It seems that our more recent history (the last 50 years) has clouded our perceptions of immigration, integration, and what it means to be an American. Though we still talk about our nation being a melting pot, we seem to be treating those of other ethnicities as if their presence is a handout from those of us who are “real Americans.” We have come to think of our country as a white society, generally of Western European descent, where we allow minority groups to live among us (or at least vaguely near us) without fear of physical violence (generally). In discussing the fact that whites are soon to become nothing more than the largest plurality in our nation, we get a dose of historical perspective to digest:
“They (baby boomers) grew up during the whitest, most homogenous period racially and ethnically in our country in the last century,” said University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich.
“It will not be the same experience growing up in Utah now as it was 50, 40 or even 30 years ago. It never will be again.”
While whites have always been the largest single ethnicity among our population, this nation was founded on the principle that everyone was welcome to be here, even if we seemed to be a bit clannish.
Throughout American history we have always had large groups of “outsiders” joining in the American experiment. Catholics were outside the mainstream of American life for many years. The Irish were frowned upon as they started immigrating in large numbers, same with the Germans. Though we publicly shut our eyes for centuries to the realities of blacks being mistreated (and worse), we have always had a significant portion of our population who were of African descent. We had sizable populations of Oriental people and other various ethnicities before we started implementing immigration quotas and before we started persecuting and segregating those of Japanese descent in reaction to the beginning of WWII.
For the last couple of decades we have struggled with and often opposed the immigration of Hispanics as if such an immigration tendency were a new challenge to our nation. We forget that Hispanics were a much larger portion of our citizenry before the Mexican Repatriation of the 1930’s. We also ignore the fact that immigration is the oldest pattern in our cultural heritage and though it does include some challenges it is a pattern that defines who we are and keeps us from becoming like the Kurds, the Nazis, the Arabs, or the Hutus – unable to live in a culture of mixed ethnicities.
Natural-born Americans need to recognize that the consistent mixture and remixture of cultures is not only natural and unavoidable, but that it is even desireable. On the other hand, the immigrants of today need to look to the lessons of history and realize that segregating themselves by refusing to adopt a common language is a recipe for disaster. Even worse is obviously or even subtly insisting on substituting their native language for the common language of their adopted country.
If we are to once again become the melting pot that we have always claimed to be we must insist on an open immigration policy and those who enter our country must either acknowledge that they are guests (meaning that they leave after the purpose of their visit is met) or else they must adopt their new country and become a part of the great American family – that means actively seeking integration and citizenship so that they may become a part of “us” no matter what differences they may bring with them.