In a recent post for The Huffington Post Claudio Ivan Remeseira, editor of Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook , looks back to Walt Whitman suggesting that what he had to “to say about the question of Hispanic immigration into an ‘Anglo’ nation is well worth listening to once again.”
As Remeseira argues that while the plight of immigrants is not equivalent to the evils of slavery, “the lack of a comprehensive reform that resolves the legal status of about 12 million people underscores a humanitarian crisis of vast political, economic, and moral proportions.” The passing of the controversial law in Arizona—a law most Americans supported—reveals the existence of both misconceptions and prejudices against Latinos in the United States.
While there are those who fear Latinos are changing the character of the United States, Walt Whitman celebrated “the composite American identity of the future.” Whitman went on to suggest that the “Spanish character” would be an important addition to the mix of ethno-nationalisms that would generate a new national identity.
The future we now face is quite different from the future faced by Whitman and his contemporaries. Yet Whitman’s vision of the American future is more relevant today than it was in 1883. It certainly provides a more accurate portrayal of the United States of Barack Obama than of that of Chester Arthur. Whitman’s definition of national identity as a “compost” of different “stocks” echoes Cuban patriot and writer José Martí’s notion of mestizaje (ethnic blending) and constitutes, along with it, a paradigm within which to rethink national identity and an antidote to the racism and bigotry that characterize the current immigration debate.