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A NATION OF ASSIMILATED IMMIGRANTS
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.
[April 15, 2006]
[Hollywood Investigator.com] Immigration is a contentious issue because it perturbs many people's self-image
and sense of acceptance. "Do I belong here? Am I as American
as you?" Few say it like that, yet those are the unspoken undercurrents
fueling the fear and anger over the issue. Yet immigration also raises
legitimate concerns about the allocation of limited social services (education,
health care), taxes, unemployment, wage depression, crime, and the environment.
How to address those issues without sounding like a racist hiding behind
and pundits hide behind the mantra: "Legal immigration yes, illegal immigration
no," a neat way of both supporting and opposing immigration, while avoiding
the real question: "What should be legal?" How many do we admit,
how quickly, using what standards, what consequences for those here illegally
and what of their children? If legality were the real issue, we could
solve the problem overnight by legalizing everyone.
to avoid those questions too, because I have no easy answers. (At
least I am blatant about it.) Instead, I propose we focus on a proven
solution to all our past immigration problems: Assimilation.
America is a nation of immigrants is like saying the sky is blue.
It's both true and irrelevant. Every nation is a nation of immigrants;
people have been migrating across the globe ever since we left Africa.
Nor did the thirteen largely English colonies mean to establish a nation
of immigrants. Many did not welcome America's first large Catholic
influx in the 1840s, and Emma
Lazarus's poem ("Give me your tired...") did not grace Lady
Liberty until 1903.
to say we are a nation of immigrants is an incomplete truth. A fuller
truth is that we are a nation of immigrants who assimilated -- who learned
English, did not rely (through most of our history) on government safety
nets, and sought to "become Americans" (a once-popular phrase).
is not homogeneity. Marines and hippies, Jimmy
Swaggart and Jim
Morrison, are equally American. Assimilation is not conformity
Rockwell, but an erosion of tribal empathy for one's ethnicity and
former homeland as one feels increasing attachment for the host culture
and its people. Assimilation is the reciprocal price the immigrant
pays for the benefit of acceptance. (Reciprocal, because contrary
to the stereotype of discrimination always being a white or American thing,
immigrants from all nations import their own share of prejudices.)
Assimilation is thus the opposite of both rightist nativism and leftist
identity politics; the former rejects the newcomer, the latter rejects
strength has never been its diversity, but its ability to overcome diversity
through assimilation. "E
Pluribus Unum" (Out of Many, One) refers to the thirteen colonies,
but could as easily describe our melting pot.
no insult to other cultures to say that America has its own. We say
we are a multicultural nation because we worry it may offend to say otherwise,
but also because it appears true from our surface diversity (skin color,
food, clothes music). Yet American diversity is a mile wide and an
inch deep. Beneath the surface most Americans share a sense of nationhood
and fundamental values (even if Reds and Blues accuse each other of betraying
those values). That sounds vague because, like obscenity, American
culture is easy to recognize but difficult to define. Yet its truth
becomes apparent to any American traveling abroad, many of whom say they've
never felt so American as when visiting their ancestral homelands.
diversity is enriching, but deep diversity can be dangerously divisive.
Despite their more homogeneous surfaces, diversity runs so deep in Northern
Ireland, Rwanda, the Mideast, and the tellingly "former" Yugoslavia that
people have murdered one another to assure the dominance of their religious
or ethnic group.
too has suffered deep diversity, Jim
Crow being only one recent example. Yet like the Borg,
American culture continues to assimilate everything so it belongs to everyone.
Chinese take-out and Italian pizza are not evidence of our multiculturalism,
but things we've all come to know and share in. We speak a common
language, we increasingly vote and marry outside our ethnicities, and we
have at least a passing familiarity with most elements in our common culture.
For example, I've only seen a handful of Star
Trek episodes beyond the original series, and none featuring
the Borg. Yet American culture is so pervasive, I know enough of
the Borg to use them in an analogy.
reason Americans confuse themselves for a multicultural nation is that
identity politics conflate race and culture. Shown a multiethnic
group photo, many will thoughtlessly exclaim, "Oh, how multicultural!"
But unless culture is genetically transmitted, an ethnically Chinese girl
raised in Germany is culturally German, just as an Italian boy raised in
China is culturally Chinese. Likewise, families raised in America
are culturally American. Yet by confusing race and culture, Americans
are dissuaded from promoting their own culture lest they appear exclusionary
by celebrating something they've been convinced immigrants are genetically
incapable of sharing in. (No one puts it like that, but those are
the implied undercurrents of identity politics.)
notion of immutable identity fuels much mutual antagonism. Identity
politics leftists encourage immigrants to be fearful and defensive over
expressions of an American culture they portray as inherently hostile.
Closed-borders rightists aggravate those fears, even as they themselves
fear a hostile influx bringing poverty and revanchist fantasies.
Assimilation disempowers both sides, depriving the left of a constituency,
and the right of a problem. It does so by making immigrants more
economically productive, while instilling in them a sense of national belonging
that fosters cooperation and respect for American laws and customs.
Thus does assimilation alleviate immigration's economic and social problems.
owes nothing but offers much to those wishing entry, and makes no onerous
requests; far less is required to assimilate into the U.S. than into most
any other nation. Learning English is the big first step leading
to all others, and most immigrants already wish to take it. Programs
discouraging English (multilingual schooling, ballots, and documents) should
be substituted for efforts to teach English. People concerned with immigration
might consider voluntarist ways to assist the assimilation process.
(Ironically, it may help to know a foreign language; I've begun studying
the extremes of identity politics and nativism lies the moderate assimilationist
center. It's rooted in the American experience and it works.
Copyright © 2006 by HollywoodInvestigator.com.
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