Debating The American Identity by Linda C. Noel

Have you and interest in the border protection, immigration, Homeland Security debate?

If you do, you will probably agree that any healthy debate should be void of information bias, hip – shot conclusions and based upon accurate data and historical fact.

While none of that may change an opinion, it nevertheless will allow a meaningful discussion. A very good starting point is to purchase and read the recent release by the University of Arizona Press of author Linda C. Noel’s Debating American Identity, Southwestern Statehood and Mexican Immigration. Noel is an associate professor of history at Morgan State University in Baltimore and received the 2013 Michael P. Malone Award from the Western History Association.

In the early 1900s, Teddy Roosevelt along with New Mexico territorial governors and others promoted very different views on what being an American meant. The writings and speeches coming out of that tumultuous and dynamic era in many ways defined the debate of today. At stake then, as now, were the very issues of what constituted an American and the legitimacy of cultural diversity in modern America.

Those debates of the early 20th century set forth the differing ways in which Americans argued about how newcomers could fit within the nation – state. The views ranged from exclusionism, assimilation, pluralism, and marginalization, but also, about the significance of class status, race, and culture in determining American identity. Even then there was the political polarization encompassing the feared possibility of how people of Mexican descent might reach economic and political power, and whether they desired to incorporate as Americans are not.

Noel’s book, Debating American Identity resonates with current discussions, as we, as a nation, spend billions on Southwest border fences, drones and in my home state of Texas, spend large amounts of taxpayer money sending National Guard troops and expanding Department of Public Safety recruit enrollment for deployment to the Rio Grande. But this is not a solution book or in any way a book recommending how are border should be handled. While it is academic history, having some fifty-nine pages of source notes, the text of the book, itself, is very readable and interesting. What it does is expand the reader’s understanding of the current debate.

“… Americans developed and altered various strategies for incorporating people of Mexican descent into the United States; in doing so, they demonstrated what they thought being an American meant. Part I of this book examines four strategies used for handling ‘others’– – – exclusion, assimilation, pluralism, and marginalization…”

The timing of this book coming to market could not be more appropriate. Regardless of what opinion we each may hold about immigration and border security, the arguments in the early 20th century with the events happening at that time are seminal thought processes of the mindsets of today.

In my opinion, you really can’t understand this many faceted issue, if you do not first, know the history. In a way, the debate follows that adage of, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” However, one can only know the “same,” if they know the historical seed.

The calculus of understanding what is needed on immigration and border security first starts with understanding the underlying issues. “Border security” is a conclusion, not a cause. To understand the causes, one must start with Debating American Identity.

Written by

Glen Aaron is a retired trial attorney with a rich history in litigation and international business. He has maintained offices in Shenzhen, China, Panama City, Panama, Belize, Lebanon, and the United States, representing both American clients and clients from other countries.

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