Amy Chua: Nativism at Yale Law

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I admire people that work to build unity where there is division.  Building unity leads humanity in the direction of ideals.  Building consensus is admirable, but compromising with hate is not.

In her Washington Post op-ed, "The Right Road to America?", Yale Law Professor Amy Chua compromises with hate.  In an attempt to forge a middle ground between tolerance and toughness, she makes deals with the devil.  The net result is an argument that rests on nativism. 

Chua makes the fallacious argument that, within nations, "pluralism and diversity" leads to "violence and instability".  Reading her op-ed, I couldn't help but be reminded of the lunatic mission statement of Frosty Wooldridge's website (Another front for NumbersUSA):
Our English language is under assault and our schools are drowning in ethnic violence, rapes, drugs and gang warfare. In California, Texas, Florida and Arizona, our hospitals suffer bankruptcies from non-paid services for 350,000 annual 'anchor babies'. Ten million illegal immigrants displace jobs from America's working poor and depress wages for many others. Leprosy, tuberculosis, Chagas Disease, hepatitis and other diseases 'pour' into our country within the bodies of illegal immigrants who avoid health screening before coming on board the United States. Even worse, clashing cultures with religions that celebrate 'female genital mutilation' and subjugation of women are growing in enclaves around our country. As Lincoln said, "A house divided against itself can not stand." [...]

Our leaders are outsourcing and offshoring our jobs to Third World countries while they import the Third World into our country. America's middle class is being driven into the unemployment lines. Our schools are becoming dysfunctional towers of Babel with over 140 languages. We can not stay afloat with this kind of linguistic chaos. Yes, we have compassion for immigrants, but it's our country and our children. Their leaders need to take care of them in their countries. Unfortunately, Congress and leadership of this nation refuse to step below the water line to see how fast we are sinking. We're $6.8 trillion in debt. There were 20 different languages on the California recall ballot. Whose country is this anyway?
Chua is certainly more logical and less extreme in her nativism than Wooldridge is.  But the premise of their arguments is the same.  Migrants subvert the U.S.'s national identity.

An Appeal to the Migratory

"Racism", "Pluralism", and "National Identity", are all very complicated terms that Chua plays with in her op-ed.  It would take a pages to define each of them and their interactions with migrants, and a whole books to discuss how they're interrelated.  What's worse, I've added another term to the mix: "Nativism".   Chua is smart.  She is not a political scientist or a philosopher.  Rather than weave her own argument, she draws on the work of Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, and his book, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity.  I'm not going to delve into a critique of Huntington's book in this post.  Alan Wolfe does a good job in Foreign Affairs for those that are interested.

Either way, the most important thing to remember about all of these terms, is that they have systemic connotations.  That means that it doesn't matter what you're background, views, or actions are as an individual, it says nothing about your systemic views.  People of color can be racist.  Women can be sexist.  Migrants can be nativist.  The cracks in Chua's epistemology start to show when she uses her individual experience to make systemic arguments.   Readers should raise their eyebrows when she uses her parents to justify her support for Huntington.

Are we, as the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington warns, in danger of losing our core values and devolving "into a loose confederation of ethnic, racial, cultural, and political groups, with little or nothing in common apart from their location in the territory of what had been the United States of America"?

My parents arrived in the United States in 1961, so poor that they couldn't afford heat their first winter. I grew up speaking only Chinese at home (for every English word accidentally uttered, my sister and I got one whack of the chopsticks). Today, my father is a professor at Berkeley, and I'm a professor at Yale Law School. As the daughter of immigrants, a grateful beneficiary of America's tolerance and opportunity, I could not be more pro-immigrant.

Nevertheless, I think Huntington has a point.

Around the world today, nations face violence and instability as a result of their increasing pluralism and diversity.
- Amy Chua (Emphasis Mine)
It takes a lot more than successful immigrant parents to be pro-immigrant, or pro-migrant, as I prefer.  Perhaps Chua doesn't have individual hatred for the migrants she regularly interacts with, but her arguments are certainly nativist.  This is probably what Nezua would term an "appeal to melanin", but it's a little bit different than that.  I would term it "an appeal to the migratory".  Chua makes another appeal to the migratory in order to justify her support for making English the U.S.'s national language:

A common language is critical to cohesion and national identity in an ethnically diverse society. Americans of all backgrounds should be encouraged to speak more languages -- I've forced my own daughters to learn Mandarin (minus the threat of chopsticks) -- but offering Spanish-language public education to Spanish-speaking children is the wrong kind of indulgence. "Native language education" should be overhauled, and more stringent English proficiency requirements for citizenship should be set up.
- Amy Chua (Emphasis Mine)
This appeal to the migratory should certainly force readers to question Chua's logic.  Anyone that uses their individual experience in contrast to their systemic arguments does so on shaky ground.  Mitt Romney occasionally said "buenos dias" to the undocumented migrants tending to his lawn, but that certainly doesn't make him pro-migrant.

While this appeal to the migratory is cynical and intellectually dishonest, it in itself, is not enough to justify the "nativist" in the title of this post.

Pro-Legal Immigrant and Ignorant

Professor Kevin Johnson makes an excellent case against Chua in the ImmigrationProf Blog:

Chua does contend that, as Samuel Huntington suggests in his book Who Are We?, we should promote immigrant assimilation and a cohesive national identity.  I agree.  However, what the U.S. needs to do is to think more carefully about things that Chua fails to mention -- such as that we need to provide more ESL classes and should devote the resources so that naturalization petitions are processed on a timely basis.  Demand for ESL classes greatly exceeds demand across the United States.  Currently, naturalization backlogs are holding up petitions for years.  Both of the proposals mentioned above are more likely to promote immigrant assimilation and integration than, for example, declaring English as the official national language and compelling adoption of "American civic virtues."  Chua's analysis also fails to acknowledge that (1) most immigrants seek to learn English and that the second generation is largely English proficient; and (2) the naturalization laws require a certain attachment to U.S. civic and constitutional principles (which Chua suggests that immigrants need to adopt).

Immigrant integration will be a key issue for the foreseeable future.  We should consider specific policy options that facilitate integration, not attempt to compel it.  Unfortunately, the United States has previous experience with compelled assimilation, including efforts to prohibit non-English language and Catholic schools (see, e.g., Meyer v. Nebraska; Pierce v. Society of Sisters), policies designed to convince persons of Mexican ancestry to give up certain cultural traditions (including foods, such as beans), and compulsory English.   We would do better to learn from that history rather than repeat it.

- Kevin Johnson

If Chua were truly pro-legal-migrant, as she narrowly defines it, she would be in favor of much of what Johnson outlines above.  The ridiculousness of these self appointed "pro-legal migrant but anti-illegal migrant" advocates is that they fail to even spend even an ounce of their time advocating for reforms that make the difficult lives of documented migrants easier.

If Chua really were pro-legal-migrant, she would do something about cases like those of Nigerian migrant,  Osaro Agbongiague, one of the most noble migrants I know of:

Osaro Agbongiague, an American citizen originally from Nigeria spoke about how he has finally been reunited with his wife. She had been waiting three long years while her application was being processed to be with her husband. Agbongiague spoke movingly about his wife's arrival, "I've learned much about what it is like to live in this great country, but I've also learned that at times you just suffer even though you are innocent just because of the way things are and there is nothing you can do about it. All you can just do is hope and pray for the best. But I'm happy that she's here today."

Agbongiague continued, "The worst thing you can do to a man is to separate that person from his loved ones. You can't sleep at night. You are thinking, I hope I will still have the opportunity to see this person again, because you are not sure what is going to happen at the next moment. She was actually robbed twice in Nigeria. I was completely broken. I felt if she was here with me this wouldn't have happened. I didn't do anything wrong. I did everything the right way. I followed the rules and regulations. How come it's taking such a long time? I do understand that they have to do a lot of things. I do understand there is a lot of process. But I still think something can be done, to make it a little easier on people that have their families back home and they want to reunite with them."
-MIRA Coalition Press Release

This lack of attention to the plight of all migrants, documented and undocumented, flies in the face of Chua's self-defined "pro-immigrant" stance.  This finally puts me in the position to argue that Chua not only fails to be pro-migrant, but she is in fact anti-migrant, or nativist.

Too Much Tolerance

Central to Chua's argument is the idea that a strong national identity is essential for holding together "widely divergent communities".  While some globalists might have trouble with this assumption, I am agnostic to it.  A national identity in itself is not a bad thing.  A national identity could be one that is tolerant of other people from other nations, and therefor globalist, or national identity could be narrowly defined nativism.  In other words, a national identity can be good or bad. 

It is in defining a national identity that problems usually arise.  In her intellectual cowardice Chua defines this national identity only in passing.  Despite the absence of a developed description of the national identity Chua promotes, which I think would expose her nativism, there are still discriminatory hints throughout.

Chua goes so far as to say "America's glue can be subverted by too much tolerance".  This is an extremely problematic argument that hints at a discriminatory national identity.  As soon as Chua starts talking about too much tolerance, I can't help but feel that she strays into an area where some humans are more equal than others.  She hints at this selective equality here:

At some level, most of us cherish our legacy as a nation of immigrants. But are all immigrants really equally likely to make good Americans?
In true lawyer loophole fashion Chua promotes the arguments of Huntington and O'Reilly, especially Huntington, at the same time that she denounces them.  Her denunciation comes in the same breathe as her only explicit definition of the U.S.'s national identity.

One reason we don't have Europe's enclaves is our unique success in forging an ethnically and religiously neutral national identity, uniting individuals of all backgrounds. This is America's glue, and people like Huntington and O'Reilly unwittingly imperil it.
If an "ethnically and religiously neutral national identity", or essentially tolerance, is "America's glue", then why do we need a U.S. immigration policy that is both "tolerant" and "tough".  If tolerance is the U.S.'s strength, then why compromise with toughness, or nativist/racists like O'Reilly?  This is the fundamental contradiction in Chua's argument and I believe she falls on the nativist side of that contradiction, judging from her policy suggestions: "make English the official national language", embracing "the nation's civic virtues", and failing to provide relief for the millions of migrants living in fear in the U.S.  Rather than address how problematic Chua's policy arguments are, I'll humbly and respectfully ask Duke to tear them apart if he so desires and gets the chance.  The pro-migrant blogosphere is strong.

National Identity

All of this brings us back to the problem of a national identity and defining it.  As a U.S. citizen, I hold the United States to the ideals articulated in the nation's founding document:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The sad truth, unfortunately, is that as much as U.S. citizens like to believe that the U.S.'s national identity is founded on "certain unalienable Rights", just as much time has been spent excluding people from those unalienable rights.   Whether it's the Native American genocide, slavery, women's suffrage, the Chinese exclusion act, internment camps, or migrants today, the U.S. has always found a way to exclude people from the very rights that it professes to be founded upon.  I mean doesn't the word "unalienable" ring true in time when so many U.S. citizens rail against "illegal aliens"?

Chua would have you believe that she is pro-immigrant because she supports admitting immigrants on the basis of the "country's labor needs", but she neglects to make any judgment about the millions of undocumented migrants already residing in the U.S. except to say "enforce the law".  Without saying so, she gives away another important and admirable part of the U.S.'s national identity:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

Despite her admission of the need for unskilled labor, Chua's mantra might as well be "give me your ambitious, your rich, your educated masses yearning to make money."

All of these elements add up to what I believe is nativism.  Chua is certainly more tolerant than most anti-migrant advocates, but she rests her reasoning on the same arguments that the hate-group FAIR would.  The last thing we need is another academic with her legitimacy emboldening the anti-migrant hate of John Tanton and his tentacles.

If you've gotten to the end of this monster post, I encourage you to write an email to to voice your opposition to her views.  

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nezua said:

it's a great argument. you essentially destroy the fa├žade presented. but man...all these nativists, they just trot out the same tired shit. i mean she may as well have skimmed pat buchanan's book (yes, which i did read), state of emergency. seriously. she has nothing new in there.

the appeal to the migratory is funny...yet just not so catchy is it? jeje.


blockquote> I mean doesn't the word "unalienable" ring true in time when so many U.S. citizens rail against "illegal aliens"?

is hilarious. great post, amigo.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Ay I wish I could attribute everything to you for all the thoughts you inspire, Nez. Be sure that I thought about your aliencholo artwork when I wrote that line.

barb said:

great post Kyle!

I want to print out this quote and hang it on my wall:
"The sad truth, unfortunately, is that as much as U.S. citizens like to believe that the U.S.'s national identity is founded on "certain unalienable Rights", just as much time has been spent excluding people from those unalienable rights. Whether it's the Native American genocide, slavery, women's suffrage, the Chinese exclusion act, internment camps, or migrants today, the U.S. has always found a way to exclude people from the very rights that it professes to be founded upon."


kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thanks barb. I think others have said it better, but it certainly is one of the most powerful concepts when it comes to one's perception about U.S. History. The books tell us the U.S. was founded on conceptions of equality, but a good argument can be made for the fact that the U.S. was founded on, and has thrived on inequality.

Andrew Fong said:

Appeal to the Migratory - I'm not a fan of rhetoric critiques. Certain uses of language don't prove the argument, but they don't invalidate them either. Besides, if you wanted to debate rhetoric, I could raise considerable ire over your frequent use of "guilt by association".

Language aside, I think Chua is more of a communitarian (and nationalist) than a nativist. Her point is that namely there is such an entity as the American community (or nation-state if you will) and that if you want to be a part of it, you have an obligation to contribute to the "greater (American) good". The nationalist bits might not jibe well with your globalist views, but they are distinct from nativism. It doesn't matter what "America" is, just that there is an "America" and that it prospers.

One more note: What you term hate, I would describe as fear. And to complete the Star Wars reference, there is a bit of anger in your language. Not much, but something to be concerned about. If you need elaboration, ask me later because I'm suddenly quite sleepy.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Always insightful, Andrew.

I hope you comment more here on Citizen Orange. I think in her piece Chua tries to be more of a communitarian than a nativist, but when you start talking about things like national identity and you fail to qualify what that national identity is, then you stray in to dangerous territory. That being said, I agree with some of your critiques. I've heard "guilt by association" before, and if you've had to confront the sort of online opposition that I've had to for years, it's bound to make you a little angry, but you're right in that I should temper it. Many thanks Andrew, I hope you come back.

josh stein said:

see CIA factbook.

most of the world is poor, backward and illiterate.

import the 3rd. world. usa becomes a 3rd world nations.

close the boder. end all immigration.

do you want usa to be become 3rd nations.

love the 3rd. move to mexico, move to china, make 25 cents an hour.

love the 3rd. move there. die at ages 30-40, like in africa.

josh stein said:

see CIA factbook.

most of the world is poor, backward and illiterate.

import the 3rd. world. usa becomes a 3rd world nations.

close the boder. end all immigration.

do you want usa to be become 3rd nations.

love the 3rd. move to mexico, move to china, make 25 cents an hour.

see the facts in CIA factbook.

love the 3rd. move there. die at ages 30-40, like in africa.

patti said:

im trying to educate myself about immagration and illigal aliens in the US. I find myself being angry that so many millions of immigrants are in the US and it seems they have political power without citizenship by sheer numbers alone and think this could lead to destablization of our country.why is it ok that they are in my coutry illegally? i dont want to hate. i want to understand. i will use the links on this website to learn more but what is your response to one who is just learning about this subject.

Bryan Bremner said:

Did any of you actually read her books? I didn't read her op-ed - there aren't many outlets for that paper here in the West Washington, even the eastern half.

I really think that it is a good idea to find out what a person is saying before you attack them for saying what you imagine they might have said. I would be happy to discuss the issue, but not until you have read BOTH of her major books. (World on Fire and Day of Empire)

And Patti: Just whose country is this? Or is it that you speak Salish? Local Native American language in this area. I don't. I just think that new immigrants should pass the same tests that my ancestors did when they came to America.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Believe it or not, I actually have read her books and I'm in the process of writing a review of Day of Empire for this blog. To say that migrants should pass the same tests that they did in the past is exactly what I advocate for, too. In the past it was so easy to migrate to the U.S. and I don't think it's fair to penalize the new wave of migrants for being criminals when in the past they would have been legally accepted without any problem.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on December 18, 2007 11:30 AM.

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