The Corner

Re re re re re: Nation of immigrants

I figured I’d steer clear of this one but John Hood’s post was a bit of a jaw dropper to me. He cites as evidence of the widespread potency of the “nation of immigrants” riff the following: Oktoberfest in the Midwest, Cajun Country in Louisiana, the Highland Games in North Carolina, and Gaelic dialects in North Carolina. 

Three of those four are not waves of immigrants but the original European settlers of North America: the French and the Anglo-Celts. That’s not immigration: Both the French and the British claimed sovereignty in this land.

Indeed, it tends to confirm Derb’s point that there are large chunks of this country where the Ellis Island  myth does not resonate in the same reflex way it does in the coastal megalopolises. In my own part of New Hampshire, I’m pretty much the nearest thing to a colorful ethnic minority. I wrote here on Presidents’ Day about the seven generations of Coolidges lined up in a row in the cemetery of Plymouth Notch, Vermont. My assistant, who’s descended from the second family to settle my town, can top that. More to the point, the immigrants who did come are almost eerily assimilated: the waves of French-Canadians who came down to work in the mill towns of New England a century ago were so Americanized that names like “Benoît” are now pronounced “B’noyt”, even though they’re only an hour south of their cousins in Quebec.

What worries me is when settled nations start to fetishize immigration to almost absurd degrees. In 1997, the government in Ottawa festooned the land with posters marking the 50th anniversary of Canadian citizenship and showing people of many lands holding hands around a globe – ie, Canada’s idea of itself is as a great compilation of other people’s hits rather than as a concept album in its own right. The idea that a nation expresses itself as merely an ongoing receiver of people from elsewhere, that it’s Gate 57 at Heathrow writ large, no more or less than whoever happens to be standing in it, is very reductive.  

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.