Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sowell should know better

I usually agree with Thomas Sowell (roughly 98.79% rate of agreement), but find one part from his argument on immigration disagreeable.

He claims that immigration now is different from previous waves. Sowell is correct to assert that the world is smaller (immigrants can communicate with and travel to their home countries) but seems to insinuate that Hispanic immigrants have settled differently.

“People who crossed an ocean to get here, many generations ago, usually came here to become Americans. There were organized efforts within their communities, as well as in the larger society around them, to help them assimilate.”

Both of his statements are unsubstantiated and (in my opinion) incorrect. First, how does he know that people “usually” came here to be Americans? Although there are boat loads (no pun intended) of anecdotal stories of the downtrodden traveling to the city on the hill, there are also piles of stories of criminals and vagrants migrating for less than altruistic purposes. A cursory review of opinion in the early 20th century will show that they felt similar about the immigrants of their day. Imagine the consternation that sons of British immigrants (who came to America to become Americans!) had towards those Irish, Italians, and Eastern Europeans and who came to fill our cities with squalor, disease, and organized crime!

Secondly, I would like to know what communities did in the past to help assimilate their members. The major distinction here (missed by Sowell) is between assimilation and integration. Communities in the past would help their members integrate into society, but not assimilate. An integrated individual can function within the state with little or no language skills or cultural understanding. A short trip into any major city in this country will reveal a China town, Little Italy, etc. The inhabitants of these neighborhoods were assisted with integration but were not assimilated. In fact, these type of communities slow assimilation. They lessen the need for language skills, education, and cultural understanding through a lack of personal contact with assimilated Americans. Over time they too assimilate, but the process is retarded.

I felt compelled to write this because it exemplifies what I often see. People reminisce about a past they either do not know or have only a vague memory of, while also subtly implying that modern immigrants are inherently different. While I doubt this is Sowell’s purpose, it is still a problem.

1 comment:

BillT said...

Your rebuttal of Sowell's premise demonstrates a fundamental issue in America's view of immigration.

On the one hand, we like the romantic notion of taking in the huddled masses. On the other hand, we're politically isolationist at our core and foreigners upset the apple cart.

I'm not sure the issue can be boiled down one way or the other. Check out the San Antonio Express' articles about the border. We have real problems there. Tying immigrants to those problems only confuses the issues.

Thanks for the post.