You Won't Get Far with that Attitude

Friday, July 08, 2005

You Won't Get Far with that Attitude

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) is currently testing the waters in New Hampshire and Iowa for a possible 2008 presidential run. Known for his anti-immigrant, pro-assimilationist politics, at least he scores a few bonus points for brutal honesty.
"A lot of people think my politics are crazy, but I'm not delusional...I don't think I'm going to be president of the United States."
But then he immediately loses those points with things like this:
At a reception, Tancredo stood in front of about 50 Christian Coalition guests and spoke about illegal immigration challenging what it means to be an American. He said that's because, unlike past immigrants like his Italian-born grandfather, many illegal immigrants do not sever political and spiritual ties to their home countries and strive to become Americans.

"It is the issue of trying to determine who we are," Tancredo said. "Knowing who we are as Americans is becoming harder and harder."
I know people like Tancredo like to believe that there used to be "one America" and that all immigrants used to assimilate completely, but it's an absurdly obvious myth. It's just like Republican nostalgia for the dreamy 1950s, things were like that for some people, but certainly not everyone. Tancredo talks about this myth often and holds modern ideas about multiculturalism responsible.
I have stated on many occasions that we have something called a cult of multiculturalism that pervades our society, that encourages separation of groups in the country, again, the victimized classes. It encourages people to keep separate their language, keep separate their culture, even their political allegiances. It encourages them to keep citizenship of a country from which they came.
If everyone used to assimilate and check their cultural identity at the border, then where did historic places like Little Italy come from? or Chinatown? Greektown? Spanish Harlem? or neighborhoods with names like Polish Hill? or Germantown? Why are chunks of the Midwest dominated by so many white, blonde-haired Scandanavians? Why is it that at one time NYC had more Irish people than Dublin?

Go into any American city that had an influx of immigrants in the 1700s, 1800s or early 1900s and you'll find old ethnic neighborhoods that were largely homogenous. Many of us are surrounded by inescapable historical evidence of how immigrants didn't wholly assimilate, how they kept their language, traditions and culture alive after they moved here in close-knit communities. In my own family I had a great-grandfather who arrived in the US in his early 20s and even in his 80s he still spoke broken english through his thick Norweigan accent. I have relatives who still live in the same Irish neighborhood that my great-grandparents moved to when they first moved to the United States.

I find much of the pro-assimilation rhetoric to be steeped in serious ignorance about actual immigration history. This suggesting that the "immigration problem" that people like Tancredo are often kvetching about has more to do with the origins of today's modern immigrants-- Mexico and Latin America-- than it has to do with their lack of assimilation. Tancredo and his ilk want to be able to narrowly define and control what it means to be American. But the "cult of multiculturalism" is hardly something new, it accurately defines the history of America as a nation of immigrants.

However, what is truly changing is whose culture dominates the mainstream, what is held up as the standard that everyone is supposed to aspire to-- by the mid-2000s it surely won't be WASPs anymore. Do you think that is what is bothering him?

Just a hunch.

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