest easy.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821; by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.