Tomás R. Jiménez: Immigrants don’t destroy our national identity, they renew it

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Some critics of the [currently proposed immigration] legislation are already arguing that inviting millions of immigrants to stay permanently in the U.S. and become citizens will hasten the fading of a cohesive nation. They say that immigrants may become more interwoven into the fabric of the United States, but the ethnic patches to which they bind their identities will remain all too distinguishable from the rest of the American quilt.

How immigrants and their descendants see themselves will change over time, and they will simultaneously transform many aspects of what it means to be an American. This is undoubtedly an uncomfortable process, fraught with tension between newcomers and established Americans that can occasionally become explosive. But the real issue is whether the United States can provide opportunities for upward mobility so that immigrants can, in turn, fortify what is most essential to our nation's identity.

History is instructive on whether immigrants will create a messy patchwork of ethnicities in the U.S. About a century ago, a tide of Southern and Eastern European immigrants arriving on our shores raised fears similar to those we hear today. Then, as now, Americans worried that the newcomers were destroying American identity. Many were certain that Catholic immigrants would help the pope rule the United States from Rome, and that immigrant anarchists would destroy American democracy. Some eugenicists thought that the dark-skinned immigrants from Southern Europe would contaminate the American gene pool.

None of this came to pass, of course. The pope has no political say in American affairs, the United States is still a capitalist democracy, and there is nothing wrong with the American gene pool. The fact that these fears never materialized is often cited as proof that European-origin immigrants and their descendants successfully assimilated into an American societal monolith.

However, as sociologists Richard Alba and Victor Nee point out, much of the American identity as we know it today was shaped by previous waves of immigrants. For instance, they note that the Christian tradition of the Christmas tree and the leisure Sunday made their way into the American mainstream because German immigrants and their descendants brought these traditions with them. Where religion was concerned, Protestantism was the clear marker of the nonsecular mainstream. But because of the assimilation of millions of Jews and Catholics, we today commonly refer to an American "Judeo-Christian tradition," a far more encompassing notion of American religious identity than the one envisioned in the past.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-Watch* Economics, PoliticsImmigration

Posted May 27, 2007 at 3:14 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. libraryjim wrote:

It’s true: LEGAL immigrants do contribute much to our society.
It’s ILLEGAL aliens who work against it.

Jim Elliott

May 27, 4:23 pm | [comment link]
2. Tom Roberts wrote:

I actually agree with most of the op-ed here, but the last paragraph is about as confused as the proposed immigration reform bills in Congress:
“If we are going to take on the formidable challenge of further integrating 12 million mostly poor immigrants, we have to provide better public schools, a more affordable college education, healthcare and jobs that offer a decent wage and benefits so that they and their children are able to rejuvenate the American dream. The real threat is not that immigrants will fail to buy into what’s essential to American identity, but that we will fall short in providing them the tools to do so.”

OK to the education bit; our government schools (esp. in LA) are shaky. But the heathcare and better jobs prescriptions are quite irrelevant to this particular issue. The immigrants are here precisely because those two situations are drastically better here, in aggregate, than where they come from.

May 27, 4:30 pm | [comment link]
3. azusa wrote:

Why stop at 12 million? Why not 40 million? Mexico has 100+ millions. Why shouldn’t they come to New Spain?

May 27, 5:07 pm | [comment link]
4. Tom Roberts wrote:

#3 Well, we probably messed up in 1848 in not annexing the whole country. Adding all those relatively rich and free (Mexico had abolished slavery already and was per capita more affluent than the US at that time) Mexicans would have probably prevented the Civil War.
But the answer to your specific question is that in the current trend of reform-amnesia-reform-amnesia ad infinitum, the limit will be as many as wish to come, more or less like the Europeans did in their day.

May 27, 5:14 pm | [comment link]
5. Irenaeus wrote:

“Immigrants don’t destroy our national identity, they renew it”

The immigrants I come into contact with (and there are many) are overwhelmingly honest, courteous, cheerful, and hard-working.

I don’t defend illegality or minimize the burdens on particular localities. But at a big-picture level current immigration does not threaten American identity.

May 27, 7:35 pm | [comment link]
6. Philip Snyder wrote:

Big Picture, illegal immigration may not threaten American identity, but it is threatening many towns with overwhelming burdens.  At the Dallas County Hospital (Parkland Hospital), they give birth to over 30,000 (that’s thirty thousand) infants a year - a large percentage of which (the hospital doesn’t keep track) have mothers who are not in the country legally.  The hospital does not receive any compensation from the mothers (except in the very rare cases where the mother is covered by insurance).  The children of the illegal immigrants are provided with the same education and other social benefits as children of legal immigrants or citizens.

Illegal immigration has many problems.  They are a perpetual underclass that are constantly exploited by the criminal element because the illegals will not go to the police for fear of deportation.  They are often paid under the table for low wages because they cannot complain to the authorities.  From a social justice standpoint, they are a group in constant injustice because they place themselve outside the mechanisms that society has for justice.

Phil Snyder

May 27, 8:17 pm | [comment link]
7. viamediator wrote:

I remember when I was a kid some new neighbors came to town and they told us horror stories about the war in Europe (they had been in the center of it).
Most of the community thought they were making this stuff up.
Most of the community was wrong.

When we are not in the midst of a storm it is easy to say it can’t be that bad.
We should probably pay about five times as much attention to those in the midst of a storm…  than to those who heard about it but believe those folks must be making that stuff up.

May 27, 10:18 pm | [comment link]
8. azusa wrote:

# 4: as I’m sure you guessed, my question was semi-ironic. 19th century immigaration from Europe was largely open but restricted practicalities (the Atlantic). If the US is going to have borders, it should enforce them.

May 28, 7:33 am | [comment link]
9. Larry Morse wrote:

But unrestricted immigration does threaten our identity now, because our identity is already so fragmented. In earlier centuries, not onlywere the numbers smaller but the available space was vastly larger. It may be tht there are hisanics who are cheerful and hardworking. We have all met such. But you had better look at the urban Hispanic gangs, the penetration of the Columbian drug cartel with its numberless dealers, and measure accurately what has already been cited, the enormous burden the citizens bear in all the social services. And if you haven’t faced spainish-speakers in public schools, kids who don’t know or can’t be bothered to learn American, and if you haven’t faced their behavior when there is supposed to be teaching going on….well, you betterlook again. The public schools already have more thn its share of hoods; the Hispanics have added a new level and new numbers. And guess which taxpayers pick up the bill?
  Illegal is illegal.The American churches who are aiding and abetting illegals need to be charged as well, for they are committing a felony. It is exhausting to listen to their pieties about Christian charity, for they are being virtuous for sake of the rush that anti-government action always gives the boomers and their children. Makes them feel young again. LM

May 28, 10:29 am | [comment link]
10. Tom Roberts wrote:

#6+9 Both of your apt observations about the issues with the healthcare and education systems cannot be separated from the dysfunctionalities that already exist in these areas. If Spanish speakers are not forced to learn English, that is because our administrations don’t force native Americans to learn English. The poor illegals who get health care for ‘free’ are entitled to that service by the same municipal and state boards who entitle any person to show up at regional trauma centers for little or no charge. These are issues that might be exacerbated by immigration, and could be mitigated by proper border controls. But they are there in the first instance because we don’t do anything about their first causes. I only wish to warn of the danger here of confusing cause with effect.

May 28, 11:46 am | [comment link]
11. Larry Morse wrote:

Your warning of confusing cause and effect is just.
We have indeed brought this curse upon ourselves by our own negligence. Mind you, I am not against legal immigration. Are colleges and universities are full of Asians who are top of the line students and they are here legally. And yet, they do not stay here, so I’m read. That is we do not get the benifit of hving trained them. And if they now crowd MIT and the like, they are not ‘taking over” MIT, rather established Americans are refusing to take the trouble to put their brains to work for admission.

It is worth mentioning however, that Hispanic illegals in particular, because they will take any job that will let them hide, are perpetuating the minimum wage curse that allows vast numbers of businesses to pay below-living-cost wages and get away with it.

BUt one thing is clear, the Hispanics, legal and illegal, are eroding what is left of the American identity without putting anything of equal value in its place. You only have to visit southern Cal. L

May 28, 7:25 pm | [comment link]
12. Richard Hoover wrote:

I bet Jimemez is an open border man. At least, his lack of attention to enforcement of the laws suggests that there can never be enough illegal immigrants to suit him, that his priorities lie with the illegals, not with the interests of the United States.

May 29, 5:55 am | [comment link]
13. libraryjim wrote:

If Spanish speakers are not forced to learn English, that is because our administrations don’t force native Americans to learn English.
IF by native American you mean ‘American Indians’, then the analogy is flawed, since Native Americans are not considered Americans first.  They are treated as soverign nations within our borders.
If, however, you mean those born and raised in this country who have US citizenship, then also remember that most of the goods and services in the country are offered primarily in English, and there have been and continue to be efforts to make English the “official language” of all governmental entities.  (So instead of “press 1 for English”, the default will automatically be English). 
You would not, probably, be surprised at the number of people who come into the library who cannot speak English, and are ‘offended’ because we don’t have someone on staff who is fluent in Spanish or Hatian, or (fill in the blank).  I hate not being able to help them, but the facts are that we are just not set up for multi-lingual “customer service”.  (When we advertised for an Hispanic Outreach staff person, none of the applicants could translate a simple paragraph from Espanol to English! So it’s not for want of trying.)

Jim Elliott

May 29, 2:14 pm | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.

Next entry (above): Having Trouble Registering? (Updated)

Previous entry (below): Heather Abel: Are Doctors Missing Key Diagnoses?

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)