Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 2005/ 29 Mar-Cheshvan,
Assimilation, American style
Some among the prosperous and privileged of my acquaintance had
a difficult Thanksgiving. "All of our regular Hispanic workers were
celebrating their own Thanksgiving with their families," one of them told
me. "We had to do the work ourselves." Assimilation, American style.
We decry the meltdown of the melting pot but sometimes can't see
the robust stew bubbling on the stove right in front of us. The "help," as
some call them, are mainly immigrants, who came here to find work. Many of
their children were born here, educated in our schools. Some got here
legally and some didn't. Legal or not, it would be impossible to round them
up and send them home even if we wanted to, which some of us want to and
some of us don't.
The immigration issue, ever more contentious, is embroiled in
the larger issue of multiculturalism. In many schools, for example,
Christmas has been converted to "winter holiday" and Easter to "spring
holiday," to avoid offending the easily offended. Thanksgiving has so far
survived the secularist onslaught, as all our children learn about the
Pilgrims who gave thanks to G-d for their new lives in the New World and the
abundance wrought by the divine hand. We are all immigrants, after all, and
discarded melting pot or not, it's not easy to mess up that underlying
message of hope. I haven't met any immigrants who want to do that. This
gives us assimilationists some hope.
Some, but not a lot. The multiculturalists seem to be winning.
The media, self-aggrandizing politicians and puffed-up professors perpetuate
a message of ethnic identity above all. Sixty years ago, George Orwell wrote
that England was the only great country where intellectuals were ashamed of
their nationality. He just didn't live long enough to meet some of our
intellectuals, so called, circa 2005. It's considerably easier to organize
around grievances than to show a little appreciation for the successes past.
Multiculturalism is less about affirmation of ethnic identity than about
"getting something for me." Under the cover of group consciousness lurks a
selfish sense of victimhood, the notion that society is organized to deprive
designated unfortunates of their share of the American dream. But that comes
from the top down, not from the bottom up.
In his 1997 book "Assimilation, American Style," Peter Salins
describes the recipe for the stew in the melting pot that nourished the
generations of immigrants who have made America the magnet for the ambitious
and the hard-working of the world: 1) the importance of English as a
national language, 2) the liberal (in the classic sense) and egalitarian
beliefs that have defined us, and 3) the Protestant ethic of hard work, also
called "self-reliance." Many of us fear out-of-control immigration because
we fear that the recipe has been discarded.
Bilingualism delays assimilation, but the English language as a
unifying force suffers less from bilingual programs for immigrants than from
discarding the classic works in English in literature, philosophy and
history, undercutting sources of pride in the English language and culture.
This damages the following generation's understanding of liberal and
egalitarian policies, distorting the ideals bequeathed by the Founding
Fathers. Self-reliance is lost in the appeal to group identity.
But among the Hispanics I know in Washington, who came here from
El Salvador, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, some of whom arrived
legally and some who have stayed through the amnesties, self-reliance is the
constant. What's striking about them and their families is their pride in
putting down roots in the United States and becoming Americans. Economic
opportunity attracted them, but there's pride in eagerly adopted American
George Bush is finally talking tough about immigration
enforcement, and it's time to secure our borders, but Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff expresses reality, too, when he observes that the
cost of identifying the 10 million illegal aliens here, and sending them
home, would run into billions of dollars. "It's really an issue of
practicality," he says. Many Americans agree. In a poll last month of 800
likely Republican voters, the Manhattan Institute in New York found that 84
percent think such deportation is impossible, and 58 percent say "earned
legalization" is the proper pathway to citizenship.
Control of the border is what everybody wants, but the illegals
who are here are going to stay here. That's the reality. Since we're not
sending them home, we must encourage their ambition to prosper within the
traditions that make us all Americans.
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© 2005, Suzanne Fields, Creators Syndicate