Carol Platt Liebau: Assimilation: Essential

Monday, March 27, 2006

Assimilation: Essential

Michael Barone writes about the illegal immigration controversy with his usual skill.

In particular, he brings up an important (and underdiscussed) element of the debate when he notes that most Americans expect our immigrants to assimilate.

It's discomforting to read local news stories of soccer games held in the United States, where the entire crowd is rooting against their supposed homeland and for Mexico. It's worrisome to see an increasing number of signs, government services, and ads printed in Spanish -- given the civic stresses that result from being unable to understand each other (hello, Quebec) and the fact that those unable to speak English can hardly expect to live the American dream.

America has always expected its immigrants to assimilate, even if it took a generation or so to do it. What's particularly unsettling, though, is the proposition posited by the incomparable Victor Davis Hanson in his book Mexifornia: That, unlike all the other previous immigrants to America, Mexican immigrants live so close to their homeland, and with such easy access to it, that geographic distance becomes no barrier to maintaining old loyalties and old customs, even over several generations.

It's worth noting that a lot of the people who express reservations about the immigration influx aren't necessarily anti-immigration, anti-Latino, or anti-anything else. They are concerned -- with what may be very good reason -- about the economic and cultural difficulties entailed in trying to absorb what seems like an ever-expanding number of immigrants in an era when there is no longer a clear social consensus that assimilation is necessary, or even desirable.

And a guest worker program, without more, does nothing to relieve that concern.


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