Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Final Episode: Bitching Until I'm Red, White and Blue in the Face (at least for now)


A few months ago, I read a Washington Post article from 1998 on “The Myth of the Melting Pot.” The author of part one, “One Nation, Indivisible?” William Booth, wrote:

…a Jew from England named Israel Zangwill penned a play whose story line has long been forgotten, but whose central theme has not. His production was entitled "The Melting Pot" and its message still holds a tremendous power on the national imagination – the promise that all immigrants can be transformed into Americans, a new alloy forged in a crucible of democracy, freedom and civic responsibility.

Is it possible? Can we, the legal citizens of the United States of America embrace being Americans? Can we stop identifying ourselves by the countries and loyalties of our ancestors? I want for us all to say, proudly, “I am an American! Period.”

In William Booth’s six part article, one of the things he wrote really disturbed me. He said:

Many immigrant parents say that while they want their children to advance economically in their new country, they do not want them to become "too American."

Am I the only person who sees a problem with this?

Booth went on to write:
One study of the children of immigrants, conducted six years ago among young Haitians, Cubans, West Indians, Mexican and Vietnamese in South Florida and Southern California, suggests the parents are not alone in their concerns.

Asked by researchers Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbauthow how they identified themselves, most chose categories of hyphenated Americans. Few choose ‘American’ as their identity.
Then there was this – asked if they believe the United States in the best country in the world, most of the youngsters answered: no.

William Branigan, who wrote part three, “Immigrants Shunning Idea of Assimilation,” in the “The Myth of the Melting Pot” series interviewed Maria Jacinto, who lives in Omaha with her husband and their five children. She speaks only Spanish and says, "When my skin turns white and my hair turns blonde, then I'll be an American."

Mrs. Jacinto, hair and skin color don’t make an American. Why did you become a citizen if you don’t want to be American? Are you simply entitled to live here and benefit from what other Americans have fought and died for all these years?

I’ve been very curious but not had the opportunity to ask: How do legal immigrants feel about illegal immigrants? Is it wonderful to welcome people who enjoy the same ancestry, food and music as their forefathers? Or are they disconcerted? Do they worry that the influx of illegal immigrants causes people to look at them with the suspicion that they, too, are illegal? Are illegal immigrants encouraged to seek legal citizenship?

I don’t have the answer to the question, “What is an American?” I don’t think there is an easy answer; however, I think the answer starts with citizenship. If you’re going to apply for and are granted citizenship, then you are an American. If you’re not interested in becoming an American or in being here legally (married to an American or in possession of a green card or as a visitor), please allow me to show you the door.

Our national motto is still E Pluribus Unum meaning, “From Many, One.”

This is the United States of America. Let’s unite in our pride in being American. We may not like everything about this country. There may be political strife and discord. We may want a revolution to start now, muthaf*****! (love you, Mags) The thing is, we’re in a country where we can fix it. We can talk about it. We can, if we like, vote.

How about it? Shall we all jump into Zangwill’s melting pot and become “a new alloy forged in a crucible of democracy, freedom and civic responsibility?”

I’m in.


KatiaSul said...

For what it's worth, here is an opinion from a different perspective.

I was not born in the United States of America. I was born in a third-world country run by a family of dictators who had exiled my great-grandfather (the sitting Vice-president at the time) to Costa Rica.

I did not even come to this country until my language skills were firmly gripped in fluent Spanish, with no English words. I learned English in school and at home. Let me repeat that...I learned English in school and at home. From both my American father and my Nicaraguan mother. The way it ended up working out was that outside of the house, we spoke English. Inside of the house we originally spoke Spanish, but that eventually evolved into an interesting mix of languages that we affectionately call Spanglish, which is the dominant language in my Mom’s house even today.
On occasion, we will speak Spanish or Spanglish in public. More specifically, I will speak Spanish in public, when I simply don’t want other to understand what I am saying. My mother looks down upon that practice. My mother would never speak Spanish even in her own home if there were people present who do not understand the language.

Now, I am very proud of my heritage and family history. I will fight to the death should any one attempt to force me to abandon that heritage. I will also fight to the death should anyone attempt to take the freedoms that I enjoy. Having said that, I am very frustrated when (in certain parts of this country) someone assumes that I am a Spanish-speaker, and automatically begins to speak to me in that language without even attempting to communicate in English. It’s funny how when that happens, I magically forget any Spanish I might know.

I don’t know why I get upset about it. Most would think that I am an advocate for not learning English. The thing is… as a society, we need to be able to communicate. I think that I believe that the necessity of a common language only makes sense to me. Now, I certainly do NOT believe that English should lawfully be made the official language. But, my beliefs are led by the precedent that would be set with that type of law. I believe that if English were lawfully made the official language, some extremists would try to include other laws that would clearly allow for even more discrimination than we already have in this country.

But that’s the point, I guess. We do have discrimination because we are free to. We do speak other languages because we are free to. We dress, look, drive, walk, think, smell, eat, etc differently because we are free to. We also have the civil responsibilities that go along with all of these freedoms (ok, THEN there IS the Patriot Act, but that’s a completely different rant). So, melting pot, smorgasbord, or whatever you want to call the people of this country… All of which have a social responsibility to make things work, we have to look at not the differences in one another, but the commonalities. If communicating in one common language helps us, then we should have to common sense to learn it and use it. But we shouldn’t force it upon those who choose not to.

jas said...

My mom was an immigrant. She married my father, an American GI, in Germany and then came to the states in 1964. She spoke English, but taught herself to read and write it well by reading the newspaper. She obtained her American Citizenship circa 1980 (my father had died in 1975). She was so proud. I was proud too. I attended her swearing-in ceremony. My mother loved America. Don't get me wrong, she loved Germany too, but America was her home.

She hated illegal immigrants. She went through the whole process of becoming a citizen and resented those who thought they could become an American citizen with no effort.

I feel the same way. If you want to be a citizen, that's fine by me, but do it legally. Learn our language and our customs. You don't have to give up your culture, but you do need to jump into the melting pot. It's a give and take.

Sgt said...

2 excellent posts. I (for once) have nothing to add.

Ima Wurdibitsch said...

Katia, thank you for telling more of your family's story. While I don't agree with you about the official language thing, I understand why you feel that way. I guess I'm more of an optimist and think that a common language would help bring this country closer together. MrWurdi completely agrees with you on the official language thing. In the comments area on Part Two of this little series, MrWurdi had another worry about the potential danger of an official language. Again, I understand but think the potential benefits outweigh that danger. Thank you for everything you wrote. You've certainly given me more to think about.

Jas, welcome! Also, thank you. I really appreciate what you wrote about your mom; i.e., "She hated illegal immigrants. She went through the whole process of becoming a citizen and resented those who thought they could become an American citizen with no effort." I kind of suspected that legal immigrants might feel that way and it's nice to see that, at least in this instance, I was right.

SGT, which post didn't you like/think was excellent? ;-)

Johnny Virgil said...

I think it comes down to where your allegiances are. If you are an american citizen and you still choose your country of origin over the country in which you live, then you are not an american, regardless of what that paper in your hand says.

Ima Wurdibitsch said...

Exactly, Johnny. Those families who were worried about their children being "too American" don't make sense to me. Do we need to grant citizenship rights and the right to live here separately? I think we already do that with the green cards and such.

Complicated issue. I'm not certain I'm finished with it. Several really good comments have shown up on these and I'd like to explore further. Also, MrWurdi mentioned a town in NC that was interested in giving ID cards to illegal immigrants. Apparently, that stirred up a lot of controversy.