Americanizing the New Americans


America seems to be suffering from an identity crisis of late. Almost with every passing day, America is splintering into disparate factions divided by ethnicity, race, language and income. There was more than a little irony to Al Gore's famous slip a few years ago when he said that E Pluribus Unum means "Out of one, many," and not "Out of many, one."

Has the traditional concept of Americanization been sacrificed tomulticultural fervor? As John Miller of National Review points out inhisinsightful book The Unmaking of Americans, our modern institutions inAmerica and many of our intellectual elites often put more emphasis on"EPluribus" than on the "Unum." Through such programs as bilingualeducation, racial and ethnic quotas, and multiculturalism, we seem tomistakenly celebrate our separateness more than the ties that bind ustogether as a nation. Such policies emphasize group entitlement notindividual achievement.

As set forth by the Founding Fathers, our common bond as Americans isnotour ethnicity but our shared values: our respect for freedom, and theself-evident right of every citizen to pursue life, liberty andhappiness.

For people who share those values, no matter from which corner of theglobethey come, America thankfully still hangs a welcome sign on the StatueofLiberty. The foreign born sometimes make the best American citizens andpatriots precisely because they are here not by birthright but by choice--a conscious decision to uproot themselves from their homeland and seekouta land of unrivaled freedom and opportunity. Even in this cynical dayandage, it is not uncommon for the world's "tempest tossed" to kiss thegroundwhen they arrive here. Anyone who has attended a citizenship ceremonycanattest to the tears of joy these events give rise to among the newAmericans.

With America now admitting just under 800,000 immigrants every year, itisnatural and sensible to wonder whether these newcomers are Americanizingasthey should. Is this number too many immigrants for the nation -- andespecially highly impacted states like California -- to digest all atonce? The emergence of burgeoning ethnic enclaves in Los Angeles, forexample,seems to indicate that we are not just importing people buttransplantingwhole cities of foreigners to the United States.

Fortunately, these fears are mostly unfounded. A new study from theNational Immigration Forum by scholar Gregory Rodriguez of thePepperdineInstitute for Public Policy indicates that the assimilation process hasnotbroken down. Rodriguez cuts through the emotion of the issue andpresentssome compelling facts to document this surprising conclusion. Today'simmigrants have high rates of home ownership; they are becoming citizensinrecord numbers; and perhaps the ultimate sign of cultural assimilationisthat they are marrying outside their own ethnic group at very highrates.

Within 10 years almost 60 percent of immigrants speak English well orverywell. More importantly, some 90 percent of the children of immigrantsspeak English. It is virtually impossible for immigrants to preservethedominance of their native language for more than one generation -- withtheexception of Spanish, which has become a durable second language.My own research finds similar patterns with respect to what we mightcallthe "economic assimilation" of immigrants and refugees. Within 10 to 15years in the United States, immigrants typically "catch up" to theearningslevels of American-born workers and then often surpass them. Immigrantsalso have a high propensity to start new businesses here.

Certainly the assimilation process doesn't always run smoothly. Butdespite the romantic vision of our past, the truth is that assimilationnever has. In Chicago, where I grew up, there were whole neighborhoodswhere the predominant language was Polish, Italian, or Spanish. In somecities in Wisconsin at the turn of the century, German was the de factoofficial language. Successfully assimilating newcomers has been theeternal struggle of this nation. Somehow, remarkably, we have muddledthrough -- yesterday and today.

This, in fact is what makes the United States unique from all othernations. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan's message one Fourth of July adecadeand a half ago: You can go to France and never become a Frenchman. Youcanmove to Germany, but never become a German. America is the only nationyoucan come to and actually become an American.

Yet, we increasingly hear pleas that immigrants should preserve and evenpromote their ethnic and linguistic heritage and resist the culturalhegemony of Americanization. Those on the left who advise thatimmigrantsshouldn't assimilate, are just as misguided as those on the right whosaythat immigrants won't assimilate. The evidence suggests that our newestAmericans themselves understand full well that the process ofassimilationis beneficial not just to them but to the social fabric of the nation aswell.

The Melting Pot is still working.

Are you listening, Pat Buchanan?