In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Foreign Policy and Latinos

  • Introduction
  • Immigration, American Values, and Foreign Allegiances
  • Latinos and US Foreign Policy

Latino Studies Foreign Policy and Latinos
Jeronimo Cortina
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0116


The United States is a pluralist democracy in which freedom of speech and association are guaranteed for every member of the polity; thus, it comes as no surprise that the formation of interest groups and their consolidation is one of the dominant factors lubricating the American political machinery. For many decades, interest groups have organized along racial, ethnic, religious, and national origin lines with the sole purpose of influencing domestic and foreign policy. This article provides an overview of the latter, that is, of the role of interest groups in the formation of US foreign policy. In particular, this article focuses on Latinos and their influence on US policy toward their ancestral home countries. It begins with a general overview of the literature on ethnic groups and foreign policy, followed by a review of the scarce literature on Latinos and US foreign policy and that of Mexican and Cuban Americans.

Immigration, American Values, and Foreign Allegiances

Earlier immigration policies not only determined who was and was not allowed to enter the country, but also shaped the demographic composition of the United States and indirectly built up a vision of America based on a western European–based identity. By selecting who was and who was not to be part of the national identity, immigration policy circuitously selected those who could become part of the polity. Immigrants have been arriving throughout the nation’s history. Those who stayed and melted into the polity eventually turned into independent political actors seeking to advance their own domestic and, in some instances, foreign policy agendas. Not all of those who stayed, however, have been treated equally by public opinion or by domestic political actors. Huntington 2004, Schlesinger 1992, Skerry 1993, and Smith 2000 question the true intentions of Latinos in seeking to become unconditional members of American mainstream society and argue that given Latinos’ ethnic values, geographic proximity to their ancestral lands, and transnational linkages with their home countries they threaten the American way of life by rejecting the American creed (i.e., English as the official language and Protestant values of individualism, religious commitment, and strong work ethic) in favor of home-country values and traditions. That they fail to do so makes their assimilation into mainstream American society very unlikely. Immigration from Latin America compounded with high fertility rates among Latinos constitute, according to Huntington 2004, a significant risk to America’s national identity given that Latinos share a language and religion that are incompatible with the white, British, and Protestant foundational myth, and, thus, they will erode national unity, as Smith 2000 seems to suggest. The literature on Latinos and foreign policy throughout this article mainly disputes these narrow conceptions in showing a diametrically opposed view of the role that Latinos play in the US foreign policymaking process.

  • Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

    Huntington affirms that Latin American immigration to the United States, especially that of Mexicans, whose large numbers attests to their geographic concentration and linguistic homogeneity, threatens to tear the ideological and political fabrics of the nation (i.e., English as the nation’s unifying language, cultural Anglo-Protestant values, and the promotion of ethnic over American allegiances) in contributing to a replacement of values rooted in western European origins.

  • Schlesinger, Arthur Meier. The Disuniting of America. New York: Norton, 1992.

    The “cult of ethnicity” embedded within public education curricula will end up destroying the “American nationality” by replacing fundamental common values and national identity in the name of ethnic multiculturalism.

  • Skerry, Peter. Mexican Americans: An Ambivalent Minority. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

    This books presents a controversial analysis of Mexican Americans and lacks a balanced historical view of their incorporation and political participation. Mexican Americans, the book argues, will find political and social success if and only if they fully incorporate into mainstream America as other immigrant groups have historically done so.

  • Smith, Tony. Foreign Attachments: The Power of Ethnic Groups in the Making of American Foreign Policy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

    Smith praises America’s pluralist and multiculturalist foundation as the core of the American political system, but like Madison, the book questions the formation of activist ethnic groups that seek to influence US foreign policy toward their ancestral homelands in disregarding the true interests of the nation as unum.

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