Mojitos vs. Mogen David: Mi Primer Pensamientos de Hispanic Jews and Patriotic Assimilation

By Stephen Steinlight on March 4, 2011

From my earliest days at CIS, a principal target for my speaking engagements has been Florida's slowly northward migrating Jewish heartland, and I've addressed every sort of Jewish audience prepared to listen, excepting those already stone-deaf or on life-support, though truth to tell, on occasion I've spoken to groups bordering on both. In sundry settings I've made our case to thousands in the aggregate. Having spent a considerable amount of time in the state, I'd grown pretty confident about my knowledge and understanding of the geography, politics and socio-economic situation of its Jewish community. But recently I discovered my expertise wasn't all I imagined; I'd missed something important.

I should have known I was heading into terra incognita when the first feelers regarding a speaking invitation came from a politically supportive group of immigration lawyers, a group for which I've developed a hearty dislike and who are typically among the most die-hard of our opponents. Their first email explained they'd changed their minds about immigration policy as a result of reading me, which struck me as a quasi-miraculous. Of course I accepted – I was much too flattered and curious to say no – and a few months later I was standing before a notably different audience than any I'd previously addressed, one more receptive to our message than any other – and that takes into account the fact in that in recent years there has been a dramatic shift in our direction – inaugurating my introduction to a community I had simply – stupidly –overlooked and have already come to feel great fondness and respect for and plan to get to know better. This new connection constitutes icing on the cake of an ongoing campaign that shows every sign of being triumphant, though final victory is still a way off, and it's never been easy going, especially being the target of scabrous vilification by the usual suspects – so an overview of some of the history that preceded and gives the recent encounter greater context and more meaning seems appropriate.

Though there's something undeniably sui generis about the group of Floridians I finally addressed, what makes its members resonate so strongly with CIS's message is what has caused a similar reaction among individuals in or whole segments of many other audiences. The unexpectedly "new" experience in Florida created a framework that helped me locate and more explicitly place a set of individual experiences over the years, confirming several truisms that only obstinate perversity would cause one to resist, truisms that go far towards explaining why we find allies in groups with certain historical commonalities. As is often the case, the universal is to be found in the most outwardly particular and after my latest experience in the Sunshine State I'm tempted to draw several large inferences.

In the early-brave-bad-old-days when CIS first launched its campaign to cause the Jewish community to re-think and reject it anachronistic immigration policy, one destructive to America and the interests of Americans who are Jews, my message was novel, even something of a sensation. It was good for getting invitations but daunting, or at least it appeared that way, in terms of winning converts. Considering support for generous legal immigration – which had quietly morphed into support for all immigration, legal or otherwise, had long been the holy of holies among the Establishment's public policy priorities, the odds seemed stacked against me and the hill looked correspondingly steep. I made no secret of what I was up to, and it was immediately and accurately perceived as a radical departure from Jewish Establishment and, if Establishment propaganda was credible, to near-universal communal orthodoxy on immigration policy as well.

Though my eight-year experience of working within the Jewish Establishment should have taught me to discount its assertions instantly, my initial suspension of disbelief regarding the Establishment's deliberate misrepresentation of communal attitudes didn't last long. What jolted me into reality was the product of an epiphany provided me by a prominent Jewish newspaper editor and respected voice within the Jewish community. Within less than a year after I began challenging the Establishment's viewpoint, I was surprised, actually stunned, when Gary Rosenblatt, editor of New York's Jewish Week, one of the most widely-circulated Jewish papers in the U.S., stated in an opinion piece of January 13, 2004, "How Wide Should Our Doors Be?" that I was playing a central role in fracturing the community's monolithic outlook and had started a "raging debate" within it.

Considering not a single debate was ever held over immigration policy within any of the plethora of national Jewish organizations that comprise the Establishment nor at the annual meetings of the public policy umbrella group to which all belong, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the editor of the Jewish Week provided all the confirmation I required of an empirical reality I'd already discovered at the grassroots level: the bifurcation (with a not insignificant number of exceptions) between ordinary Americans who are Jews and the self-selected, self-proclaimed putative leaders of the community, the Establishment oligarchs. Henceforward, I would never again make the mistake of conflating the two.

A product of being recognized by the Jewish Week's editor was increased celebrity (notoriety to some) of the little fish/little pond variety. But it was enough to allow my hosts the naughty frisson to be derived from inviting a radical dissenter, someone in the avant-garde and likely to offend enough people to make for a spirited event. But since I'd emerged out of the Jewish Establishment where I'd been Director of National Affairs at its most prestigious organization, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), I couldn't be marginalized or dismissed as a rank outsider. I'd also been Director of Education at the United States Holocaust Memorial Council (the body that oversaw the creation of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum) and was the first Jewish Vice President of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, once the nation's premier inter-faith organization. Furthermore, I'd grown up in the bosom of the community in an observant Conservative Hebrew-speaking Zionist home, had spent 10 summers at Camp Ramah (a cross between Komsomol and Eton within the Jewish world), and several summers working on a kibbutz in Israel. On top of which my immediate and extended family included several members prominent in Jewish politics, culture, religious, and intellectual life, a few illustrious. Thus while I was hardly glatt kosher, I was a good deal more than merely "Jewish style," as the owners of non-kosher "New York style" delis like to say of their establishments. Not even my worst enemy could even fantasize about tarring me with the most lethal epithet of all: a self-hating Jew.

The message I carried from CIS arrived at precisely the right moment, its success very much a matter of historical timing. I had begun to feel a fundamental shift in the community's Weltanschauung virtually from the outset – one could almost feel the tectonic plates moving – as one speaking engagement led to another, mostly by word of mouth, a trickle leading to a torrent of invitations. This shift was evident in the unexpected warmth of my receptions across the country. There were only a small number of memorable exceptions, and the hostility on those occasions came from a handful of individuals or the rabbi or local head of the chapter of the national organization I was addressing rather than the group as a whole. It was also reflected in the obvious relief felt by a majority within group after group that I was not politically correct, and the broad smiles on faces in the audience when I made a telling point that broke with Establishment thinking or a comment that enraged the rabbi sufficiently to elicit a sanctimonious, impolite, and frequently cretinous interruption of my remarks, which I learned to shrug off good-naturedly. What I was doing was expressing the opinions congregants and members of secular organizations had been pressured to censor; my voice represented the silent – or rather silenced – majority.

What was happening – and in the beginning I was only half-conscious of it though I came to see it clearly and employ it as a weapon as time went on – was that I had hitched my wagon to an ascending trend in the communal Zeitgeist and seized and capitalized on an enormously significant and wondrously timely cultural transition within the American-Jewish community.

I was delivering CIS's message to a group within which a majority was ready, indeed eager, to hear it, one that had come to see itself as fully American, for whom hyphenated citizenship was beginning to lose its normative hold if not yet its continued common usage. Of course its strong ties to Jewish communal values and interests, to Israel and to Judaism had not significantly loosened or become attenuated – I certainly didn't wish to see any of that happen – but it not only ceased to see a conflict between its love for core elements of its parochial identify and its love of America and Americanism; it had also reached the point of placing the highest premium on national belonging.

This juggling of identities and final re-prioritization had been in the works for years – such things are almost invariably evolutionary – but the Jewish Establishment, especially its many highly politicized rabbis, had managed to repress its public expression so thoroughly it eluded its own radar screens; it was in essence hoist on its own petard. In addition, to the extent it sensed the change was occurring it purposely downplayed or ignored it because it represented – and represents – a profound threat to the Establishment, an attack on nothing less than its raison d´être. The Establishment had historically thrived on "protecting" Jews from the influence of the dominant culture and from a once pervasive historical anti-Semitism that has virtually ceased to exist in America. The Establishment still views public expressions of Christian belief (especially of the Evangelical sort) with great uneasiness and distaste, and it engenders parochialism and a separatist identity (which may, explain, at least in part its uncritical embrace of multiculturalism, as well as its unending and fore-doomed quest to curry favor with communities of color.)

It's inarguable that the Establishment and its "defense agencies" played an important role in safeguarding Jewish interests in the past in a very different America, but perhaps the greatest reason for its precipitous decline is its failure to find a meaningful niche in contemporary American society. It has lost its ability to maintain its influence by scaring Jews about white American Christians, an effort that seems especially preposterous given the astronomical rates of intermarriage. This effort to "protect Jews" from Israel-loving Evangelicals or "threats" as ridiculous as Mormon conversion of dead Jews is also devastating to its already shredded credibility since mainstream Jewish religious movements and the secular Establishment make a fetish of legitimating Islam's presence in America, something the great majority of American Jews rightly fear. While the Establishment is still a perfect example of Robert Frost's definition of a liberal "as a man who cannot take his own side in an argument," ordinary American Jews do not lack common sense.

When I began speaking across America, the Jewish community was already distancing itself except sentimentally (though that barrier was not as easily surmounted as one might imagine) from its once near absolute identification with the rootlessness of its own "luftmench" immigrant past. By logical extension, it was simultaneously distancing itself from a long-held near total emotional association with immigrants as opposed to America's stakeholders, the immigration experience, universalism, minority culture, and America's outsiders. The great majority of Americans who are Jews found they were and are able to replace those older allegiances and set of identifications with a frank acknowledgment of their patriotism and rootedness in America, in historical terms a relative novelty for a group that had never enjoyed full partnership in national compacts anywhere on earth, which had to warily re-negotiate its civic status on a regular basis, and on those rare occasions when it thought it had finally found a home, especially in 20th century Europe and the Soviet Union, it had been reminded that it had not by the greatest enormities in history – the tidal waves of Nazi and Stalinist mass murder.

Perhaps the embrace of American nationalism, even belief in American Exceptionalism, as well as love for and attachment to Israel, the "Promised Land" and therefore also an Exceptional nation state did not constitute an entirely satisfactory replacements for the prophetic Jewish vision of heaven on earth, of universal brotherhood that animated Jewish thinkers and dreamers, religious and secular alike, for centuries. But in a contemporary world steeped in historically unprecedented ant-Semitism, the product of a marriage between the Islamic patrimony and the international left, the most freedom-loving, tolerant, and safest nation states have come to be seen as a splendid second best. Given the nightmares of Jewish history and particularly the way the communist utopia had become an anti-Semitic tyranny comparable to that of Nazi Germany and sent its Jews to the wall and Siberia, nationalism was no longer to be decried, certainly not where freedom and equality are realities.

The transition within the American-Jewish community is inarguable and irreversible, despite the numerous King Canutes within the Establishment ordering the waves to recede. This is not to say everyone in the audiences I address affirms the views on immigration I propagate, but a clear and growing majority does. The sometimes plentiful group of opponents and handful of furious hecklers that dogged me in the early years has dwindled to a tiny minority in any given audience. They show up on occasion in congregations with ultra-liberal rabbis or in the politically extremist houses of worship of the Reconstructionist movement which I avoid like the plague. They are also present among the anachronistic groups of "Jewish secular humanists" (so tedious a collection of outdated ideologues would be hard to imagine outside a Party Plenum) and among plain old "Secular Humanists," one of several dying witness protection programs for insecure American Jews. Now the handful of opponents and the one or two hecklers who never bother listening to me but merely wait to say their say mightily irritate the majority, which begins by politely requesting they turn their screeds into questions and, when they don't, tells them to shut up. On the unforgettable occasion when I addressed the "Secular Humanist Society of Chicago," the majority was so disgusted by the behavior of the hecklers, among whom was the president, that the organization imploded before my very eyes, three quarters of the audience leaving and vowing never to return!

It's clear the campaign has been a resounding success by any standard, though it is far from over. From uncertain beginnings to the swift recognition that it had produced a "raging debate" in the Jewish community, to findings only a few years later in such unimpeachable sources as the major CIS/Zogby poll of December 2009, "Religious Leaders Versus Members: An Examination of Contrasting Views on Immigration", which featured much the largest cohort of Jews ever asked their opinion of immigration policy in a survey on attitudes towards immigration policy) with respondents tallied according to religious affiliation, to the findings in an AJC survey taken just before the mid-term elections that showed a clear majority of Americans who are Jews back Arizona's SB1070 (see data in "Curve Ball for Jewish Leaders on Immigration", as magnificent a title about the Establishment's cluelessness one could imagine) we have witnessed a majority of Jews moving to support enforcement over amnesty, a remarkable historical turnaround.

Much work remains to be done within the American Jewish community with regard to the political debate on immigration. The relatively new thinking on the subject needs to be hammered home, fully integrated into a larger worldview, further informed, and deepened into an abiding passion. For the process of education to matter, for it to make a difference, my work must focus on translating intellectual change into political activity. It is meaningless in the great scheme of things for a majority of American Jews to respond to AJC's Annual Survey of American-Jewish Opinion over the past several years that they now define themselves as being to the right of center. The fact remains that the large liberal minority, the highest within any American white demographic, still controls the institutions of the community. Evidence of an internal ideological shift matters little if at all if it occurs merely in response to questions on a public opinion survey but does not translate into political activity. These newly-minted "right of center" Jews need to engage in political advocacy, certainly on immigration, to give reality to still-empty words.

The authenticity of this conversion would be signaled, among other ways, if we were to begin to see the percentage of Jews who claim to be "right of center" start affiliating as Republicans or at least Independents in proportionate numbers. But while Republican-phobia remains strong, there are inklings of change in the works. An American Jewish Committee survey taken just prior to the November 2010 mid-term elections had one fascinating finding: it was the first election in U.S. history in which fewer than 50 percent of American Jews defined themselves as Democrats. This is moderately encouraging, but my guess is we'll have to wait a quarter of a century for this neurosis to lose its grip. It may be a matter of mortality. As the liberal generations die off and younger, more religious and therefore more centrist and/or conservative people inherit the Jewish world it remains to be seen what they will make of it, but that they will not replicate the institutional structures built to serve another era or its accompanying ideology seems certain. Nor will they equate being a Jew with being a liberal Democrat.

To return to the Sunshine State: in relative terms, the amount of time I spend in Florida has lessened in recent years ( I speak more often in the West and address many Republican Clubs, Tea Party Groups, and Evangelical audiences). But I return regularly to the Jewish world and speak in all the usual places: houses of worship (the great majority belonging to the more centrist Conservative as opposed to the politically correct Reform movement), Jewish community centers, and local chapters of national Jewish organizations.

Because prosperous, highly assimilated, largely unaffiliated Americans who are Jews don't know and don't wish to know about the public policy positions of the Jewish Establishment and can't be cowed by the hectoring of post-American liberal rabbis (since the great majority attend synagogue only on the High Holy Days and probably wouldn't even do that except for the still compulsory Memorial Service ("Yiskor") for lost loved ones – and they usually don't stick around for the overwhelmingly liberal politicized sermons), the best venues for me by far have proven to be the golden ghettos that stretch from Miami Beach to Palm Beach and over to Naples.

These opulent gated Jewish residential communities, golf clubs and retirement homes come replete with walls and towers echoing ancient Nineveh and entrances reminiscent of Babylon's Ishtar's Gate, with grounds to rival Versailles or Frederick the Great's San Souci. Built to accommodate wealthy Jews historically barred from the most upscale of WASP communities by anti-Semitic residential covenants – and have come to surpass many in ostentatious grandeur as the old barriers have largely though not completely fallen (informal residential apartheid still manages to linger, though to a very reduced extent) – the golden ghettos have morphed into "in" places, with long waiting lists of nominal Christians, including more than a few country club WASPS, who wish to live amongst the once despised Hebrews.

Whether consciously or unconsciously anticipating the dominant culture's incursion, the Jewish and/or predominantly Jewish private clubs and communities underwent a change of nomenclature so apt it's nary impossible to believe it was accidental. Those with more than a passing familiarity with Miami and Miami Beach when these still were glitzy Jewish enclaves (parts such as South Beach, Coral Gables, and Bal Harbor still are), will remember that most of the elegant, sought-after addresses had French names. A standard joke was an inability to read French meant residents couldn't recall where they lived or since they couldn't pronounce the names of their apartment buildings or hotels doormen barred their entry. The manorial communities that have sprung up in the last 30-40 years in the Greater Palm Beaches have been rechristened with names redolent of the Anglo-Saxon pastoral ideal, whether in America or the Mother Country (we speak of Merrie Old England, not the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). Thus the Jews live in, and I have spoken at, such places as Hunter's Run, Piper's Glen, Broken Sound, Pembroke Pines, Lauderhill Lodge, Inverrary, Forest Trace, etc., etc. I sometimes fantasize I won't be admitted.

Of course focusing on Florida has made perfect demographic sense. The state has the third largest population of Americans who are Jews after New York and California, and it's a great deal cheaper to get there than the latter. Moreover, the rootless deracination that is characteristic of any region with large communities of retirees makes the place sociologically ideal. Virtually no one actually comes from Florida. Also, while the average age of the State's Jewish population has likely grown slightly younger in relative terms – the product of a higher share of the state's Jewish community that is Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox and fecund in the extreme – most still come to retire. Thus to give a talk in Florida is to address a sociological mean. Without exaggeration, the typical member of almost any audience might be termed the American-Jewish Everyman between early retirement and old age. Speaking engagements provide access to a representative cross-section of Jews within a certain age cohort from across America, making it an ideal testing ground for challenging ideas and experimentation with modes of persuasion.

Contact with grassroots Jewish Floridians is a welcome change from New York and the surrounding Tri-State area, as well as from Washington, D.C. Florida simultaneously provides a reliable reality check about how the great majority of ordinary Jews nationwide feel about immigration because virtually the entire Jewish Establishment is headquartered in New York and has legislative affairs offices in D.C., and living in New York or D.C. skews perceptions of the Establishment's power and influence. They seem to be everywhere in New York; the city is filled with their institutions. What affiliated agencies are up to, however trivial, is loudly amplified in the echo chamber that is the Jewish media, itself a creature of the Jewish Establishment whose public policies the Jewish weeklies and press agencies affirm while surviving on the subventions the Establishment provides.

Predictably enough, the Establishment's decibel level drops precipitously as one leaves New York and its environs, and as the distance lengthens its stentorian voice turns becomes fainter and fainter until it turns into a whimper. On the local level, even in cities large enough to host major league baseball teams – which means big enough to have regional offices of national Jewish organizations – mostly miniscule local staffs have a comparatively marginal impact on the life of the community, and the great majority of the Jews that live away from Manhattan or Washington have either not heard of the local branches of the Establishment organizations or, if they do, don't follow their marching orders.

Like all generalizations, the assertion that Florida is an ideal testing ground because it offers a sociological mean isn't without exceptions. One is particularly noteworthy: the hosts who recently invited me, a community I should have discovered years ago. Their community is separate and distinct from that of the standard variety of Jewish Floridian retirees whose stereotype form the basis for Jackie Mason's excellent if somewhat dated jokes. It was established as a world apart when it first arrived partly because of the relatively cold embrace accorded it by the Jewish community and its institutions, and while that has changed markedly over the years, it has remained separate – though it has many bridges to the dominant community – because of its pride in its "otherness," its remarkable success, and its creation of a host of its own parallel independent synagogues and other institutions.

The differences between it and the typical Florida Jewish retirement community are substantial. These include such significant factors as: a very different recent history as well as a different one going back hundreds of years; the use of a different primary language at home and when they go out to dine or party; a personal style, even body language that is marvelously vital in contrast to the staid one of the more typical retirees; a far more conservative politics and a long-time involvement in the Republican Party; a tremendously powerful and thoroughly unashamed patriotism; and great pride as Jews, Americans, and Hispanics.

I'm speaking of course about Florida's large Cuban-Jewish-American community. Though in some respects its history and culture are sui generis, as previously noted, some of the elements that make it special are also equally true of members of my audiences in many other parts of America, and those commonalities strongly influence how people, Jewish or Christian, place themselves within the immigration debate. Their commonalities make them powerful allies of the immigration philosophy espoused by CIS: they came to America as refugees from tyranny; are profoundly patriotic; know American Exceptionalism is real; despise post-American attitudes; believe passionately in the rule of law; strongly oppose illegal immigration and amnesty; maintain a high level of civic engagement; feel strongly protective of America; and fear that massive immigration will change the character of America for the worse, both economically and socially.

Like most Americans who are Jews, some of the Cubans have roots in East/Central Europe, but the majority trace their pre-Cuban history to Spain, especially Catalonia, Portugal and France. Forced out by the Inquisition and Expulsion of 1492 into the Sephardic diaspora that included many of the lands that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire – the families of congregants lived for centuries throughout Turkey, Greece (mostly Thessalonica), the Middle East, the Balkans, the Maghreb – many returned to Spain and France only to escape to Cuba during the rise of fascism and Nazism – when no Western power, including the United States, would admit Jewish refugees. Those who survived the Holocaust that wiped out most of their families and communities joined relatives and friends in Cuba. Arriving destitute, thoroughly traumatized, and in deep mourning, the community prospered there until Castro came to power when almost all fled to America with nothing, starting over once again from scratch, a familiar pattern.

Many now in the learned professions or successful businesspeople remember their early years in Miami, knocking on doors asking for work hauling trash, cleaning garages, repairing cars, doing whatever they could do to support their families. Over time the community again prospered, and its descendants form one of America's model minorities: groups who began in poverty but arrived not only with a strong work ethic but also with deep respect for learning that provided the engine of rapid upward social and economic mobility. With little help from the wealthy Florida Jewish community, they achieved their success with their own hands, a source of great pride (and some resentment). What they dreamed of America provided in full measure: a tolerant free society, a level playing field (they were white, after all, and the hindrances associated with being Jews caused minor irritants compared to what they had experienced elsewhere), opportunities for higher education, and plenty of scope for their exceptional entrepreneurial abilities.

Like many other immigrants, their strong traditional values and powerful sense of religious and cultural roots enabled rather than impeded the desire to become full members of their new country. A result of growing up under communist tyranny and having a strong entrepreneurial spirit it is hardly surprising that their politics were and are predominantly conservative and their attraction to the Republican Party was and is natural. Sometime, as happens occasionally with Eastern European refugees from communism, there is a tendency to project fears of communism onto garden variety American liberalism, but if that prior life experience can sometimes be a source of hasty over-determined political judgment, it has been and remains a source of strong dedication to individual liberty, belief in the reality of upward social mobility, the defense of private property, and their suspicion of the danger represented by the power of the government, even when it appears to be wielded in the interest of the common good.

Some of the mainstays of American leftwing politics and culture are simply intolerable and inexplicable to them, a result of growing up in the worker's paradise. Having lived under tyranny and now living in freedom, they cannot understand post-Americanism, which they see as blind ingratitude or treason. Having suffered under and escaped societies and systems – whether Nazi or communist – whose power in large measure was enabled and then justified by the extinction of constitutional and statutory law and its replacement by prerogative law – that is to say, the "law" being whatever the Party or political class finds politically convenient – they are appalled at the wholesale violation of the rule of law in the context of immigration, and stunned that the federal, state, and municipal governments and law enforcement wink at it.

Like so many other immigrants or the children of immigrants who have come to the podium to thank me after I speak and express support – whether their families came from Latvia, Ukraine, Germany, Venezuela, Argentina, or Cuba – they speak with great passion about the legality of their forebear's immigration, of the critical importance of playing by the rules. Again and again the Cuban Jews of Florida distinguished the legality of their immigration from the nightmare of illegality they see all around them.

It's also the case that having arrived in America as refugees from communist tyranny after having survived the Holocaust by pure chance, Florida's Cuban Jews find it difficult to summon much in the way of compassion for purely economic migrants, those who cross and re-cross the Mexican border simply to make more pay per hour and rip off the system – but have no desire to become American or renounce their Mexican legal identity. The response of the Cuban Jews of Florida is a refreshing change from that of politically correct members of the larger Jewish community. The Cuban Jews I met and with whom I had long discussions cannot understand the moral fervor of open-borders supporters, especially those they encounter within the local Jewish community. They view it as the product of a lack of historical perspective, of little in the way of experience in the world, of an absence of patriotism, too much privilege, too much time on their hands, and a preposterous over-identification with people whose miseries weighed next to those they have experienced themselves are minimal.

Survivors in many cases of two hells on earth yet filled with joie de vivre, an immense capacity for fun, with egos wonderfully intact, with ceaseless energy to succeed and see their children and grandchildren do the same and give back to America, they cannot understand the propensity of politically correct American Jews to take up the cause of those who have no love for them. They asserted this point repeatedly and with great emphasis, citing both the anti-Semitism among some "Hispanics" with which they are intimately acquainted, and, with much greater concern, the hatred of Jews that is fundamental to Islam and inseparable from being a Muslim. That any rabbi could march on behalf of gaining greater acceptance of Islam or would twin his synagogue with a mosque strikes them as a species of mental illness.

For we who oppose open-borders immigration and amnesty who have been labeled nativists or xenophobes, it's instructive – as well as immensely liberating – to walk into a hall filled with people buzzing in Spanish, then watch the same audience switch effortlessly to English to listen and speak, and then to hear what these "Hispanic" Cubans have to say about being "Hispanic" and how these "Hispanics" respond to illegal Mexican immigration.

Though few subjects make me cringe as much as the vocabulary of multiculturalism and political correctness, questions of language are unavoidable, and here for once is one with a comforting, sensible answer. My hosts reminded me time and time again that no "Hispanic" speaks about other "Hispanics" using that term. Nor do they try to sound more sympathetic and hip, as many English-speaking Americans do, by substituting the more imaginarily authentic term "Latino" for the supposedly more conventional and stale "Hispanic." According to the Cuban Jews with whom I spoke non-stop for several days, there is no such thing as a Hispanic, or, hipness notwithstanding, a Latino, either. It's a linguistic convenience for lazy or uninformed outsiders.

The Cubans know much about Argentinians, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, etc., but they have no clear idea what a "Hispanic" is. The differences they perceive among the various national populations are so substantial they come close to eclipsing the commonality of the language they share – and they reminded me that even that common language has great national and regional differences, making some speakers unintelligible to others.

Finally, no more than any other U.S. citizen who doesn't believe that it is ethical to rob Peter to pay Pablo, they cannot grasp the logic of importing millions of "guest workers" when 20 million of their fellow Americans do not have full-time jobs. They are also keenly aware of the social and economic costs of illegal immigration living amid one of the largest illegal alien populations in the country.

I remember the old saw from the 1960's that no "minority" could be a racist. Of course that was and is twaddle. But will those who still peddle such nonsense find a way to accuse the American Cuban Jews of being racists, nativists, and xenophobes? Will they, too, be tarred with the slur of anti-Hispanic bigotry? Perhaps their mere questioning of the appropriateness of the term "Hispanic" constitutes sufficient grounds, and I'm prepared for the worst.

It's probable that someone on the other side of the issue, where the ethics of "debate" reached the nadir long ago, will claim these Cubans are "exceptions." I've heard that before. They're exceptions because they are refugees, not immigrants, as though this is their fault; they are exceptions because they have succeeded in America, which oddly enough constitutes an indictment in a country where the term "minority" is reserved for demographics that fail; and they are also Republicans, which means they must be reactionary racists. If these distinctions aren't sufficient to discount their life experience and question even their right to speak to the issue of immigration, one can always resort to the lowest, though often the most effective of calumnies: they are Jews, after all; they are only outwardly "Hispanic." They speak Ladino as well as Spanish. They have all the "preternatural attributes of Jews," learning comes devilishly easy, and making money is in the blood. What's more, the hydra-headed American and world Jewish cabals must be behind them.

The likely scenario that some "Latino" activist or politically correct fellow-traveler will rule the Cuban Jews out of the dialogue reminds me of a memorable moment during a debate in which I participated in Houston, on the PBS station's political talk program "Red, White and Blue." There were two hosts, a conservative and a liberal. The conservative was former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, and the liberal, a well-known local attorney, was prominent in "progressive" causes. They seemed affable as we chatted before the taping, and the tone, I was told, was meant to be the antithesis of Crossfire. For most of the show this was indeed the case, but for a few moments things became decidedly nasty as the liberal attorney summoned his inner Joe McCarthy and set out to show that CIS is an extremist conservative organization with connections to unsavory sorts and ugly causes.

The capstone of this approach was the observation that CIS cleverly deflects this line of attack by camouflaging itself through putting "minorities" on its board, his prime example being the board's chair, Peter Nunez, a Hispanic. Then he added, "Yeah, he's Hispanic, but he worked in the Reagan Administration" (he was U.S. Attorney for San Diego), as if our chair's political affiliation extinguished his cultural roots. I find the arrogance behind the illogical point astounding. What is it that gives him license to decide the culture or ethnicity of Peter Nunez on the basis of his politics? The answer, of course, is the arrogant political correctness that has disfigured the debate about immigration, as it has sullied so much else in our national life. I fear this same font of ignorance will cause the voices of Florida's Cuban American Jews to be discounted.