The Joy of Becoming American: Culture, Assimilation, and the Brokenness Thereof

Tommy De Seno begins his epic post on the main feed with these words:

As the immigration debate heats up, we must remember that America has a culture. Of foremost importance to any immigration policy must be protection of that culture.

As a 1.5 generation immigrant (meaning, I came here when I was 10 or so), and likely one…

  1. Tommy De Seno
    C

    Thanks for the lengthy response Sophist.

    Yours is an interesting point but I wonder if it’s not new.  You really are touching on concepts of federalism.

    States in different regions have always had deviations in lifestyle and therefore culture.   But that just makes your point well taken.

    When in Rome…

    But America is much bigger than Rome.

  2. Water Chestnut

    First of all, TV shows are a pretty dismal reflection of what is or isn’t real in any culture, but the US in particular.  Over the decades, I’ve read quite a bit about how exports of our glitzy 80s shows gave foreigners really screwed up impressions of Americans, so the idea that we’re all “one culture” because we have XYZ TV show or all watch the same thing is baloney. 

    Furthermore, there was a very interesting book that came out a few years back that I forgot the name of about Irish orphans who were having a hard time because at one time the Irish were considered black racially, not white.  Now, we don’t even notice who is Irish anymore.  So were we more “one” then, or are we more “one” now?  Which thermometers do you want to use to measure this?  My own recollections of my Polish-Italian heritage consisted of my grandmother’s runny mac n cheese in the 70s.  The US has and has always had lots of subcultures and countercultures, and this is normal for a healthy state.

  3. Water Chestnut

    I know this is a little off topic, but I think all the screaming over at the Blaze and other blogs about the Pledge of Allegiance said at that school in foreign langauges has the same basic theme as this discussion, so let me add a few thoughts on that.

    Prior to WWI, the US was actually rather bilingual.  Most people aren’t aware of it, but there were even bilingual schools.  But with the advent of the World Wars, people in the US got really freaked by Germany, which was one of our bilingual languages, and they outlawed teaching any child under the age of 11 a foreign language in some places (remember the custom that you started foreign language in 8th or 9th grade?)  The Sputnik era changed the thinking back to older ways that we needed those skills.

    Part of the concern in that short span of history where even German street names were changed in the US was that students would be exposed to hostile political thought, and they wanted to ensure students learned our political values.  With foreign language study, it then became important to give students material (see post below to continue) 

  4. David Williamson

    As a 1.0 immigrant, I totally agree. The America that I entered in 1985 has already been fundamentally transformed into something else.

    One would think that coming as I do from England I would feel right at home in Mr Obama’s Brave New World, but I don’t – it reminds me of why I left the UK in the first place.

    If anything, I have grown to appreciate English culture, more – so I now find myself somewhat stranded half way across the Atlantic, not totally at home in either place. Rather a bemused, somewhat cynical, spectator.

    Anyway, Ricochet helps a lot :)

  5. Water Chestnut

    (continued) that was in the foreign language that was conducive to learning American values.  Hence, translating the Pledge of Allegiance into a foreign language students are studying is considered very, very appropriate because it was a learning activity that focused on American values.  It’s the thoughts, not the language!

  6. Severely Ltd.

    I was firmly convinced during Bush that the country was largely center-right, and I’d convinced myself that this was a result of the babyboomers–my sorry generation–coming around to the wisdom of Conservatism as they aged.

    I knew there was strong opposition, but I thought the trend was on our side. That the reasonable people who witnessed the implosion of Communism worldwide and learned from it were the majority.

    I thought 2008 was a silly one-off, that Race-centerness+Hollywood+Youth+MSM-mendacity aligned in a harmonic convergence that would never be repeated.

    And then lightning struck again. Tommy, America is bigger than Rome, but the bigger they come…

  7. Layla

    I’m born and raised in the Old Dominion–and I agree with your post, Sophist. And I’d go one further: I feel caught between two Americas here without really fitting into either one. It’s lonely.

  8. Copperfield

    You’ve hit on something fundamental that has changed.  There is a great deal of choice in our culture now, but the defacto public culture is now center-left.  I’d have denied that before President Obama’s reelection, but when portions of the population are so susceptible to propaganda and will not vote even in their own economic interest, something fundamental has changed.  Conservatives/libertarians underestimated the importance of cultural institutions; the three primary being media, entertainment, and academia.  All are dominated by the left.  This means the filter through which low information voters get their news is leftist; entertainment is largely libertine and secular; and kids are not taught civics, Western Civilization, religious values, or a fair reading of American history.  Civics becomes what the government can and should do for the citizen (positive rights); Western Civ devolves into listing racism, sexism, homophobia, and oppression by western powers; religion is a dogma to be avoided or perhaps worse, a punchline; and American history becomes a chronicle of America’s sins while other cultures are celebrated and examined uncritically. 

    There was a culture war and we lost.  Nothing is sacred.  I’m sick about it, but there it is. 

  9. Leigh

    Good point, and well stated.

    I’d add one further thought: where do immigrants come to?  They come most heavily to the cities, right?  Which means that the America they see is, in fact, blue America (for lack of a better term).

    So when (if) they hear conservatives calling for assimilation, they hear people demanding that they integrate into a culture they know nothing about.

  10. Republic of Texas

    Sophist:

    In a sense I have a similar background in that I “emigrated” from New Jersey to Texas in 1977 at the age of 17.  At that time my family felt a culture shock, but now I believe that the Texas Culture (and by extension the larger “Southern” or “Fishtown” culture) merely represents the former universal American culture. 

    Certainly in the 60s and 70s there was a counterculture and you could identify the West Coast as “different”, but that was a small minority of the country.  Now we truly have these two cultures, which each have nearly equal influence when you consider voting patterns, tax rates, local environmental laws, or the “nanny” laws you cite.

    If the Feds wouldn’t smother it, perhaps a contest over time between these two cultures would be instructive.  To me it’s quite clear which cultural exemplar is better:  Texas has far superior economic performance than Illinois; Texas handles Hispanic immigrants (legal and illegal) more easily than California; etc.  Let people notice how many states move to eliminate income tax or become right-to-work and then note which states grow.  “Red versus Blue” a la Walter Russell Mead and may the best prevail.

  11. Copperfield
    David Williamson: As a 1.0 immigrant, I totally agree. The America that I entered in 1985 has already been fundamentally transformed into something else.

    One would think that coming as I do from England I would feel right at home in Mr Obama’s Brave New World, but I don’t – it reminds me of why I left the UK in the first place.

    If anything, I have grown to appreciate English culture, more – so I now find myself somewhat stranded half way across the Atlantic, not totally at home in either place. Rather a bemused, somewhat cynical, spectator.

    Anyway, Ricochet helps a lot :) · 15 minutes ago

    A long-belated welcome to you who comes from the land of our intellectual fathers.  Thank you for the English Common Law, the language, leading the way on eradicating slavery, for Locke, Sidney, Dickens, Handel, Chaucer, Austen, and Shakespeare.  But, was it too much to ask that your former countrymen might have kept the National Health Service on their side of the pond?… kidding.  Cheers! 

  12. kylez

    as a major blue-stater i’m willing to say much of what goes on is “un -american”. the city i grew up in banned the use of plastic bags in grocery stores. it also banned smoking within 20 feet of a bus stop, and now forces riders to hear that warning every time the bus makes a stop. 

    TheSophist: Astonishing – Do you think those behaviors/values still exist everywhere in America?

    Learn English? Have you seen this? http://www.vote.nyc.ny.us/html/voters/korean.shtml

    Say hi to your neighbors? Not in Manhattan, you don’t.

    Point is, the American culture you’re describing only exists in parts of America now; unless you (and more than half of your fellow citizens) are willing to say that what’s going on in our blue states and blue cities is un-American, my point stands: there is no American culture.

    Instead, there are two American cultures. · 10 hours ago

  13. kylez

    even worse, and relevant to the immigration issue, i was listening to someone today talk about how his wife works delivery in a SoCal hospital (in “red” Orange Co. no less) and the “anchor baby” issue they have to deal with so much. i was struck by the fact that, as he said, the Mexicans are usually pretty nice and appreciate whatever help they get, but the Chinese parents have more of an attitude, and really want to see the new baby’s social security card before they leave. 

      so respect for the rule of law, including immigration laws, should be high on the list for assimilation.

  14. Richard Finlay
    She

    Water Chestnut: Prior to WWI, the US was actually rather bilingual.  Most people aren’t aware of it, but there were even bilingual schools.  

    That’s something I wasn’t aware of.  What was the other language?  ….

    It depends.  Cincinnati and Milwaukee had large German “colonies”; The “Pennsylvania Dutch” was another German (or German-like) area.  Many large cities had “Chinatowns” and Yiddish communities, and the Southeast had Spanish/Spanglish.  Around Nawlins, Cajun French.  Probably others, too.  It was part of the local charm.  And, of course, there are the Reservations….

  15. Keith Doherty
    She

    Water Chestnut: Prior to WWI, the US was actually rather bilingual.  Most people aren’t aware of it, but there were even bilingual schools.  

    That’s something I wasn’t aware of.  What was the other language?  Were the schools reflective of the immigrant population in certain areas of the country, and was the bilingual nature different because of them?…

    My understanding is that German was commonly spoken in many parts of the midwest. German words and phrases could find their way into English-language conversations, much like the way many Californians and Texans tend to pick up  occasional Spanish words & colloquialisms. I know there are  high schools that still offer German as a foreign language option; I assume it’s because of our strong immigrant connection to it.

    I read somewhere that there was debate back in 1787 whether or not to write the Constitution in German in addition to English…though I suspect that might just be urban legend.

  16. Astonishing

    Oops. Double post. (Richochet is acting ornery.)

  17. Astonishing

    It ain’t that complicated.

    Learn English.

    Get a job or run your own business.

    Be honest in your business dealings.

    Pay your bills.

    Marry the mother/father of your children.

    Discipline your children and get them educated.

    Don’t beat your wife or your children.

    Give something to charity.

    Go to a church, mosque,  or synagogue, etc. every once in a while.

    Vote every once in a while.

    Dress appropriately for the circumstances.

    Join some kind of club or organization.

    Mow your grass, wash your car, maintain your property.

    Respect your neighbors’ property, curb your dog and don’t litter.

    Say hi to your neighbors.

    Root for the home team.

    Don’t cuss in mixed company or around children.

  18. Mark Wilson
    TheSophist:

    But you know, you/we need to be able to tell the outsider what it is that he’s supposed to fit in with. You want immigrants to assimilate? Give him something to assimilate with.

    Start there. Because it’s not only unfair but patently illogical to demand in 2013 that the new immigrant fit in with “us”, when there is no “us” to speak of. Speak of that first, before you go about trying to set immigration policy of any sort.

    This is positively Steynian.

  19. TheSophist
    Tommy De Seno: Thanks for the lengthy response Sophist.

    Yours is an interesting point but I wonder if it’s not new.  You really are touching on concepts of federalism.

    States in different regions have always had deviations in lifestyle and therefore culture.   But that just makes your point well taken.

    Thanks Tommy – even taking the federalism/regional differences into account, I still felt that there was an “American” culture that was underneath those differences. It’s really hard to put my finger on it, but I didn’t feel that a New Yawker and a Texan and a Californian were not American.

    Now I do. Now, I feel that my more liberal friends have more in common with Canadians — not just politically but culturally — than they do with me or with most Texans I’ve come to know.

  20. TheSophist

    Astonishing – Do you think those behaviors/values still exist everywhere in America?

    Learn English? Have you seen this? http://www.vote.nyc.ny.us/html/voters/korean.shtml

    Say hi to your neighbors? Not in Manhattan, you don’t.

    Point is, the American culture you’re describing only exists in parts of America now; unless you (and more than half of your fellow citizens) are willing to say that what’s going on in our blue states and blue cities is un-American, my point stands: there is no American culture.

    Instead, there are two American cultures.

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