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California's Changing Face: On The Effects Of Mass Immigration

Running through the undeveloped lot across the street from my home, a hurled dirt clod crumbles as it strikes my back. After our makeshift war is complete, we stay out until sunset riding bikes and exploring the nearby reservoir. A few days later we visit my grandparents' home on Foothill boulevard—Route 66 that is—across the street from a car repair shop. There are no other buildings for miles.

That undeveloped lot across the street from my house in southern California back in the 1980s has since seen homes built on it, children generally don't explore the outdoors far from home as freely anymore, and my grandparents' home has made way for an outdoor shopping mall and freeway expansions. Much else has also changed in these southern Californian towns and cities, on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Suburban sprawl has been accompanied by quickly shifting demographics as decades worth of mostly unfettered immigration across the southern border have passed since Reagan's amnesty.

In a mere thirty years, the Hispanic population of California as a whole has doubled, while the Asian population has close to tripled. Some of this can be explained by higher birthrates among immigrants, though subsequent generations of immigrants mostly regress to the native fertility rate. Most of it is due to new waves of immigrants, both legal and illegal.


How much these changing circumstances have affected Californians depends to a large degree on their own socioeconomic status. There is a wealth of research that confirms that increases in diversity are corrosive of social cohesion and trust in communities. But given the de facto segregation that occurs along racial and economic lines, much of the upper-middle class and rich, living in gated communities and suburbs, never have this diversity touch them up close. So while the face of California is rapidly shifting, it's possible to be mostly insulated from its negative effects. There are still many racially homogeneous white communities throughout California, and the strain on social services and the downward pressure on jobs and wages for workers on the low end of the scale don't adversely affect the affluent tech and Hollywood elite or the upper-middle class.

But for the native working class especially, the effects of steady, unchecked immigration can't be so easily ignored. All the aforementioned effects—strain on social services, jobs lost to low skill competition, wages depressed—smack them square in the proverbial jaw. As do the deleterious effects of quickly rising diversity on social cohesion and trust in local communities. While the economic upside of the equation is enjoyed almost exclusively by the immigrants themselves and the corporations who profit off cheap labor. A boon to GDP perhaps, but that's mighty cold comfort to those on the short end of the stick.

On this matter Californian immigration restrictionists find an unlikely ally in Cesar Chavez, a famous Mexican-American civil rights activist to whom is dedicated a California state holiday. He was committed to restricting immigration in the interests of native farm labor. Going so far as to lead a protest march to the southern border in order to protest illegal immigration and reporting illegal immigrant strikebreakers to the equivalent of ICE. Recognition of the economic realities of immigration can cut across racial lines.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the skill spectrum, workers on H-1B visas, entering the country to take jobs in areas of technical expertise, also provides competition to native workers. As the home of Silicon Valley, California takes on more than its fair share of H-1Bs, as tech firms dubiously claim they can't find quality native engineers. Scandals like those at the link go unaddressed by immigration doves, or are treated as some distinct, separate issue while American workers suffer.


The political effects of immigration have also been dramatic. 63% of hispanics in California are registered Democrats and only 16% are registered Republicans. This makes the following chart, showing the county level breakdown of the results of the last ten presidential elections, unsurprising.

The change in southern California is particularly noteworthy. The small county south of Los Angeles is Orange County, where I recently lived for about 8 years. It is a notorious enclave of affluent Republicanism, having produced none other than Richard Nixon. While it's somewhat difficult to make out on the map, it remained red for all nine of the elections before 2016, finally succumbing that year and delivering an all-blue southern California for the first time since FDR's win in 1936. While whites are still the largest group in the county at 44%, the city of Santa Ana is one of the most Hispanic cities in the U.S., and its swelling ranks are paradigmatic of shifts throughout California.

This transformation of California—home of frontier settlers, gold miners, and independent farmers representing a rugged individualistic character—into one of the bluest states in the country and an exemplar of political dysfunction and mismanagement, is obviously disheartening. And the role that immigration has played in this is undeniable.

The realization of the urgency presented by demographic change is part of what fueled Trump's rise, at least among thoughtful supporters. Any other single item on the conservative agenda becomes impossible to achieve once a couple states like Arizona and especially Texas flip blue.

Of course, as a reactionary I don't believe GOP politics, or democratic politics, or for that matter politics at all, will save us. But fostering the sort of culture amenable to reactionary, or even merely conservative, ends, is not generally compatible with a large influx of third-world immigration into a bloated welfare state. This demographic transformation is a problem even from a right-wing anti-democratic perspective, as the people are a critical factor in determining a nation's character, even aside from the question of political power.


California's history as the location of numerous Spanish missions, founded in the 18th and 19th century, around which much of its current culture grew (Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco were all formed around or near Spanish missions), places it in a unique position. This history attenuates some of the more egregious problems associated with assimilation. But while immigrants from Mexico and South America are predominantly Roman Catholic (thus evading the more severe downsides of the Islamic immigration in Europe, for example), this fact is often given more weight than it merits. Religion is important but race, language, and social norms and expectations are similarly important factors to consider when looking at cultural assimilation. But, perhaps more to the point, assimilation itself is not the only pertinent question. Whether even assimilated immigrants from a particular group are desirable or a net positive is itself open for debate.

One way to measure just what it is that is being assimilated (or not) in immigration is to look at racial breakdown of crime rates. Some claim that immigrant crime rates are equal to or less than that of natives, but that's basically impossible to verify given the lack of data that separates out immigrants as a category. These claims are mostly baseless. But we do know that immigration to California is overwhelmingly hispanic, and when we look at the data, while blacks are significantly disproportionate in each category of crime, hispanics are also overrepresented. Comprising 37% of the population in California, they commit 40-50% of the crime in each category. While whites and Asians are significantly underrepresented in each. Mexico's infamous drug cartels and gangs, and their attendant violence and social pathologies, are not anything the U.S. should want to assimilate even if it could.

As mentioned above, diversity injected into communities sows distrust and acts against social cohesion. This is a truth that, while data backs it up, is also understood intuitively by those in the communities it happens to. A 14 year-old girl recently wrote in the L.A. Review of Books about this happening to her own community:

This is immigration. Immigration to me is an invasion. An invasion of a life we once had, of a community we grew from. It’s a process of kicking people like me out of our lives.

"How dare LARB give that little xenophobic Nazi a platform! For shame!" Bottle that indignation, dear reader, as I have just pulled a fast one on you: that isn't what the little girl wrote. She wrote that paragraph but I replaced the word "gentrification" with "immigration." Suddenly the integrity of ethnic community and angst over its dissolution took on a degree of reasonableness, didn't it? Imagine that.

The point, of course, is not that the little girl is wrong just as immigration restrictionists are wrong, but rather that both have completely legitimate concerns. Changing demographic profiles, whether of a state or local communities, bring with them costs and benefits and to assume the benefits always outweigh the costs, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, is pure fideism. In both cases there is a particularist attachment to a people, a land, and a set of cultural traditions and norms that are valued and which they reasonably want to preserve. The alliance of Capital and Progress combine to uproot all particularist attachment and define it as "reactionary" (used as an epithet). Whether in the name of revolution or freedom, the result is the same: the old ways must die and the new must be ushered in. This is not with eyes fixed on some greater end, but change (which is actually destruction) is the end itself.


Some might be inclined to point out that between Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexicans, and European settlers, California has often undergone transformation in the recent past, for better or worse. What proponents of immigration tend to gloss over here is the fact that such changes can be resisted; that it is not simply a matter of fate. The mere fact of a history of demographic change is not evidence that natives were wrong to see in large influxes of outsiders a danger to their way of life. Native Americans did often intuit that just such a danger was afoot, and were ultimately proven correct. Those who are native now are just as justified in perceiving the shifting dynamics of people groups entailing a disruption, if not a threat, of their settled modes of life. The contemptuous dismissal of their concerns and grievances as "reactionary" or "xenophobic" by elites can only be due to the elite's own grim worship of the gods of Capital and Progress.

California will surely continue to change as it's shaped by large-scale forces of history, economics, demographics, and culture. But it will also be shaped by the choices of people, in the halls of power and outside of them. What they are willing to accept and what they refuse to; what they decide to implement and what they fail to; what they pursue and what they don't. Change is inevitable—but not all of it.

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