Friday, June 29, 2007

How Immigrants Have Changed

Peggy Noonan puts her finger on what's different about today's immigrants, though she doesn't delve too deeply into why they're different. She's right to cite advances in technology that allow people more contact with their lands of origin, but there have been changes in thought as well that have hindered assimilation. Technology rarely turns things upside down the way different thoughts can. As Peter Schramm puts it in another piece, the ideology of multiculturalism and self-loathing likely prevents the assimilation that once occured.

I once read that New York's Mayor LaGuardia held a celebration called "I am an American Day" in Central Park for new American citizens, complete with the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, himself a new citizen after fleeing the tyranny of the Soviet Union, playing at the event. It's difficult to imagine such an event taking place today. Anyway, here are Noonan's excellent remarks:

My grandfather had his struggles here but never again went home. He'd cast his lot. That's an important point in the immigrant experience, when you cast your lot, when you make your decision. It makes you let go of something. And it makes you hold on to something. The thing you hold on to is the new country. In succeeding generations of your family the holding on becomes a habit and then a patriotism, a love. You realize America is more than the place where the streets were paved with gold. It has history, meaning, tradition. Suddenly that's what you treasure.

A problem with newer immigrants now is that for some it's no longer necessary to make The Decision. They don't always have to cast their lot. There are so many ways not to let go of the old country now, from choosing to believe that America is only about money, to technology that encourages you to stay in constant touch with the land you left, to TV stations that broadcast in the old language. If you're an immigrant now, you don't have to let go. Which means you don't have to fully join, to enmesh. Your psychic investment in America doesn't have to be full. It can be provisional, temporary. Or underdeveloped, or not developed at all.

And this may have implications down the road, and I suspect people whose families have been here a long time are concerned about it. It's one of the reasons so many Americans want a pause, a stopping of the flow, a time for the new ones to settle down and settle in. It's why they oppose the mischief of the Masters of the Universe, as they're being called, in Washington, who make believe they cannot close our borders while they claim they can competently micromanage all other aspects of immigration.


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