Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Voter Reaction To Hispanics May Mirror Similar Response To Immigrants Years Ago In Snowy Buffalo

A book I’ve been reading makes a point about Buffalo, New York in the early 20th century that may have relevance to politics today.

The book is Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography by David S. Brown. Richard Hofstadter was a political scientist and author who lived between 1916 and 1970. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Age Of Reform. 


Hofstadter grew up in Buffalo. 

As Eastern European immigrants moved into Buffalo in the first third of the 20th-century, the old WASP establishment of that city knew its days of political power were numbered.

The response of the Buffalo establishment was not to work out a transfer of power or a sharing of power with the newcomers.

Instead, as author Brown quotes a Buffalo historian—“the WASP gentry strove consciously to define and to strengthen their identity and their legacies as the bearers of a noble, yet clearly threatened, New England Tradition.”

Anglo voters in Texas realize that a big demographic switch is on the way. Already Anglos are a minority of all Texans. The response of many white voters has been to support immigrant-bashing and right-wing candidates. These voters know that once power is lost it may not return in their lifetimes.

It remains to be seen if Democrats can take power in Texas without a few more years of demographic change.     

February 9, 2007 - Posted by | Books, Immigration, Political History, Politics, Texas


  1. I’m not sure that the average citizen thinks in terms of political power held or lost–I would bet in fact that for most, immigrants present simply a vague threat of “otherness,” the foreign that threatens to swallow what we know–all stoked by the fires of our doom-saying friends on the right and a media so unsure of its mission that all it can do anymore is parrot what it’s told.

    Everyday, however, as I read and hear my election-worried leaders tell me I’m endangered, I remember a book written in 1920 by one Lothrop Stoddard called _The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy_. The title pretty much gets to the point, though the target of his fear and hatred was not Mexicans or Latin Americans, but the Eastern European immigrants you mention in your post on Buffalo.

    My grandparents, all of whom were born in the Ukraine, Russia, or Poland, all emigrated to the U.S. between 1921 and 1924. They were Stoddard’s “rising tide of color,” back in a time when Jews (along with other Eastern and Southern Europeans, I believe) were not considered white. Like many Eastern European immigrants of the time, they settled in the growing industrial cities around the Great Lakes–Akron, Buffalo, Toronto. Thanks to the efforts of men like Stoddard, the first restrictive immigration laws in U.S. were passed in 1924. They were designed to keep people like me out, or at least to a minimum. And they worked–the great flow of immigrants from Eastern Europe dried up thereafter.

    This is simply to say that many of our “white,” American grandparents were the “Mexicans” of their time and objects of the same fear and hatred. And yet we all seemed to turn out ok. My great-grandparents all opened the kinds of businesses immigrants tend to open–food carts that turned into grocery stores, tailor shops that turned into Dry Cleaners, etc. My grandparents grew up in the depression, served in World War 2, opened businesses or went to work when they came home from the war. My parents and all of my aunts and uncles went to college, moved to the suburbs, became professionals, reporters, loan officers, secretaries. They all, gasp, did what immigrants do: they became Americans.

    I lived in Buffalo for three years, and, despite the Polish and Italian last names, my neighbors were no different. I’ve now lived in El Paso for two years. And, despite the Mexican names and the Spanish spoken by the most recent immigrants, I see my own family’s history repeating itself with a new generation of immigrants seeking only what our great-grandparents sought: a chance to work, the promise of a decent education for their kids. My next-door neighbor, a Mexican immigrant, speaks Spanish primarily, but understands English; his children are fluent in both Spanish and English; I would be willing to bet that their children will speak English primarily, and may not even understand Spanish.

    I write all this just to say it is sad that so many of us have refused to see the lesson of our own history, and that so many of our fellow citizens continue to traffic in, and maybe even believe, the anti-immigrant rhetoric thrown around so effortlessly all around us…

    Comment by Jeff | February 9, 2007

  2. I am a descendant of immigrants. I know that. I am proud of that. However, they were legal immigrants. There is a definite problem with so many liberals trying to equate illegals with legal immigrants. Maybe we need to overhaul our immigration laws, that’s open for debate. What we do not need to do is accept those who enter this country illegally. Regardless of their country of origin.

    Comment by Myron | February 9, 2007

  3. I don’t think I’m erasing the differences between legal and illegal immigrants. This is a distinction that did not exist, however, when my great-grandparents brought their families here in the early 20s.

    If anyone out there happens to be an immigration historian, they can correct me if I’m wrong–I am under the impression that prior to 1924 there was no such thing as an “illegal” immigrant in the way we distinguish them today. Had my great-grandparents waited a year or two to try to emigrate, they likely would not have been allowed in the U.S.

    My anecdote above is meant simply to add to Neil’s historicization of the immigration issue. Understanding the history of immigration is important if we, as a nation of Americans (not Republicans or Democrats or Conservatives or Liberals), are to forge a humane and pragmatic immigration policy.

    History is too often left out of our national policy debates.

    I do, however, want to thank Myron for pointing out what may be a flaw in my thinking (conflating legal and illegal immigration). I’m still not sure I’d agree I’m doing that, for the reasons noted above, but it is something to think about.

    Comment by Jeff | February 10, 2007

  4. Jeff, there have been immigration laws almost from the beginning of our nation. It started with the Naturalization Act of 1790. And yes, that act was flawed because it restricted citizenship to free white persons. The national-origins quota system, based on each nationalities representation in past US census figures was passed in 1921, revised in 1924 and replaced in 1965 with the current system which is supposed to help unite immigrant families and attract skilled immigrants.

    And Jeff, I didn’t construe your comment as conflating legal and illegal immigration. My comment was directed at the folks who protest any immigration laws and seem to think that anyone who feels a need to control immigration is a white supremest racist right-winger. Without even questioning the logic and probable outcomes of the actions they themselves espouse.

    Comment by Myron | February 10, 2007

  5. Texas should be the most solid state for Democrats, providing they do their howework. The state has close to 50% black and hispanic. Women’s incomes are 35% less than men. Republinans have the history of fighing against min. wage increase, raising taxes for wealthy in order to keep social security in tack, national health insurance,etc. The problem is the Democrats don’t get those people to the polls. Once they do, that state will be the strongest Democrat state in the country.

    Comment by al | February 24, 2007

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