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Daphne has a good point in the context of Iowahaw’s dissection of Krugman’s column about educational achievement:

One of the frustrating aspects about being a Texan is the constant need to correct ignorant myths about my state and its people. No, we don’t all ride horses to work, holster guns, drive pick-up trucks or speak with a slow twang while checking the back forty fence lines before heading down to the ranch house for a meal of steak and beans. A few rare Texans are still living that life, but not many.

Now Daphne, as I understand it, lives in Austin. Texas’s capital city has its own unique flavor, as does any city, but down in its bones it’s just another college/government town. You wouldn’t go far wrong, at least as a first approximation, if you thought of it as Madison, Wisconsin with less cheese, snow, and bratwürst, and more fire ants, sunburn, and enchiladas. The majority of Texans now live in urban or semi-urban surroundings, in Austin, San Antonio, Houston, El Paso, and the Fort Worth-Dallas metropolitan area, which includes many competing jurisdictions but can be thought of as one big metromess. Daphne’s viewpoint is that of an urban American with a Texas flavor.

So this is predictable, but disappointing:

The progeny of our impoverished Hispanic and illegal populations will eventually overwhelm the state’s decent public school system with their inherited lack of high intelligence, astronomical rate of teenage pregnancies and general disregard for any education past the eighth grade. Forget outflanking Mississippi, our test scores will be comparable to those in Central America ten years out.

That may well be correct as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. When urban Texans go to Mexico they visit Cancun, Cabo, or the west coast resorts now popular because Acapulco has been “spoiled”, or fly into Mexico City and take a cab to a hotel in the city center, like other urban Americans; unlike some urban Americans they might nip across the border to Matamoros, Ciudad Acuña, or the other cities along the Rio Grande/Bravo, though as the violence escalates that’s becoming less and less common. México is more complicated than that. A foreigner whose experience of the United States is New York, Disney World, and the South Side of Chicago would have an equally correct-but-incomplete view of America.

México is full to bursting with low-level professionals and entrepreneurs. The Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana churns out graduates in engineering, science, medicine, and business-related things like accounting from five campuses, and dozens of local schools do the same; more importantly, despite having a nominally socialist Government since at least the Twenties, México’s “safety net” is almost nonexistent because they have never been able to afford it, with the result that remarkable numbers of people get their income from “small business” on a level that makes an American pizza parlor look like General Motors. Mexican law, especially tax law, recognizes that fact — mini empresas and micro empresas enjoy special status, including much less onerous tax and reporting provisions and a much smaller regulatory burden than anything the United States allows or will even tolerate. A person who manages a lower-middle-class lifestyle by standing in the street hawking cheap Chinese toys to passing motorists, as many do, is likely to have a better grasp of marketing, inventory control, and the other necessities of business than many an American with a BS in Business Management.

It is those people who are most oppressed by México’s absurdly oligarchic social system, and out here in the hinterlands those are the ones we get. It may very well be that immigrants to urban Texas are predominately the poor and uneducated who go directly to various forms of welfare; I have no direct experience. My town has fewer than twenty thousand people, and the whole county scarcely more than twice that; the Mexican immigrants who come here are hustlers, in the best possible sense of the term. They find and get jobs, often in the informal, cash, under-the-table economy that is becoming ubiquitous, apply generations of experience in getting along with less to their new environment, and after a year or so the median immigrant has a better car and a nicer house than I do (which doesn’t take much, but still). Not uncommonly, the guy trimming shrubs or finishing concrete is a degreed engineer, accountant, or doctor who has more in common with the Greatest Generation, the Americans who lived through the Depression as adults, than with Boomers like me or our successors — work hard, save money, keep a low profile, and you can prosper in a modest way. He very likely has a lower opinion of the ignorant índios who come expecting streets of gold and the Big Rock Candy Mountain than the most bigoted Anglo.

Nor should the Mexican educational system be despised. My friend Arturo has two sons, and has often shown me their schoolwork. México is deeply racist, in the sense that social status is inversely related to melanin content, but has never had much in the way of institutional racism codified into Law; as a result of that their schools have not been modified by political correctness or the necessity to achieve equality of outcome despite aptitude and preparation (or lack thereof). The curriculum Arturo’s kids matriculate in has more in common with what I experienced half a century ago that with modern American pedagogy, and it’s sink or swim. Fifth-graders are doing algebra, learning English, and can find Botswana or Beluchistan on the map — and if they can’t, they don’t get “socially promoted”. The Mexican twelve-year-old following Papá and Mamán down the aisles of Wal*Mart almost certainly has a better grasp of math than the high-school senior coming the other way, and may very likely be able to name more States of the Estádos Unidos on an unlabeled map.

I really, really wish that more Americans, and particularly more Republicans, understood that. The Democrats are working very hard, and largely succeeding, in an effort to, in effect, replicate the Mexican oligarchic system here, with the difference that the padrónes are to be “public servants” whose wealth and power comes from taxpayers rather than the controlled, corrupt, but ultimately private system found south of the Border. The dependency, the consequent control, and the resultant lack of any real opportunity for social mobility is the same. Republicans who made that point, and emphasized that they were in favor of equality of opportunity and social mobility, could make real inroads into a large minority, if not a majority, of Latin American immigrants, illegal or otherwise. Texans, long accustomed to dealing with Hispanics on a day to day basis, are well-positioned to lead that effort. It’s too bad that urban Texans tend to share with other urban Americans the (somewhat modernized) picture of the Mexican as sleeping it off under a big hat in front of the cantína, with a patient donkey nearby.

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March 2011