Thursday, May 19, 2011

Immigration and Assimilation

Bruce Thornton has a column at City Journal which puts into words what a lot of people feel intuitively about immigration and the multicultural enterprise. He argues that modern immigration differs in one crucial respect from earlier influxes - assimilation. Whereas early immigrants expected to adopt, or at least adapt to their new home modern immigrants often demand that their new home adapt to them.

Thornton writes:
[W]hatever the degree of assimilation, most accepted a fundamental truth: that whatever affection they had for their homes, for their native tongue, or for their old ways and customs, those cultures had in some significant way failed them. Thus they had made a difficult, costly choice: to become Americans. If America’s core principles—such as individual rights, freedom of speech, the rule of law, and religious tolerance—conflicted with those of the old country, then the latter had to be modified or abandoned.

The choice was hard, at times even brutal. Racism, ethnocentrism, and prejudice could make the work of becoming American notoriously difficult. But people understood that to have a nation composed of immigrants, there had to be a unifying common culture in the public sphere. Transmitting that common culture was the job of the schools.

My mother’s mother came from Maschito, an Albanian village in southern Italy. Many Maschitans settled in Fresno, where every year they celebrated the feast of their ancestral village’s patron saint, Santa Elia. But I never heard a word about any of this in school. We were busy learning about George Washington and the Constitution, Valley Forge and the Gettysburg Address, the nation’s history and heroes, its virtues and ideals — and, crucially, those core American principles.

It was at school that the immigrant learned American history and celebrated the leaders who had created the country, fought in its defense, and embodied its most cherished values. In short, he learned how to be what he or his parents had freely chosen to become: American.

This process has been compromised over the past 40 years as the ideology of multiculturalism has colonized schools, government, and popular culture. Today, immigrants learn to embrace a sense of entitlement and grievance and to demand that schools and government acknowledge and atone for America’s sins. School curricula have degenerated into ethnic cheerleading and feel-good symbolism. The effect is to divide, not unify, to pit group against group as each tries to out-victim the other in a zero-sum competition for political clout and slices of the public [pie].
Those who come here for whatever reason generate resentments when they demand that taxpayers pay for schools in which they are taught the history of the culture they've left rather than the history of the culture they've chosen. When immigrants refuse to assimilate, when they nurse resentments toward America and insult indigenous Americans, as the university student group called MEChA (National Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan) does*, then our nation is destined to Balkanize and our sense of community, common purpose and concern for each other is doomed to disintegrate. Our infatuation with multiculturalism and uncontrolled immigration is producing a social disaster, as does almost every policy promoted by the Left in the last fifty years.

*Thornton explains:
Aztlan is the mythical territory, comprising northern Mexico and the American Southwest, that was allegedly stolen and plundered by Americans. MEChA promotes a politicized Mexican identity called “Chicanismo” that “involves a personal decision to reject assimilation and work towards the preservation of our cultural heritage.” As such, MEChA “is committed to ending the cultural tyranny suffered at the hands of institutional and systematic discrimination that holds our Gente [people] captive.”

If you need further evidence that this ideology is hostile to American culture and identity, just read a poem published recently at California State University Fresno in La Voz de Aztl├ín, a state-subsidized campus newspaper that functions as MEChA’s house organ: “America the land robbed by the white savage / the land of the biggest genocide / the home of intolerance / the place where dreams come to die / the place of greed and slavery,” and so on for another two dozen lines.
It's people who think like this whom the American taxpayer is expected to welcome with open arms, grant citizenship, subsidize the education and health care of, and make eligible for public welfare. And those taxpayers are called xenophobes by the Left if they resent having to do it.

What a country.