Ellis-Island

Does the Immigrant Make America, Or …

 

I’m genuinely sorry, fellow Ricochet readers. I lost control of myself today and read a Dana Milbank column.  What’s worse, he sparked a discussible idea (not deliberately on his part, of course).

His argument is that immigrants improve America, by bringing their culture to ours.  Each immigrant wave brings new wisdom from their culture to teach our culture.  The world is improving us:

This is not merely about a fresh labor supply but about the fresh blood needed to cure what ails us. To benefit from such a transfusion, we not only need to welcome more immigrants but also to adopt pieces of their culture lacking in our own — just as we have done with other (mostly European) cultures for centuries.

Of course, I say he’s got it backward (as usual).  They’re not improving us, we’re improving them.  As each culture comes to America, they benefit from the individual freedom and range of opportunities in this country.

immigrationBut it seems clear that Milbank, like most Leftists, assumes that each wave of immigrants improves us and that America is only great because we’ve enjoyed so many immigrant waves, each one improving us all the more.  The Leftist attitude is that America constantly needs a shot in the arm, provided by new people from different cultures.  The rhetoric is that immigration, really, is what makes America great.  That pretty much implies that America is really a stale place, and we only survive by the rejuvenation of new blood.  Call it the “vampire theory” of culture.

This is, of course, ridiculous.  If immigrants’ cultural diversity sparks American success, why haven’t those same immigrants sparked the same success in other countries?  Or sparked it in their own?  Why do they come here in the first place?  What makes America attractive is not that it gives them a chance to improve us; it’s that we give them a chance to succeed as individuals.

At least, that’s what I argue. What do you say? Does the immigrant make America, or is it America who makes the immigrant?

Photo Credit: Flickr user NIAID.

 

There are 46 comments.

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  1. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    KC Mulville:

    His argument is that immigrants improve America, by bringing their culture to ours. Each immigrant wave brings new wisdom from their culture to teach our culture. The world is improving us.

    I see that Milbank is a fan of China and likes what Chinese culture has to offer this country. Its difficult not wonder if that is not just his racism showing through though, the world is a multicultural cornucopia why is he ignoring everything else on the buffet table?

    Why is neglecting Saudi Arabian notions of justice?
    Saudi Man Gets 450 Lashes and 3 Years Jail after Posting ‘Gay Tweets’

    How about Venezuelan wisdom on economic governance?
    Venezuela’s toilet-paper shortage oddly worsening, despite Maduro’s “new economic order”

    Imagine how great American can be if we really take advantage of everything our multicultural world has to offer.

    • #1
  2. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    The “shot in the arm” interpretation of immigration is a necessary result of a Blame America mindset.  We are the problem.

    • #2
  3. wmartin Member
    wmartin
    @

    I have been watching the recent CNN documentaries on the 1960’s over the last few weeks. From what I see, America before the liberalization of immigration laws and the resulting explosion of third-world immigration looks like a very “vibrant,” exciting place. I am just not seeing where white, native-born Americans were falling down on the job and needed to be replaced.

    • #3
  4. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    “Does the immigrant make America, or is it America who makes the immigrant?”

    Yes.  It’s not an either/or question.  Clearly we’re better off with some immigrants, and worse off with others.

    In my field, it’s hard to even find an American to do the job, as most apparently aren’t willing to do the hard work required.  Hence most of the resumes I see are from immigrants: I couldn’t hire an all-native-American staff if I wanted to.

    Unfortunately America has inflicted a disaster of a public-education system on itself, and this means that well-educated foreigners will continue to be in demand.  And needed.

    • #4
  5. CuriousJohn Thatcher
    CuriousJohn
    @CuriousJohn

    The well educated foreigners  are not a problem to America.  Nor any country.   They are not the ones needing hand outs nor the ones  causing concern to anyone

    • #5
  6. Jerry Broaddus Inactive
    Jerry Broaddus
    @JerrytheBastage

    The goal is both to improve the country, and improve the immigrant. Over most of the history of the US, this win-win outcome was ubiquitous. Also, throughout most of the history of the US, immigration was selective.
    It was selective in a number of ways. On one level, the government set standards, and enforced those standards. On another, the immigrant had to follow a process, including application for immigration, acquiring the means with which to purchase transportation, and actually traveling to some port of entry, interviewing with immigration officials, etc.
    Such a process, even a very simple process, would filter out many without the potential to improve the country. It might also filter out many that are capable of contributing.

    • #6
  7. Herbert Woodbery Inactive
    Herbert Woodbery
    @Herbert

    It’s a combination of both.

    • #7
  8. user_836033 Member
    user_836033
    @WBob

    Americans feel that they are expected to believe and proclaim that America is the greatest country on earth.  But any attempt to explain why that is seems to make people uncomfortable.  It’s as if we are just expected to believe it is true because, well, it must be.

    But America is what it is because of the cultural ingredients and experiences that made it up.  Those are specific things. Most immigrants who have come here were not fleeing outright tyranny.  They were fleeing cultures that were corrupt and mediocre.  They were fleeing cultures where bribery and corruption made it impossible to excel. In other words, they were trying to escape inferior cultures, societies where hard work never paid off. 

    Most of these immigrants would have thought the Milbank column ridiculous on its face.  The last thing they would have wanted is to make America more like the places they were leaving.

    The English tradition of law, the frontier experience, and the Protestantism of northwest Europe are the indispensable cultural ingredients without which America would not be what it is.  There is something about the last especially which has inoculated our culture against the tendency to accept corruption as normal.       

       

    • #8
  9. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    If all those other cultures are so wonderful, why are Americans not streaming over to all those other countries?

    • #9
  10. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    For the most part America makes the immigrant.

    Politically immigrants have offered us nothing. Our political culture is well rooted in our Anglo heritage – in Magna Carta, Hobbes, Locke and Hume as well as the Frenchmen Rousseau and Montesquieu. But even then we abandoned all of the European trappings. No parliament. No prime minister. Our concepts of self determination and liberty, of equality before the law, of putting more constraints on the government than on the governed made us unique.

    Where we screwed up is when we started to import the progressive, bureaucratic and elitist notions we had managed to throw off in hereditary monarchy.

    Culturally, immigration has certainly helped make America. Most of the Great American Songbook was authored by Jews with one foot in the old world and another in the new. The difference is that they (or their parents in most cases) didn’t come to America to be anything but American.

    I’m not sure you can say that about today’s class of immigrants. (Outside of Craig Furguson.)

    • #10
  11. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    I’d certainly agree that different cultures make America more fun. But what rankles me about the Milbank column is that it mirrors things that Obama has said about American history, where (they argue) what makes America great is our “diversity.” 

    That flies in the face of the conservative belief that America’s greatness is much more based on what you might call a “market attitude.”  Yes, our economy is free market (although currently hampered by government interference) but we also have a market attitude toward almost everything else.

    • We don’t dictate religion … we just have a lot of options, and let people go where they want.
    • We don’t dictate where people live … we have a lot of options, and we let people go where they want.
    • We don’t dictate what people watch … we have a lot of options and  …
    • … OK you get the point. 

    That “American Way” … lots of options, no dictating … is a style of living (unique in the world) that gives people from any culture a chance to succeed. Which means an Irishman who “makes it” in America doesn’t make it because he’s Irish but because he’s become American.

    • #11
  12. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    One can *become* American.  That’s not common.  (Can one become French?  I think not).  To the extent that an immigrant is not becoming an American (in an attitudinal, even emotional sense) … well, why bother?

    • #12
  13. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    TG:

    One can *become* American. That’s not common. (Can one become French? I think not). 

     Why would anyone want to become French?

    • #13
  14. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Carey J.:

    TG:

    One can *become* American. That’s not common. (Can one become French? I think not).

    Why would anyone want to become French?

     Now that’s a completely different question … And one I am most assuredly not qualified to answer.  Grin.

    • #14
  15. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive
    Blue State Curmudgeon
    @BlueStateCurmudgeon

    If their cultures are so great then why are they coming here?

    • #15
  16. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Milbank’s theory works for food, and not much else.  Besides, if the mainstream adopts anything distinctive from an immigrant, it will be accused of  “cultural misappropriation.”

    • #16
  17. Yeah...ok. Inactive
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    Is Milbank referring to legal immigration, e.g. Mark Steyn?

    In the 16th and 17th century the hispanic invasion from Mexico pretty much tried to destroy the existing American residents. Is that the fresh blood that cured the ailing culture that previously lived in Arizona and New Mexico?

    • #17
  18. Matty Van Inactive
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    Some years back I gave my students a list of about twenty post Civil War Americans who contributed something significant to the development of our country. The only two I remember with certainty are Andrew Carnegie and Ray Croc. The kids’ assignment: choose one and research him/her in depth. One student, instead, researched all of them superficially and discovered something I had not noticed when I made the list. In fact, she discovered the only thing I remember from that project. Very very close to a hundred per cent of the twenty were immigrants or children of immigrants.

    Quite a few years ago Newsweek had a feature article on the great cities of world history. Very close to all of them were filled with immigrants. All of them were, by the standards of the time, centers of free trade and relative freedom. Immigrants and freedom, it seems, can be a potent combination.

    • #18
  19. Yeah...ok. Inactive
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    RushBabe49:

    If all those other cultures are so wonderful, why are Americans not streaming over to all those other countries?

     Even 1 anonymous leaving the U.S.A. is enough of a stream for me to be concerned. That dude is pretty cool. If he thought it a good idea to leave, he might be on to something.

    • #19
  20. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    KC Mulville: That flies in the face of the conservative belief that America’s greatness is much more based on what you might call a “market attitude.”

    I would define it much more sharply and strongly as its Constitutional protection of natural rights and constraint of government.

    • #20
  21. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Yeah…ok.: In the 16th and 17th century the hispanic invasion from Mexico pretty much tried to destroy the existing American residents.

     This is the left-wing propaganda about what happened.  It’s not actually true. 

    The Spanish partnered with the Mexicans in many cases, and pre-Spanish Mexican culture continues to survive.  See the Mexican flag, for starters.

    • #21
  22. Black Prince Inactive
    Black Prince
    @BlackPrince

    KC Mulville:

    Does the immigrant make America, or is it America who makes the immigrant?

    Well, one thing is for certain: America wouldn’t be a technology powerhouse (and all that entails: military, medicine, etc.) if it weren’t for all the foreign scientists and engineers.  The American education system for many years has been incapable of producing world-class scientists and engineers (and don’t tell me that America has the best universities…these are basically international universities on American soil funded by the American taxpayer—the vast majority of the best minds are foreign).

    • #22
  23. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    This highlights another question. Illegal immigrants … who come to our country but who aren’t taught how to be American … are just foreigners who happen to be here. They aren’t being made into Americans. 

    By contrast, in the mid-1800s, the Catholic Church made a deliberate decision (in Baltimore, at a bishops’ synod) to give the American Catholic Church a specific mission: to mainstream the immigrants. To that end, the church relied primarily on schools, but there was a whole range of strategies to get immigrants into the mainstream (I hate that word, but it’s the best I can think of at the moment).

    Immigration used to be more than a one-time threshold; it used to be an extended process (“naturalization”). 

    What are we doing to “mainstream” the current wave of immigrants?  Part of the success of the previous immigration waves was that we had a method of dealing with them. Now, for all our government programs, government services, and government “help,” I’m not seeing much effort in naturalizing them.

    An under-discussed problem with illegal immigration is that it skips the naturalization process. They’re in America, but we’re no longer making them American.

    • #23
  24. user_1008957 Inactive
    user_1008957
    @TheIsolatedReader

    KC Mulville, you took the words right out of my mouth — “They’re not improving us, we’re improving them.  As each culture comes to America, they benefit from the individual freedom and range of opportunities in this country.”
    But to Dana Milbank and the Left, the US is improved by looking more like those areas of the globe that these immigrants are trying to escape from. Not that that makes any sense, of course.

    • #24
  25. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Matty Van:

    Some years back I gave my students a list of about twenty post Civil War Americans who contributed something significant to the development of our country. The only two I remember with certainty are Andrew Carnegie and Ray Croc. The kids’ assignment: choose one and research him/her in depth. One student, instead, researched all of them superficially and discovered something I had not noticed when I made the list. In fact, she discovered the only thing I remember from that project. Very very close to a hundred per cent of the twenty were immigrants or children of immigrants.

    Quite a few years ago Newsweek had a feature article on the great cities of world history. Very close to all of them were filled with immigrants. All of them were, by the standards of the time, centers of free trade and relative freedom. Immigrants and freedom, it seems, can be a potent combination.

    Would it be fair to suggest that the American environment provided the soil in which these immigrant families could “blossom?”

    • #25
  26. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    I think the the question of who is improved is rather a silly thing to debate. The process of naturalization is actually a two way process. Not only do immigrant Americanize but they also help to change the standards of what it is to be American. The change always seems bigger in the new assimilating group than it does in the previous Native population but it is there nonetheless. 

    Really we should not under estimate how great a quality of life improvement we get from simple adoption of immigrant cultures. Our food for one is vastly improved in quality and diversity thanks in large part to the wide array of immigrants. I frankly find that any nation where I can’t get a good burrito is not a nation I wish to live in for very long.

    I also wish to point out that naturalization is not really something that the Government enforces. It is the natural process of a new smaller group working its way into the larger existing body. Illegal aliens are being naturalized by the surrounding culture regardless of the governments action.  If anything their illegal status probably hurts their ability to naturalize. 

    • #26
  27. wmartin Member
    wmartin
    @

    Valiuth:

    Really we should not under estimate how great a quality of life improvement we get from simple adoption of immigrant cultures. Our food for one is vastly improved in quality and diversity thanks in large part to the wide array of immigrants. I frankly find that any nation where I can’t get a good burrito is not a nation I wish to live in for very long.

    Japan has more than its share of four-star restaurants,  while having among the most restrictive immigration policies in the world. I am not sure good burritos make up for clogging the public school system with ineducable youngsters from third-world countries.

    • #27
  28. wmartin Member
    wmartin
    @

    Matty Van:

    Some years back I gave my students a list of about twenty post Civil War Americans who contributed something significant to the development of our country. The only two I remember with certainty are Andrew Carnegie and Ray Croc. The kids’ assignment: choose one and research him/her in depth. One student, instead, researched all of them superficially and discovered something I had not noticed when I made the list. In fact, she discovered the only thing I remember from that project. Very very close to a hundred per cent of the twenty were immigrants or children of immigrants.

    Quite a few years ago Newsweek had a feature article on the great cities of world history. Very close to all of them were filled with immigrants. All of them were, by the standards of the time, centers of free trade and relative freedom. Immigrants and freedom, it seems, can be a potent combination.

     The key question is immigrants from where? What cultural traits did the immigrants bring with them from their own countries and family/ethnic backgrounds? What was the average IQ of the demographic groups from which they came?

    • #28
  29. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Valiuth:

    Really we should not under estimate how great a quality of life improvement we get from simple adoption of immigrant cultures. 

    Forgive me if I wasn’t clear – this isn’t a post that demeans immigrants.  I’m only two generations removed from Ireland on my mother’s side, three on my dad’s side. I’m delighted that America has immigration. 

    But the point is not the mere presence of immigrants, but what we do with them once they’re here, not to mention how important it is for immigrants to adopt American habits, because that’s what ignites and accelerates their achievement.  

    Milbanks’ original article argues that Italians showed up and improved America, simply because they were Italian. Well, no, because that completely ignores the crucial function of how traditional American disciplines – yes, of course, combined with each culture’s unique talents – produced remarkable achievements. 

    If the original English, plus the Swedes, Germans, French, Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish (… list goes on …) all come here and do well as Americans, often better than in their home culture, then it’s illogical to attribute their success to their home culture. 

    • #29
  30. user_1008957 Inactive
    user_1008957
    @TheIsolatedReader

    Valiuth

    “Not only do immigrants Americanize but they also help to change the standards of what it is to be American.”

    – The standards of what it is to be American did not need changing. 

    “(W)e should not underestimate how great a quality of life improvement we get from simple adoption of immigrant cultures. Our food for one is vastly improved in quality and diversity thanks in large part to the wide array of immigrants.”

    – Increased menu options is indeed a benefit, but being refused a ride by a muslim cabbie because you are carrying a bottle of wine is a detriment. The detriments are the concern.

    “(A)ny nation where I can’t get a good burrito is not a nation I wish to live in for very long.”

    – I agree entirely.

    “Illegal aliens are being naturalized by the surrounding culture regardless of the governments actions. If anything their illegal status probably hurts their ability to naturalize.”

    – Illegal immigration into America is largely from Mexico, Central and South America. They stay primarily in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California. Increasingly, the “larger existing body” is they themselves. They don’t see much need to naturalize anymore. 

    • #30

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