Weekend Reading: Ada Palmer (2012): Machiavelli I

Comment of the Day: Altoid: Immigration:

What this admittedly economic-effects-centered argument passes over is the experience of people now in about their mid-50s and older...

From 1924 until, effectively, the late 60s or early 70s or even later, we really didn't have much immigration. Setting aside very small-scale and local things like Cuban refugees in south FL, Croations in Cleveland, refugees from Hungary 1956 and so on, this pattern meant for Americans growing up before maybe the mid-70s that only old people had accents. (Buddy Hackett has a hilarious riff on this at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKiSA_FvZrY.)

Not only that, it meant that when these people were growing up, immigrant neighborhoods where signs weren't in English and where people dressed differently were full of old people and were fading away or just resolving into one ethnic coloration or another ("Little Italy," etc). Parts of southern CA and border TX might be the major exceptions here. At one time there used to be hundreds, even thousands, of non-English newspapers. They mostly dried up around 1970 or before.

So for Anglo-identifying Americans in their 50s and older, "normal" was that they wouldn't run into young immigrants or see large groups of young non-English-speakers in identifiable and non-Anglo-referent neighborhoods. The shock is deep to see these non-Anglo neighborhoods ongoing and obviously able to remain viable in that character.

Now it happens that in actuality these immigrants are following the same pattern that previous ones did--the second generation is either bilingual or primarily Anglophone and moves away from the immigrant neighborhood as adults, and the third generation might know a phrase or two of the heritage language but is otherwise what we used to call "assimilated" or "Americanized."

What spooks so many of our 50ish folks is that the ethnic neighborhoods survive. They survive because immigration laws changed and there's a flow of new people who move into them and keep their non-Anglophone character alive. This fact makes a lot of the 50ish outsiders think there are generations of people who refuse to assimilate.

It also happens that a lot of these 50ish folks are themselves the children or grandchildren of non-Anglo immigrants, and they remember their families bending every fiber of their being to speaking English and assimilating and being good Americans. Many remember being forced to do that, or they remember stories of their parents or grandparents being forced to do that. And now nobody they know speaks German, or Polish, or Italian, or Yiddish, or whatever.

So they resent the hell out of what they imagine are the generations of people who refuse to assimilate.

But there aren't generations of people who refuse to assimilate, not among the current immigrants. Spanish-language signs and other-language tax forms are for immigrant non-Anglophones, not for their children or grandchildren.

At base, then, I think what's happening is that a certain generation of Anglophone Americans is misinterpreting what immigrants do, based on their own experience during a really anomalous period in our immigration history. The economic complaints, at least up here in the northeast, are grafted onto that very fundamental misunderstanding, compounded by the export and disappearance of the kinds of jobs and careers they grew up expecting and knowing.

Job-pattern changes have been producing angst for a long time--remember Springsteen's My Hometown? No immigrant-bashing in that song that I can remember, but then 30 years ago this pattern of immigrant behavior hadn't really become established enough to bother Anglophones on a big scale.

Ironically enough, if you're looking for generations of people who refuse to assimilate, you'll find them most predominantly among the Amish and some other sectarians. Ironic because most of the the 50ish immigrant-haters don't have a problem with the Amish, even though Old Order still speak PA Dutch among themselves and refer to everybody who isn't Amish as "English."