by Steven M. Smith, Ph.D.
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, December 13, 2019
“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”James Thurber
In the 1920s and 1930s Mexico, if you recall, was a kind of Nicaragua for the United States. Mexico was assailed by Americans as the beast down south, the leftist, the revolutionaries, the Marxist, the communists and all that other noise. However, in the 1940s Mexico City was becoming a metropolis because during the war in Europe many emigres came to Mexico and other Latin American countries. These peoples were accepted and easily assimilated into Mexican culture. While Mexico continued to be benevolent toward European refugees the United States continued to assail Mexico to the unwarranted extent that the country and its people were branded as if they were a steer. Mexico was not a perfect country but scholars felt the country was above criticism and had to defend it constantly.
The focus shifted in the late 1940s with Senator Joe McCarthy (Republican, Wisconsin) and his hunt to rid America of communists and communist sympathizers. The ‘witch hunt’ reached its pinnacle from 1950 to 1954 with Senate and Congressional committee hearings. In a press release McCarthy stated in 1953 that “Any man who has been named by either a senator or a committee or a congressman as dangerous to the welfare of this nation, his name should be submitted to the various intelligence units, and they should conduct a complete check upon him. It’s not too much to ask.” During this tirade government officials, military members, university professors, scholars and those of the entertainment industry endured treatment that was undeserved if not brutal, ruining the careers and lives of many innocent Americans. The vile rhetoric of Bully Joe and McCarthyism held America in fear.
Meanwhile, a growing metropolitan Mexico City was receiving those persons subject to the persecution of the red scare. A number of people from Hollywood, American liberals and left-wingers found refuge there. “It was a nice stew pot, you know, and it was great fun to hang out with all those people,” Ambassador Carlos Fuentes recounted. But the real question was, what is reality and what is illusion? This is the great problem proposed by Don Quixote, which is present in every single novel you care to mention. Only the Latin and American scholars, perhaps because of the quantity of unresolved problems in our societies or the burning search for identity in our societies, did they begin to realize the grotesqueness of our political life. It is only when you speak truthfully about the problems of society that you show your faith in that society, which is something that jingoists and chauvinists in any country, Mexico or the United States, do not understand well.
Today we experience not a ‘red scare’ from Bully Joe and McCarthyism but a ‘brown scare’ from the Bully President and anti-immigrant Trumpism; both atrocities manufactured and orchestrated by Republicans. Rather than communists and communist sympathizers we are bombarded with warnings of drugs, animals, criminals, rapists and murderers flooding our border. Former Senator, former head of the DOJ and former human being Jeff Sessions (Republican, Alabama) did a great job of disseminating McCarthyist propaganda. The idea is to make Americans afraid of ‘those brown people’; therefore, we can, as an administration, justify our means of immigration enforcement and abuse.
During McCarthyism America suffered a loss of much of its intellectual capital. How much of a loss are we willing to sacrifice under Trumpism and the ‘brown scare’? Shankar Vedantam, host of National Public Radio’s “Hidden Brain,” featured an excellent exposé on creativity within highly skilled fields such as engineering and science. It was determined by two research studies that those who worked and collaborated with those of their identical culture were ‘adequate’ in terms of creativity and innovation. When another group from the same professional field was formed of cross-cultural individuals the creativity, innovation and ingenuity increased. Those professionals who immersed themselves into another culture’s languages and processes of thought were more enlightened, creative and imaginative than their counterparts.
The question then is when we as a nation barricade ourselves from another culture what is the cost we are willing to pay? That cost is a loss of cross-cultural diversity that is an incubator for creativity, innovation, ingenuity, technology and inner strength as a people and a nation.