Assimilation by wulinqing


									Assimilation. (cultural change in the US due to immigration)
"Assimilation.(cultural change in the US due to immigration)." The Economist (US) 352.8126 (July 3,
1999): 24. InfoTrac OneFile. Thomson Gale.

The melting pot survives


THERE are few stranger alliances in America's culture wars than the one between nativists and
multiculturalists on the subject of assimilating immigrants. Nativists such as Pat Buchanan, a perennial
presidential contender, argue that the great American assimilation machine is broken beyond repair.
Immigrants arrived in such quantities in the 1980s and 1990s that they can seclude themselves in ethnic
enclaves rather than merging into the mainstream. And the growing ease of communications means that
they have no need to loosen their ties with their old countries. The Italians who passed through Ellis
Island at the turn of the century had little hope of seeing their motherland again; the Mexicans who these
days get off the bus in downtown Los Angeles can watch Mexican television, keep in contact with their
relatives by telephone or even, on special occasions, video conference, and return home for several weeks
a year.

The multiculturalists who dominate the country's universities and pressure groups agree with the nativists'
premise but go on to draw radically different conclusions. "Mainstream America" was never anything
more than a codeword for racial oppression, they argue. The arrival of millions of unassimilated
immigrants is requiring America to abandon the old notion of a melting pot and turn itself instead into a
"gorgeous mosaic" in which distinctive ethnic groups still manage to make a whole.

A brief visit to Huntington Park, a small city south of central Los Angeles, suggests that there is
something to this argument. In 1960 Huntington Park was such a white stronghold that blacks in nearby
South Central used to say that they had to cross the Mason-Dixon line in order to visit it. But now it is
almost entirely Latino. The main street, Pacific Boulevard, looks as if it has been flown in ready-
assembled from Mexico. Record shops blast Latin crooners into the street. Toy shops sell Mexican party
games called pinatas. A huge number of shops specialise in bridal gowns and children's clothes. In El
Gallo Giro, a huge fast-food joint, crowds of women make tortillas behind the counter.

But take a closer look at Huntington Park, and you begin to see signs of assimilation. Street vendors sell
hot dogs as well as tamalitos. The hottest-selling pinatas look like Teletubbies. One of the newest
additions to the high street, Solano's Shoes, caters to youth sub-cultures rather than ethnic tastes: 20% of
its customers are black. Most of the houses in the residential districts are immaculately kept, suggesting
that they are owned rather than rented; the schools offer adult classes in English, citizenship and parenting.
The city mayor, Rosario Marin, even acted as a spokesman for the former Republican governor, Pete

So which is the real Huntington Park? Gregory Rodriguez, a fellow at the New America Foundation
whose earlier researches have decisively changed the understanding of Latino experience in the United
States, has added a new element to the assimilation debate: facts and figures*. These facts and figures are
mostly drawn from the 1990 census, which remains the best available snapshot of the American
population, but they are also supplemented by later data.

Mr Rodriguez says it is wrong to measure assimilation against impossible standards. Immigrants have
always taken time to move into the mainstream, both geographically and culturally. And assimilation has
always been a two-way process, with each new wave of immigrants contributing something to what it
means to be American, from Jewish humour to German beer. The proper measure of assimilation is not
whether ethnic groups have cut their ties to their homeland completely, but whether they have put down
roots in the United States. Mr Rodriguez argues that if you look at the four most important measures of
"roots"- -citizenship, home ownership, language-acquisition and intermarriage-- then assimilation is
going on much as it always has.

American citizenship has never been an automatic choice for immigrants: only about half of the people
who arrived in the United States at the turn of the century chose to become citizens. In 1990, 40% of
immigrants were naturalised. But this proportion is likely to rise. The longer immigrants stay in the
United States, the more likely they are to become citizens: only 23% of those who arrived in the early
1980s were naturalised by 1990, compared with 41% of those who arrived in the late 1970s. And the
recent anti-immigrant campaigns in California and Congress have, paradoxically, inspired the greatest
rush to naturalisation in the history of the country. In 1996, there was a 212% increase over the previous
year in the number of Mexican immigrants who became citizens.

Home ownership is another powerful symbol of attachment to American life. Half of all immigrant homes
were owner-occupied in 1990. This is a much lower figure than the one for native-born Americans. But
the longer immigrants stay in the country, the more likely they are to join the home-owning classes. In
1996, 75% of immigrants who had been in the United States for at least 25 years owned their own homes,
compared with 70% of native-born Americans.

The figures for intermarriage and language-acquisition are equally heartening from an assimilationist
point of view. By the third generation, a third or more of Latino and Asian women are marrying outside
their ethnic group (see chart). In 1900, a quarter of immigrants could not speak English; in 1990, the
figure was only 8%. More than three-quarters (76%) of immigrants spoke English "with high proficiency"
within ten years of arriving; and almost all their children spoke English either well or exclusively. Almost
half the children of Asian immigrants can speak only English.

Much of what Mr Rodriguez has to say is common sense. The United States is the most culturally
powerful nation in the world, striking terror into chauvinists from Paris to Tehran; it is hardly surprising
that it should be able to absorb people within its own borders, particularly since most people come to the
United States with the express purpose of getting ahead. It is perhaps not surprising either that nativists
should ignore common sense: at bottom, much of their objection to immigration is based on race. But
why multiculturalists should seek to deny the obvious is a subject worthy of study in itself.

*"From Newcomers to Americans: The Successful Integration of Immigrants into American Society".
National Immigration Forum, 220 I St NE, Washington, DC, 20002.

Thomson Gale Document Number:A58838001

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