WASHINGTON, May 3, 2014 — American society is undergoing dramatic demographic change; immigration, both legal and illegal, has grown while the domestic birth rate declines. By the year 2050, it is predicted, the non-Hispanic white population will be a minority at 47 percent.
It is possible, of course, that concerns about the future American population are overblown. At the beginning of the 20th century, many native-born Americans worried about the consequences of their own declining fertility compared with that of the European immigrants then entering the country. Lothrop Stoddard, a leader of the Immigration Restriction League, warned that Anglo-Saxons were committing “race suicide.” According to his calculations, after 200 years, 1,000 Harvard men would have left only 50 descendants, while 1,000 Romanian immigrants would have produced 100,000.
Stephen Thernstrom, Winthrop Professor of History at Harvard notes that, “There was nothing wrong with Stoddard’s math. The problem lay with his straight-line projection of the fertility differentials of his day two hundred years into the future. He failed to comprehend that in the second and third generations Romanian Americans would adjust their fertility patterns to the American norm and would produce many fewer children than did the immigrant generation. The process of assimilation to the prevailing national fertility norm continues to operate today.”
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Beyond this, Thernstrom points out, “Stoddard also erred in his implicit assumption that Romanian immigrants and their children would keep marrying within the group, perpetuating the cultural patterns of their country of origin. Quite the opposite happened.
Romanians, like most other immigrants, often married non-Romanians, with the probability rising the longer they lived in the United States. Ethnic intermarriage complicates ethnic identification. Are you still a Romanian American if just one of your four grandparents was Romanian? What if two of the four were?
The immigrants of the early twentieth century, like their nineteenth century predecessors, usually chose mates of the same ethnic background, but many of their children and a great many of their grandchildren did not. The population derived from the great waves of European immigration is by now so thoroughly interbred that its ethnic origins are difficult to disentangle and of little consequence.
Assimilation via the ‘marital melting pot’ has also occurred at a rapid pace among the immigrants of the post-World War II era. If intermarriage continues at such high levels, a very large proportion of all Americans in 2050 and even sooner will have some Hispanic, Asian or African “blood.” But it does not follow that all or even most of these individuals will identify more with their own Hispanic, Asian or African-American ancestors than with those who were non-Hispanic whites.”
Whatever demographic changes occur in the future, assimilation can hardly be taken for granted. The melting-pot ideal of the past has been largely displaced by the idea of multiculturalism, which implies that racial and ethnic divisions should be permanent. By rejecting the idea that a common American culture binds us together, multiculturalism threatens to Balkanize our increasingly diverse society.
According to Census Bureau figures, there are approximately 255 million people in the U.S. over the age of five. Of these, about 44.9 million — 17.6 per cent — do not speak English at home.
Some American cities have seen an absolute decline in the use of English. Consider Jersey City. According to The Washington Post, “The Jersey Journal, the voice of plebeian Hudson County for well over a century, is dying because it’s written in English. The Journal’s publisher announced … that the paper, the sole surviving daily in the state’s most densely populated county, was on the critical list … Declining circulation is the symptom, but language is the newspaper’s problem. English holds no special sway in these immigrant working-class cities edging the Hudson River waterfront … Public school children speak fifty-two languages.”
How well is New Jersey doing in transmitting American history, culture and values? An indication of the enormity of the problem we face can be seen in the revised version of the New Jersey Department of Education’s history standards. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are not included, nor are the Pilgrims and the Mayflower. “This is what you call a historical irresponsibility,” said David Saxes, a Penn State University education professor who reviews state history standards nationwide for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington.
When the melting pot philosophy was alive, when we sought to make Americans of those who immigrated to the U.S., we succeeded dramatically. Those immigrants entered in an America that had self-confidence and believed in its own culture, history and values and was determined to transmit them to the newcomers. And the immigrants themselves wanted to become Americans. They did not claim the “right” to be taught in the public in Italian, Greek or Polish or Yiddish. They were determined to learn English. The belief in the melting pot was strong and widespread, and the melting pot worked.
Now, however, an immigration as massive as that of the nineteenth century is bringing to our shores an immigrant far different from those of the past, not only in race and ethnic background, but also in manner of relating to the American society. At the same time, American society no longer speaks of a “melting pot” but of a “mosaic” or “salad bowl,” in which differences will persist and be cultivated. If we follow such a course, we are setting the stage for the future Balkanization of our society. One need only look at the ethnic strife in other countries to see where such a philosophy can lead.
Discussing the current immigration to America, The Economist provided this assessment: “Some Americans are forsaking the familiar concept of the great American melting pot for a new one, the mosaic.
“They argue that Americans, especially new immigrants and blacks, are expected to conform too closely to a social model built by white Europeans. As America grows more diverse, they say, so it should learn to become a society that reflects cultures rather than absorbs them. Precisely the opposite lesson should be drawn.
“Growing diversity makes it all the more important that America should strive to mold one citizenry from many peoples. This molding, more than anything else, is what will allow the country to remain relatively open to outsiders. America’s diversity is indeed worth cherishing. But there is a difference between (a) celebrating variety and (b) deliberately promoting or entrenching divisions along ethnic lines.”
In The Economist’s view, “America’s traditional response to the problem of assimilation was to treat each immigrant as an individual … The essential American promise is that individuals will rise or fall on their own merits … Waving the banner of diversity, opponents of the melting pot are in danger of promoting ethnic divisions as a matter of public policy … The government should not only oppose legal distinctions between ethnic groups; it should also do more to build a common American culture through education.
“It is reasonable for blacks and Hispanics to want their children to be taught the history of their forefathers. But it is also essential that American schools go on providing children with a core of common knowledge about the nation they live in. If children are taught to see themselves as members of an ethnic group, rather than as Americans, the U.S. will rapidly become disunited.”
According the multiculturalist worldview, Linda Chavez points out that, “African-Americans, Puerto Ricans or Chinese-Americans living in New York City have more in common with persons of their ancestral group living in Lagos or San Juan or Hong Kong than they do with other New Yorkers who are white. Culture becomes a fixed entity transmitted, as it were, in the genes, rather than through experience.”
In the view of historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., “Multiculturalists would have our educational system reinforce, promote and perpetuate separate ethnic communities and do so at the expense of the idea of a common culture and a common national identity.”
By coming to the U.S., immigrants are voting with their feet for our system and our way of life. We should help them assimilate into our society, not to recreate here the very systems they have escaped at such high cost. If ever the melting pot philosophy was needed, it is at this time of dramatic demographic change.
If we do not learn the very real lessons of our own history, future generations will pay a high price for what appears to be our society’s rejection of the very things that drew immigrants to our shores.