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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/4/17

The Immigrants' Dilemma

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This, of course, will never happen with our present political/economic system, where private corporate interests take priority in all government policies. Perhaps one day, as a consequence of globalization (in the good meaning), we will establish in North America something like the European Union - but better realized - where people can move freely between states and enlightened economic policies would promote better living conditions in impoverished regions.

The attitudes towards and restrictions against immigrants from Islamic countries, intensified now under present conditions of world turmoil and terrorism, present a somewhat different set of circumstances. Because of fears for security, there is a lot of hysteria and suspicion among some people about anyone who may resemble a terrorist. The problem is aggravated by a heightened climate of racism and bigotry that often accompanies economic and political troubles. To add to the problem, any discussion suggesting the need for adaptation by Muslim immigrants may be taken as Islamophobia.

As mentioned above, earlier immigrants, for the most part, have blended well over time and have become part of the general American culture that they have helped establish. The relative small numbers of those who cling strictly to their native cultures and communicate almost exclusively in their native language, retire into their own communities and have minimal contact with the general population, such as the Hassidic Jews of New York.

Some of the recent immigrants and refugees coming from starkly different cultures will not immediately blend into the general population. Their different habits of dress and religion, etc., challenge the tolerance of some people here. But most of them may quickly fit into the general American life style, as they have already experienced some degree of liberalization from strict Islamic traditions in their home country. (Re: "The Islamic Enlightenment" by Christopher de Beliague.) The critical factors are how deeply they have been imbued with archaic traditions from centuries ago, and to what extent they can think independently to re-evaluate the importance of some of those traditions and be able to adapt well to their new surroundings. The classic rule for adaptation is "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", although that should be taken with a grain of salt.

The situation of African-Americans often resembles that of the recent immigrants, although their ancestors have been here for centuries and they are entitled citizens. Many exceptionally motivated and talented people among them, and most of those having middle-class jobs have fully integrated into the common culture and economy. But, regardless of their position, they may still be subjected to discriminatory and demeaning or even injurious treatment on occasion that may prevent them from having the security of being fully accepted into the general society.

A large segment of this population remains underprivileged, in economic and cultural despair. They have never been fully integrated into the common American society despite attempts at school integration, civil-rights movements, and social-welfare programs. In fact, remedial social-welfare programs for the poor sustain the status quo by acknowledging poverty as a permanent condition for these people (and others).

In contrast, the conscientious promotion of the general welfare as a basic democratic and constitutional social right could permanently lift these people out of economic and cultural despair and integrate them eventually into mainstream society.

Part of the problem of the underclass African Americans is that they have self-consciously separated themselves culturally by clinging to folkways that contrast conspicuously with mainstream America - particularly in the economic world. I refer mainly to language. To illustrate, think of the contrast in England between the stereotype cockneys and those who speak "the king's language". This is a separation that is difficult to overcome. I am not suggesting that they give up their native ways but, like the successful immigrant, they should be able to adapt to mainstream America rather than avoid it as a reaction to rejection.

Of course, the problems discussed here are not merely an individual's choice to resolve, although many have overcome these obstacles. These problems lie mainly with the nature of our diverse national culture that has not sufficiently matured to a state of equality of humanity - despite patriotic slogans to the contrary. They lie in the failure of our educational systems and of our governments to prioritize these matters. In any controversy, an enlightened government should always take the high road, as our Constitution proposes in the Preamble.

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Veteran, retired from several occupations (school teacher, technical writer, energy conservation business, etc.) long-time Sierra Club member


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