I was really hoping to not have to hear again from Tom Tancredo and his Miami Third-World bashing, but there he was in yesterday's Herald
, spouting off his reasons as to why Miami isn't part of America. Fortunately, his editorial was part of a Pro-Con feature with an opposing view
from FIU's Dario Moreno, someone who knows plenty about our community and our politics.
I thought that instead of posting each person's column separately, I would put them together in a sort of simulated debate between Tancredo and Moreno. In other words, take parts of each column and piece them together in debate style. I also thought I would throw my two cents worth into the conversation (surprise, surprise!). Yes, it's two-against-one, but I can't think of anyone better than Tancredo to be in the minority in a debate about Miami and its attributes.
Here we go.Tancredo
lthough I believe I have made more controversial statements in my political life, I don't recall any that sparked more interest and response than my reference to Miami as a ''Third World country.'' Interestingly, most of the response -- especially from Floridians -- has been quite positive. Even the polls I have seen from the area indicate I have said something most people believe to be true, but few politicians or media outlets are willing to utter.
Forbes magazine reports that in the five years since 2002, a net of 151,000 Miami residents, most of them middle class, have left Miami, and 238,000 new residents have arrived from other nations, mostly Central and South America. Miami-Dade County now has a foreign-born population of 51.4 percent, the highest in the country for a large city.Moreno
: Miami is not foreign. It is, fundamentally, part of the American experience. As President John F. Kennedy put it, ''We are a nation of immigrants.'' Each wave of immigrants instills unique values and experiences within a larger national mosaic that is essentially the backbone to the idea ``that all Men are created equally.''Robert
: Exactly what polls are you referring to, Mr. Tancredo? I'm not surprised so many Floridians agree with you. After all, many left Miami for the same xenophobic reasons you state, "too many foreigners". By the way, a good portion of those 200,000-plus new residents from Latin America are highly-educated people who easily fit into the middle and upper classes here.T
: "When any area of the country experiences a massive influx of both legal and illegal immigrants, as Miami has in a relatively short time, there are societal ramifications. Some are positive; some are not. Among the latter are dramatic increases in crime and corruption.
• Florida taxpayers had to fork over $120 million in 2004 alone to pay for the cost of incarcerating criminal aliens.
• In 2003, violent crimes in Miami were 3.14 times the national rate and triple the rate of some larger cities like Denver.
• The murder rate in Miami in 2003 was 2.53 times the national rate and double the rate of another large city in the region, Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
• Late last year, the U.S. Department of Justice called South Florida the ''public corruption capital of the nation.'' In the 10-year period 1996-2005, 576 individuals were prosecuted on public corruption charges in South Florida.
There has always been some corruption in every large city, but the difference is that in a Third World country, corruption is a way of life. It is a routine way of doing business. In America by contrast, when payoffs and kickbacks are uncovered it is a scandal and someone is thrown out of office. Is corruption becoming a way of life in Miami?
M: Your description of Miami as a ''Third World country'' is a crude stereotype. I understand your frustration with Miami's lively political and social atmosphere. After all, I did call the city a ''banana republic'' on national television following the fraudulent 1997 Miami mayoral election. But both characterizations of Miami are wrong and simple-minded. Miami is not a ''Third World country'' or a ''banana republic'' but instead a developing urban center with all the opportunities and problems associated with urban America.
Cities in the United States have always attracted new Americans -- immigrants who help build and populate them. In doing so, immigrants not only transform the city but their own culture and customs. This process of dual-assimilation is rarely neat. The histories of Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are personified by conflict between new Americans and the cities' established residents.
Immigrants carry with them the culture, politics and values of their homeland, which often conflict with the norms of their adopted homes. This tension between new immigrants and the establishment creates a framework for a political synthesis that is unique to those cities.
R: Are you saying, Mr. Tancredo, that Miami has a relatively high crime rate because of immigrants? If that's indeed the case, then what do you make of cities such as Atlanta, St. Louis, Detroit, even Florida cities such as Orlando and Tampa (I love how you cherry-picked Charlotte as your comparison city, BTW) which have similar if not higher crime rates? Is mass immigration to blame in those cities, too, or is there something - or someone - else in play?
Yes, corruption is a problem here. However, Mr. Tancredo, you've surely heard of the history of the cities Mr. Moreno mentioned. Also, much of the corruption in Miami has been perpetrated by non-immigrants. We're an equal-opportunity "corruptor" (sic). And, yes, stories of corruption in Miami are typically met with feature stories in the local media and wide indignation from our residents (i.e. the latest low-income housing scandal). It is NOT accepted here as a part of what life should be like.
Mr. Moreno, I remember your "Banana Republic" remark back in 1997. I forgive you for saying it.T
: Far greater than the price we pay for crime and corruption is the cost to the culture when so many people who call Miami home have chosen not to assimilate. That the current mayor of Miami, Manny Diaz, was once the director of an organization that explicitly rejects the melting pot concept of assimilation is disconcerting, as is the statement of a local university professor who told Time magazine he loves Miami because ``there is no pressure to be an American.''
It is widely accepted that life can be lived quite easily in Miami as a monolingual Spanish speaker. This phenomenon indicates a disturbing trend on the part of immigrants who seem to have lost, or never had, the desire to fully assimilate. It is exacerbated by the official acceptance of this attitude on the part of community leaders who pride themselves on their ''celebration of diversity,'' as Gov. Jeb Bush put it in his letter of admonishment to me. As I told him in my response, celebrating diversity is admirable; making it into a state-sponsored religion is catastrophic.
If you want to see a nation that has a 200-year experience with bilingualism and its consequences, look at our neighbor to the north, Canada. I do not think we want to follow that path and experience those consequences.
My concerns about bilingualism have nothing whatever to do with race, but it does have something to do with our ability to reason together about the future of our communities. The eminent sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset warned that, ''The histories of bilingual and bicultural societies that do not assimilate are histories of turmoil, tension and tragedy.'' He is right. America is fast approaching the crossroads where we must choose greater assimilation -- or greater fragmentation.
M: Dual-assimilation is as American as apple pie, or better said, as pizza pie, corned beef and cabbage, and hot dogs. As a new city, Miami is at the forefront of this process. This is exactly what makes Miami exciting and a place where politics is, more often than not, passionate and heartfelt. Miami as a developing urban area attracts new Americans from all over the world. Miami is no longer the destination for Cuban exiles alone but is increasingly attracting people from Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, France and Germany.
Historically, each wave of new immigrants is greeted with suspicion and skepticism about whether they were authentic Americans. In the 19th Century Irish-Catholics were suspect because of their religion. Immigrants from southern Europe were viewed as incapable of adopting democratic values because of the long history of absolutism in their homeland. Jewish immigrants from Russia and Germany were similarly rejected because they were not Christians. Thus, it is not surprising that some, like Tancredo, are skeptical of Latin American and Caribbean immigrants and their ability to assimilate.
The historic record shows that his concerns are baseless. Each wave of American immigrants has shown a remarkable capacity to accept and embrace the essence of the American experience. John Adams said it best when discussing the qualifications to be an American. He argued that there were only two, ''That you are people, and that you are here.'' The wisdom of Adams' remarks resonates within each wave of new Americans.
R: Studies have shown that Hispanics are assimilating at similar rates to 19th and early 20th century immigrants. Many second and third-generation Hispanics in Miami are losing the ability to properly communicate in Spanish, and this has created a lack of local professionals who can properly communicate in English AND Spanish. This has forced many local companies to go to Latin American to recruit new employees. I see this as a huge and glaring negative, as I am an advocate of bilingualism (meaning fluency in BOTH English and Spanish, not one over the other). However, this is part of the natural cycle of assimilation which has been repeated throughout history. The comparisons to Canada regarding bilingualism are easy to make at the surface, but flawed once you sit down and think about it. Canada's issues with Quebec go way back and are rooted in the history of French Quebec compared to the rest of Anglo Canada, not a result of recent immigrants demanding to secede from Canada.
Now for the closing remarks:
T: If immigrants are permitted to continue to form their own independent cultural, political and linguistic enclaves -- and if we fail to instill in new arrivals the language, culture and values that bind America together as a nation -- we will soon cease to have a nation. At best, we will be little more than an economy. And at worst, the ''melting pot'' will have been replaced with a "pressure cooker.''
I mentioned earlier that our office has been deluged with responses to my comment. It has also been interesting to us that a large number of the supportive calls, e-mails and letters we have received are from folks with Hispanic surnames. These communications are encouraging because they give me hope that the battle for assimilation and the melting pot is not lost.
I am well aware of the fact that there are those on both sides of this debate who are motivated by the ugliest of emotions. Believe me, I hear from them also. But for the voices of bigotry and hate to lose volume, the voices of those who hope to see a truly integrated society have to be heard.
: Miami, despite its shortcomings, reflects the strength and attractiveness of the American Idea. New immigrants are compelled to learn and speak English; they participate in elections in greater numbers than native-born Americans; they believe fervently in and are willing to defend the American free enterprise system; and they are willing to die for their adopted homeland.
The Miami experience is not unique as Tancredo contends. It is following the trajectory of other great American cities -- a process that is often spewed with conflict. But the story of urban America and its ethnic populations is a legitimate part of our national experience. Miami and its ethnically diverse population is as authentically American as the ranchers and farmers that make up the sixth district of Colorado.
R: Mr. Tancredo, your fear of a nation divided along linguistic and cultural lines is rooted in lack of knowledge and sensitivity to immigrants' struggles. Even in Miami, it is widely accepted that a lack of proper English-speaking skills gives you a much smaller chance to become successful. Can it be done without speaking any English? Yes, but the odds are stacked against you. I am a product of immigrants, people who left behind everything to start a new life in this country. I am proud that I can communicate and interact in two cultures, yet feel 100% American at the same time. Is that what you want to take away from us? Do you want us to forget where we came from? Do you realize how hard it is for newly-arrived immigrants to learn English while working multiple jobs?
Mr. Tancredo, next time your in Miami, take a look around town. Notice all of the local businesses created and run by immigrants. Notice all of the doctors, lawyers, architects, politicians, etc., who are either immigrants or sons of immigrants. Visit with those Hispanic immigrants who have proudly served their adopted country. They are part of the Americans success story which continues to repeat itself despite the origin of its inhabitants.
Mr. Tancredo, open your eyes. Open your mind. Welcome to Miami, the new America.
Same as the old America. Thank God for that.
Labels: Miami, Tancredo