Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Assimilation is the Key to a Strong and Enduring Society

In the back-and-forth comments to an earlier post about Latinos feeling the US is hostile toward them my Catalonian friend Nuri wondered in what way I expect Hispanics to adapt when they move to the US. To answer that question, I offer the following: There is a widely accepted principle that when you are in someone else’s home, you do things their way. If, for example, you were in the habit of running around naked throughout your old house whenever you pleased, and if your new hosts don’t appreciate you displaying your wonderful bod in all its glory, you stop running around bare. It’s the polite thing to do. When you expand that example to people moving from one country to another, the principle remains the same; it is called “assimilation,” which is the process whereby a minority group gradually adopts the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture. Without assimilation of newcomers into the population at large, no culture can long survive.

Theodore Roosevelt put it very well in a letter to the American Defense Society in 1919. "In the first place we should insist that the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equity with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming an American and nothing but an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any flag of a nation to which we are hostile. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people." It was this process that served America so well for decades, the process utilized by legal immigrants from Ireland, Sweden, Great Britain, Poland, and elsewhere.

But what once was a natural part of coming to America is, to many, unacceptable these days, and while E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) is still America’s national motto, its meaning is becoming a foggy concept. Several factors have combined in recent years to allow immigrants to resist the Americanization that had once been considered irresistible. For example, the United States increasingly promotes diversity, the factors that set people apart. But the more emphasis there is on people’s differences, the less emphasis there can be on the things that make us one people, and that is where the trouble comes from.

Latino/Hispanic populations are growing out of all sensible proportion, due to the Bush administration’s magnificent failure to guard our borders and control immigration. And because of their increased numbers, as their populations grow, and because of the “strength in numbers” principle, the reluctance to adopt American customs is significantly noticeable. Latinos, many of them in the US illegally, have boldly and arrogantly asserted their independence from American customs by demanding we do certain things to accommodate them in dissident public demonstrations, and have even had the gall to fly the Mexican flag above the American flag in public. This brazen behavior is rejected by most Americans. Controlled immigration of Hispanics into the US likely would have produced a far different attitude about Hispanic immigrants/aliens than we have today, because sensible numbers of immigrants—LEGAL immigrants—under a controlled immigration policy would result in smaller numbers of immigrants from any one country or culture to enter the country over a given period of time, and in smaller numbers these immigrants would be more likely to adopt our customs and to properly assimilate.

The American culture isn’t what it used to be, and I view many of the things that have changed over the last 40 years as foolish and harmful to our society. But for better or worse our culture is what it is. You come here to live because of the opportunity that America provides; you get the whole ball of wax, both the bad and the good. You don’t get to pick and choose. If you don’t like that, then maybe you should go back where you came from, or go somewhere else.

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