The flood of undocumented Latin American immigrants crossing into the US cannot be assailed on moral grounds. The term "Hispanic" is a classic misnomer. It distorts reality and vaporizes the entitlement of the native population. Hispanics are not Spanish. Spain is not their homeland. Some speak Quechua or another Native language as their mother tongue. Some speak little Spanish or Spanish as a second language. "Hispanic," then, does not describe their cultural, ethnic, or linguistic identity. Rather, the term avoids avoid naming their real identity: Native American. They are blood brothers of the North American tribes decimated by colonial invaders from Europe. Columbus was an illegal alien. Natives or Indigenous peoples are not.
Instead of thinking about the recent arrivals as foreigners flooding into the US, try on the concept of Native Americans repopulating North America. Whether Spanish speakers from Honduras or Sonora Indians from Mexico, they are descendants of the population that long preceded white colonists in this hemisphere. Their crossing the Rio Grande is no invasion, but an unarmed re-conquest by indigenous inhabitants. Does the US possess the will to shoot or deport these mothers and children fleeing north? If not, the demographics of this continent are headed for where they were before Columbus.
In time, the centuries of European settlement will become but a blip preceded and followed by Native American domination. Will non-natives disappear or become a stable minority? It is too early to tell. What became of the Moors after the Reconquista in Iberia? What will be the long-term fate of South Africa's whites or of the Arabs of Greater Israel, now that the indigenous blacks and Hebrews are back in power? If history provides any consistent guideline, it is that the fighting spirit of displaced natives eventually overcomes the power and greed of conquerors. If not expunged, the natives fight to reclaim their patrimony with relentless ferocity, be they Kurds, Hebrews, Afghans, or Mau Mau. They will return from distant diasporas, like the Ukrainians and Chechens after the fall of the USSR. They will resist with implacable disobedience, like the Indians led by Gandhi. They will speak their ancient tongue and bide their time, like the Berbers. When illegals are not truly illegal and foreigners are not truly foreign, then by what right do the conquerors of their lands deny them re-entry? When the US Government expels a Bolivian, isn't it merely a re-enactment of the original depopulation of Native America? Are we really still those colonials, ruling by might and racial right, in the name of Christian mission and civilizing mandate? I think not. Sooner or later, we will have to stop calling them "Hispanics" and stop regarding them as interlopers. We will have to let the owners come home and hope that they let us stay. We should pray for a Native American Nelson Mandela – or else start packing.
How this reconquista plays out will depend partly on how ready the US is to adapt. More importantly, it will depend on the ability of Native Americans, North and South, to acknowledge the bonds that join them. Will the tribal authorities welcome newcomers from the south? Will Latinos be willing to reclaim their Native American heritage? Will a First American intertribal esperanto replace the colonizer languages that now divide them (English, Spanish, Portuguese)? I am imagining a mass immigration that is not absorbed into the American dream, but into the Native American dream: a hemisphere restored to its native inhabitants in all their diversity. I picture Navajo ulpans (language schools) and tribal land kibbutzim (collective farms) to absorb the new arrivals.
For those who believe that this notion is absurd, please regard the example of the Holy Land under Ottoman rule. Who would have believed in 1848 that a century later Jews from a hundred nations would stream back to Israel, become a majority, revive their ancient tongue, build and defend a modern state in their ancient homeland, and become a world-class innovator in agriculture, high-tech, medicine, and military science? Why not a United Tribes of Native America on both continents? Once South Americans expel the last remnants of their colonized identity, they will naturally reclaim their culture, land, and future. Their collective population will be vast. As Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism wrote, " If you will it, it is no fantasy."
Raphael Levi Caleb was born in the US, emigrated to Israel in 1977, learned Hebrew, and served in the Israel Defense Forces. A dual citizen, he has lived most of his adult life in Jerusalem, but he also has a home in the US. He observes many Jewish traditions and belongs to the tribe of Levi.