The New Arrivals

June 21, 2007

They speak a funny language! They aren’t learning English! They’re from a different culture! They won’t assimilate! As this blogger very reasonably points out, there’s nothing being said about Latino immigrants today that wasn’t being said about the Italian, Irish, German and other ethnic groups that didn’t have the good fortune to come over on the Mayflower:

Your ancestors weren’t welcomed; they were reviled. They didn’t assimilate along the happy schedule outlined on saccharine television dramas; indeed, Mexican immigrants are much more open to assimilation than many groups, which is why early 20th century literature is so full of anguished dramas about immigrant parents trying to keep their children from losing their culture.*

Yet you may have noticed, you feel pretty American –so American that it may worry you to run into people who are visibly still participating in another culture, right here in your own back yard. Culture is phenomenally powerful, and the nearly iron rule is that, as long as the majority does not wall the minority off into a ghetto, the majority wins. That’s true whether it’s a company, a church, or a nation: the majority wins, no matter how hard the minority tries to hold out. Europe’s problems with assimilations are not, in my humble opinion, very much to do at all with the ethnic characteristic of the immigrants; the problem is one ethnic characteristic of Europeans, which is that they are constitutionally unable to view immigrants, particularly immigrants who look different, as true citizens of their countries.

We are better placed now to assimilate immigrants than at any time in history. We have a longer history of assimilation, and fewer immigrants to work on. (And people who think that “hispanics” are a single, homogenous cultural block which represents some unique threat to assimilation are guilty of racism; my parents’ Ecuadorian housekeeper had no more in common with the Mexicans at my local taqueria, or the Cubans in West New York, than you have with Scots or Jamaicans.) A special note to people who keep posting links to Aztlan nuttery: this is like Al Qaeda picking out NAMBLA as representative of American culture. Hispanic parents have been leading the charge against bilingual separatism in schools, and Mexicans feel about New Mexico about the way most Irish Americans feel about Armagh; sure, they oughta give it back, but it doesn’t actually impact my life. Indeed, to their credit, the Mexicans aren’t the ones giving money to terrorist groups who promise to reverse a centuries old land grab.

Between Lou Dobbs accusing illegal immigrants of spreading leprosy and Michelle Malkin hinting darkly at an ethnic conspiracy to reconquer the Southwest for Latinos, the hysteria over immigration has tipped into something approaching dementia. Nine times out of ten, whenever I listen to someone truly upset about immigration, the argument inevitably devolves into “The brown-skinned people are coming! The brown-skinned people are coming!” Perhaps because I live near a city (New Brunswick, N.J.) that has benefitted substantially from a big influx of Mexican immigrants, I don’t see this as a problem. In fact, I’d like to see more of it.


4 Responses to “The New Arrivals”

  1. Sharon GR Says:

    It’s been my experience that manyimmigrants want to learn English as soon as possible and begin to assimilate. I work in a place that offers free ESL classes, and trust me, they’re always full. I love the diversity that is Central New Jersey; but, then again, I’ve never been one to fear “different.”

  2. geoff Says:

    Just yesterday I was slumming it for lunch in our local Subway. The staff are Nepalese, there was a line of Mexicans at the counter, and three languages were going at once. This excites me. I like hearing different languages. I enjoy the cultural mix.

    Latinos have completely transformed a formerly defunct section of Baltimore near Fell’s Point. What used to be a dingy, decayed and dangerous section along Broadway is now wonderfully refurbished. Latin jazz clubs, groceries, craft stores, and a plenitude of eateries featuring Peruvian, Guatemalan, Honduran, Mexican, and Salvadoran comida are thriving. Lou Dobbs can suck it.

  3. Rix Says:

    Hispanics are largely responsible for the revitalization of middle class Elizabeth. They actually want to buy houses & raise families in the city; not just passing through on the way to the outer ‘burbs. I see the difference when I leave the jumbled mess of downtown Broad Street – deserted at night – & walk up the smaller Morris Ave. business district, which has attractive cafes & other small businesses that stay open late.

  4. Bill Bowman Says:

    There was a study done not too long ago that showed immigrant families in the US generally assimilate by the third generation, including the use of English as the main language spoken in the household. Don’t see that tidbit in any of these anti-immigrant screeds.

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