Friday, November 24, 2006

A reader of my blog offered this comment in response to my post on November 21st:

Why does CNN, a national news outlet, find some silly law about flags in the town of Pahrump, NV population ~24,000 newsworthy? Reading this essay I get some idea. They are trying to provoke patriotic feeling about what it means to be an American, noble and forgiving, as opposed to some inferior, misguided, constitution-less immigrant.

With respect to reader Lanzdale, I think he missed my point. All Americans (yes, American Indians, too) are immigrants from somewhere else. Not inferior, not necessarily misguided, and perhaps not constitution-less - just from somewhere else. The point I keep trying to drive home is that what separates America from much of the rest of the world is that we are a nation built by immigrants working together and based on the rule of law. Over the centuries, uncounted millions of immigrants have come to the United States in search of opportunities and freedoms denied them at home. Until relatively recently, most of these arrived in America legally, settled into their new lives, and assimilated into an America that didn't always welcome them warmly, but at least grudgingly accepted them while they built their new lives.

Now, however, we face the problem of our own success. For all its faults, America remains the gold standard of the world for desirable places to live. How many people risk their lives and break national laws trying to get into Sudan? Or Afghanistan? Or Myanmar? People want to come to America because their own countries can't meet their needs and aspirations. Unfortunately, many immigrants don't want to assimilate into American society as immigrants (including both sides of my own family) have over the years. Instead, they want to have it both ways - they want what America has to offer them, but they don't want to be Americans. They expect to be educated and served in their own languages, to retain their own cultural practices, and even to follow their own laws (consider Muslims insisting on primacy of Sharia law).

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it: America is what it is because people of every race, color, and religion tacitly agreed to minimize their differences and be Americans, working together to build something that no other nation in the world could offer them. If we allow (even encourage) people to come here illegally, if we allow them to build their own separate and insular religious and cultural enclaves, if we allow (even encourage) the development of separate linguistic communities, we lose that spirit of ... for want of a better term ... American-ness that has made us the envy of the world.

If you want to live in America, and if you want to keep the society and the opportunities you came to America for, you need to do two things: obey the laws, and become an American - not a Mexican or an Ethiopian or a Greek or a Muslim who happens to live in America, but an American.

If all you want to do is come here to recreate the society you fled, what's the point?

Have a good day. More thoughts later.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I distinctly remember that the one thing my immigrant grandparents used with their peers to stop offensive behavior of any kind was to characterize it as, "That's the way we did it in the old country. We're in the new country now! Stop it."

They had consciously chosen to make themselves Americans by an act of will. They spoke the old language only as a means to hide secrets from the grandchildren, and worked diligently to erase their accents and insure their children had no trace of accent.

My paternal grandmother arrived in the USA at the age of 6. Sent to the butcher to pick up a live chicken, she was humiliated by having to ask for the bird in Yiddish. She went home and announced to everyone that she spoke only English. From that day forward she spoke no other language, despite the fact that on the day she made the vow, she spoke not one word of her new language. She grew up to speak and read English perfectly, and to be a living example of how America held together during the great waves of immigration. I welcome all immigrants--as long as they understand their job is to imitate my grandmother as best they can.