The Corner

Immigration

On Assimilation

The idea of rapid assimilation, integration, intermarriage, and Americanization was once melting-pot clear. Immigrants arrived in the U.S. eager to find something better (whether economically, politically, culturally, or socially) than what they left behind.

So they accepted the premise that the general core of American customs, traditions, and protocols, such as free-market economics, protections of private property, the chauvinism of a middle class, legal transparency, due process, an independent judiciary, the rule of law as defined by the Constitution, republican and consensual government, freedoms as outlined in the Bill of Rights, separation of church and state — within a general landscape of both Christian predominance and tolerance of competing faiths, rationalism, and ongoing expansion of civil rights.

To do otherwise and reject such a menu, was seen as an absurd paradox: Why would an emigrant leave an apparently less pleasant place simply to replicate its institutions in his new home and thereby contribute to re-creating the original problems that he had fled from? (That is not to say that people are rational, as Texans and Floridians discover when some California refugees start imposing their destructive California tastes upon arrival in the very no-income-tax, less regulated, and smaller-government states they sought out.)

Under the brutal bargain of assimilation, the immigrant in turn enriched, but did not tamper with, these immutable core values of the United States, and yet they did so in a variety of valuable and peripheral ways: food, fashion, music, art, literature, sports, entertainment, etc. America became a more culturally “diverse” and intriguing place, even as core Americanism itself stayed the same, and even as the superficial appearances of Americans were not always the same as the majority population in 1776.

After two or three generations, assimilation was mostly complete. Italian Americans were no longer really Italians and were no more likely to prefer pasta over hamburgers than any other Americans. Names such as Cuomo, Pataki, Pelosi, or Giuliani give no more hint to one’s politics than did Smith, Jones, and Baker. Japanese Americans in my Central California youth often had Buddhist sports leagues and Japanese language and culture classes for the assimilating third generation, but all such programs are now mostly over, and I know almost no Japanese Americans under 70 who speak Japanese or who are Buddhists.

In reference to Tom Brokaw and his complaints about the tardiness of assimilating the Hispanic diaspora, he was wrong only in suggesting that the slowing of integration was due to Latinos only. In fact, we the host were as culpable as La Raza activists. For decades, elites have encouraged bilingual education, interpreters, open borders, and identity politics, and they have grown soft on contextualizing the cynicism and often amorality of the Mexican government — and to such a degree that now all the career enhancements are on the side of overemphasizing tribal identity (often in ludicrous fashion, as we saw with the transparent contortions of Elizabeth Warren and Kevin de León) as essential rather than incidental to one’s persona.

This institutionalization of the salad bowl occurred unfortunately during a climate of mass, illegal, non-meritocratic, and non-diverse immigration, especially from areas of impoverished southern Mexico and Central America, whose emigrants arrived so often without a high-school diploma, legality, English fluency, or capital.

At the very time when we should have doubled down on the melting pot, we abandoned it — and ended up with an open border and a paradox of millions risking their lives to get into the U.S., and yet so often upon arrival becoming de facto critics, in the manner of their advocates, of their new home, while so often romanticizing the country that under no circumstances they wished to return to.

If we were to close the border to illegal immigration, make legal immigration diverse, meritocratic, legal, and measured, encourage rapid integration and assimilation, then the Chicano-studies department would be as common or uncommon as the Irish-studies or Cuban-studies department. Speaking Spanish would be as valuable a linguistic asset as fluency in German and French (a mark or erudition, and nice and impressive to possess but not particularly useful in the practical sense in the everyday U.S.).

Oddly, one reason that we keep seeing these weird polls suggesting that Hispanic support for Trump can gyrate at times to nearly 40 or 50 percent approval is that much of the downside of illegal immigration falls not on its advocates, but most heavily on the Latino middle classes, whose schools, neighborhoods, social services, and security are often so often adversely affected through illegal immigration.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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