Viva la Diferencia

A Harvard egghead sees a grim future in Texas's projected Hispanic majority. Maybe he should spend some time in San Antonio.

MY CLIENTS FROM MEXICO ARE VERY SOPHISTICATED,” said realtor Connie Ramirez as she wheeled her four-door gray Mercedes to the front gate of Sonterra, a plush gated community thirteen miles north of downtown San Antonio that is known as Monterrey North because so many rich citizens from Mexico own homes there. “They like new, large houses with verandas for entertaining that remind them of Cancún. In Mexico these people live like royalty. They want a country club lifestyle in San Antonio. That’s why they like Sonterra.”

The security guard smiled and waved Ramirez through the gate. That day the pretty, auburn-haired Ramirez had six families from Mexico in town shopping for houses. The console of her car was crowded with maps, pens, and notepads, tools that she uses to keep track of her deals in progress. Every time her silver cell phone rang, she clamped it to her ear and called out brightly, “¡ Hola!” One of her clients, a soap opera producer from Mexico City, called to check in. He had a house for sale for $560,000 in a section of Sonterra called the Highlands. That week there had been two offers—both for $530,000—but he had refused both. “I don’t think he really wants to leave San Antonio,” Ramirez said.

As she drove through the streets of Sonterra, which are lined with young live oak trees and earth-toned stucco homes with tile roofs, Ramirez described the development’s appeal to wealthy Mexicans. “I would say the number one reason my clients from Mexico love it here is security,” said Ramirez. “In Mexico these people live in fear of kidnapping or assassination. They all have bodyguards. Some of the wives tell me that they can’t even walk around their own homes without guards following them around. Here they don’t have to worry about any of that. They can leave the bodyguards at home.”

Indeed, Sonterra has been designed to ease their anxiety. Each section has its own gate, equipped with guards and video cameras. Private security guards patrol the streets in white cars marked “Security/Securitas.” Once inside, freedom rules. Young, ponytailed wives drive their Jaguars and BMWs to the country club to play tennis or golf. Nannies supervise toddlers on Sonterra’s crowded playground. “There goes the son of one of my clients,” Ramirez said, pointing to a twenty-something speeding around a corner on a street called Las Aguas in a black Lexus SUV. “In Mexico it would be risky for him to drive on his own like that—without a bodyguard—to the movies or to go shopping. Here, he’s free.”

When most Texans think of the state’s coming Hispanic majority, they don’t, as a rule, picture the worldly, discerning inhabitants of Sonterra. Instead, they picture roiling waves of poor Hispanics who will sap their education and social-service systems and contribute little to the prosperity and prestige of the state. They see a Texas divided into two cultures—one white, one brown; one Anglo, one Hispanic, with separate languages and loyalties. The most controversial article on this subject to date, titled “The Hispanic Challenge,” appeared in the March-April issue of Foreign Policy; it was written by Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, the author of the well-regarded Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Huntington argues that Hispanic, and particularly Mexican, immigrants are not assimilating into America’s melting pot the way other nationalities and ethnic groups have in the past. Instead of coming from a different continent—like the Irish, the Germans, and the Jews of the nineteenth century—the immigrants from Mexico are coming from a contiguous territory, into areas that once belonged to their forebears. Huntington is especially concerned that because these immigrants are coming in such large numbers, they don’t have to give up their language and culture. “If this trend continues, the cultural division between Hispanics and Anglos could replace the racial division between blacks and whites as the most serious cleavage in U.S. society,” Huntington wrote.

Viewed through his eyes, the future of Texas is conflicted, a long-running Battle of the Alamo between Anglos and a permanent underclass of Hispanic immigrants. The numbers are frightening in that regard: Steve Murdock, the state’s demographer, says that by 2030, more than 50 percent of the population of Texas will be Hispanic. But in Huntington’s fear-soaked analysis—he bemoans the fact that in 1998 “José” replaced “Michael” as the most popular name for newborn boys in California and Texas—he forgets that a shared border creates common interests as well as conflicts. San Antonio, for instance, is already 58 percent Mexican American and reveals a very different future from the one Huntington describes, one that is both more complicated and more hopeful.

Meet Alfonso Tomita, for instance, a Mexican citizen who owns a thriving restaurant called Sushi/Zushi just outside the front gates of Sonterra. It was the pursuit of the American dream that first brought him to San Antonio, in 1995. He and his wife, Cristina, were both born in Mexico City. Alfonso’s parents immigrated to Mexico from Japan. “Like many people in Mexico, I always had the dream of living the American way,” said Alfonso, who is a living rebuttal to Huntington’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as poor, uneducated, and unwilling to assimilate. He speaks English. He has a master’s of business in finance from the University of Texas at San Antonio. He has investors from both Mexico and the United States. He and Cristina also moved to San Antonio because his three children—ages thirteen, eleven, and nine—suffered from respiratory problems due to the pollution in Mexico City. “And for the same reason that anyone comes to America—to build a better life for my kids,” he said.

The Tomitas now own three sushi restaurants in San Antonio. Last year they grossed $1 million. Their menu offers traditional Japanese sushi, but the chefs—most of them Mexican immigrants—also make a San Antonio roll, with sprouts and crabmeat in a tangy salsa. Alfonso picked sushi because his eldest son thought it was trendy and had observed that San Antonio

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