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Welcome to the Ever-Changing, Ever-Same Face of America

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As America becomes more diverse, there are edgy calls from talk-show-radio hosts to save the country for white, Christian (mostly) males . . . as though they had done something (other than kill off the natives) to deserve preservation. It’s interesting, to me anyway, that these Limbaughs and Coulters are a couple generations in from Ellis Island themselves and want almost desperately to slam the door on anyone and everyone else.

America is, in their minds, a gated community.

(Amy Chua, Washington Post) If you don't speak Spanish, Miami really can feel like a foreign country. In any restaurant, the conversation at the next table is more likely to be Spanish than English. And Miami's population is only 65 percent Hispanic. El Paso is 76 percent Latino. Flushing, N.Y., is 60 percent immigrant, mainly Chinese.

Chinatowns and Little Italys have long been part of America's urban landscape, but would it be all right to have entire U.S. cities where most people spoke and did business in Chinese, Spanish or even Arabic? Are too many Third World, non-English-speaking immigrants destroying our national identity?

For some Americans, even asking such questions is racist. At the other end of the spectrum, the conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly fulminates against floods of immigrants who threaten to change America's "complexion" and replace what he calls the "white Christian male power structure."

Complexion? Power structure? O’Reilly sounds suspiciously to me like an Irish name and there was a time, not all that long ago, when ads (even for household help) stated ‘Irish need not apply.’

Bill O'Reilly gets a lot of kicking around as everybody's favorite wingnut, but his broadcast and educational credentials are extensive. Power, on the other hand, may be problematic for Bill.

My own name, Freeman, harks back to the Magna Carta, when freed serfs became 'free men.' My grandparents (grandpa English, grandma German) emigrated from Canada in the late 1890s. Mom’s side (exact same ethnic mix) boasted her own paternal grandfather serving as a corporal in the Illinois Militia during the Civil War. Great grandfather Craven lost a hand in that war, but that’s still not a very deep tap-root for an American heritage.

No matter, we Craven-Freemans are damned glad to be here. Chua continues . . .

But for the large majority in between, Democrats and Republicans alike, these questions are painful, with no easy answers. At some level, most of us cherish our legacy as a nation of immigrants. But are all immigrants really equally likely to make good Americans? Are we, as the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington warns, in danger of losing our core values and devolving "into a loose confederation of ethnic, racial, cultural, and political groups, with little or nothing in common apart from their location in the territory of what had been the United States of America"?

Well, there has to be a Harvard and, if there is a Harvard, then certainly it follows as sunshine after rain that there must be a Harvard political scientist to apply the white, male, Christian litmus paper to a loss of ‘core values.’ I don’t know what the good professor (much less Harvard) takes to be core values, but Samuel Huntington is a pretty WASPy name and one can make the undocumented case that his core may merely have predated O’Reilly’s by a century or two.

And yet Ann Coulter, with whom I seldom agree on anything, writes,

America has a seller's market in immigration, but thanks to Teddy Kennedy's 1965 immigration law, we no longer favor skilled workers from developed nations, but instead favor unskilled immigrants from the Third World. Kennedy's bill promptly cut the number of European immigrants in half and increased Third World immigrants to 85 percent of the total.

Not surprisingly, post-1965 immigrants have sharply higher levels of poverty and welfare dependence. Europeans may not seem like ideal new immigrants, but the truth is, if what they want is welfare, they'll stay in France.

and it’s a good point, or at least a bit more specific and arguable than O’Reilly or Huntington.

Silicon Valley makes much the same point. We are simply unable to visa the skilled of the world who want to come here and whom we wish to hire. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, as middle-class jobs slide inevitably toward the bottom of the hiring scale, bringing the poorer in to work looks less and less ‘melting pot’ and more and more a threat to workers. We are not the 19th century America that welcomed all comers.

My suggestion will be disagreeable to both camps, unlikely to satisfy Teddy Kennedy or Ann Coulter:

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http://www.jim-freeman.com

Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
 
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