Assimilate Into What?

The argument that “there were always immigrants in this country and they all assimilated perfectly well” really gets my goat.

“Always” is actually while the nation-state was strong and offered appealing narratives to integrate oneself into.

“We are a land of freedom where anybody can achieve anything through hard work” is an appealing narrative.

“We are racist bastards who are the worst evildoers in history and we hate ourselves and our past” is not an appealing narrative.

The economic system in the US is still very attractive but the American identity is not. So don’t tell me people will integrate. You have dismantled your history, erased your past, and are wailing about how horrible you are. There’s nothing to integrate into.

3 thoughts on “Assimilate Into What?”

  1. –“We are racist bastards who are the worst evildoers in history and we hate ourselves and our past” definitely does not help, but otherwise I find your idea about how assimilation was working in the past a bit idealized.

    First off, until relatively recently assimilation was promoted not just with carrots (“We are a land of freedom where anybody can achieve anything through hard work”) but with a lot of sticks. I am pretty sure you have encountered the descriptions of how badly the Irish, or Italians, or Asians were treated by WASPs initially… I do not think that level of negative stimuli is possible any more, given the direction in which all western societies are evolving. The “hosts” do not need to believe in their evilness in order to not treat new immigrants as badly as they were treated before. It is just general shift towards more humanistic society.

    Besides, “We are a land of freedom where anybody can achieve anything through hard work” only works if it is true in sufficient number of cases.

    And finally, as one datapoint, one of the reasons we have chosen North America (initially US) over Germany or France was exactly because in North America it is easier to integrate without totally assimilating. It never occurred to me that “becoming American” or “becoming German” etc is a goal worth aspiring to. Integrating to the point of not experiencing psychological discomfort due to not being accepted is perfectly enough. I guess I evolved into “being Canadian” anyway, but this was facilitated by being accepted “as is”. And not being accepted “as is” is exactly why I do not identify as Quebecois.

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    1. ““We are a land of freedom where anybody can achieve anything through hard work” only works if it is true in sufficient number of cases.”

      It is. Even now it’s still enormously truer than absolutely anywhere else in the world.

      I’m not thinking about the ultra-educated cosmopolitan people here, though. When I talk about immigration, I always first and foremost talk about the group which interests me most (and is, incidentally, the largest immigrant group currently), which is Hispanics. The current “anti-racist” struggles are intolerable and repellent to the vast majority of the Hispanic people (aside from the educated, cosmopolitan immigrant elite, of course). This is a culture that historically and consistently has a different relationship with language, a very playful, ironic relationship. Even if you look at scholarship published here and in the Hispanic world, it’s a different planet. People are a lot freer, a lot less eager to put themselves in a prison of “correct” mentality and speaking. Also, Hispanic people respond extremely well to the “yes, we can” narrative and very poorly to “i’m such a victim” narrative. Hispanic people are like us in that it’s almost physiologically impossible for them to take the “let’s cancel a pancake mix for being racist” seriously. Anglos can take it very in earnest but Hispanics simply can’t. Of course, there’s enormous variety among Hispanic people. But Mexicans, in particular, are all about extreme complexity. This dead-earnest stuff about structural racism and whatnot is not going to fly with them. This is a yes-but-and-on-the-other-hand-but-also culture.

      Coupled with a very real belief in the diversity circles that Hispanics (of any race) are not a racial minority worthy of interest, this creates a very tense, unpleasant situation.

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    2. “until relatively recently assimilation was promoted not just with carrots…. but with a lot of sticks”

      Of course, the idea of assimilation is extremely traumatic – if the sticks weren’t there most people would give up pretty early on… Still, what I always say is that it was never the adults who immigrate somewhere who’ve assimilated – it was their kids who were born in the new country (and even more the generation after that).

      That’s one of the minor narratives of the Sopranos – each generation has less of a connection to anything specifically Italian (and the Italian American mobsters feeling awkward and out of place when they actually visit Italy).

      Also in the past distance was an aid to assimilation – newspapers would be days behind the news and other media were even more limited. But with the internet and satellite tv migrants can keep up with the old country far more closely than they could before.

      And misguided ideas of multiculturalism inhibit the assimilation of children. This is huge problem in Europe where a combination of cultural ghettos and multiculturalism practically mean that parents pass their culture shock trauma onto their children who then don’t assimilate very well (and get stuck on intergenerational welfare).

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