Americans and the Unassimilables

… Politicians and Fourth-of-July orators love to invoke Emma Lazarus’s lines on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your poor, your tired / Your huddled masses, the wretched refuse …. “and to say, as President Trump did a few days ago, that “America is a proud nation of immigrants.” Alas, the history of immigration here throws shade on that claimed pride. …

Unfortunately, Americans hold a warped collective memory of earlier immigration history. Many assume that the European immigrants of generations past assimilated quickly, unlike Latin American, Asian, or Muslim immigrants today. Not true. Lasting ethnic enclaves like Greektowns and Little Italys were typical. Today’s immigrants actually learn English and forget their native languages faster than did the earlier newcomers. Similarly, romanticized memories lead many to believe that, unlike today’s immigrants, their ancestors made it up the ladder on their own steam–also a distortion. In the end, the supposedly unassimilable children and grandchildren of earlier immigrants became regular Americans, often to the chagrin of parents who hoped that their traditions would be more lasting.

Polling since the mid-20th-century can tell us more systematically about Americans’ opinions of immigrants and refugees. Those opinions did not echo verses from the Lazarus poem. CONT.

Claude Fischer, Berkeley