The ‘Melting Pot’: Some Lessons
June 1, 2016 2 Comments
First off, when Jess says she’s been doing some spring cleaning, believe her, she wields quite a broom! But let’s take what she said yesterday, and detail it out a bit.
My background is very similar to hers, except being in the US instead of the UK. But I’ve spent some time in cities, although not really living in any of them, as she is now. But when you study American history, well immigration and how we became Americans is a lot of the story.
She’s decidedly right, no matter how multi-cultural, and multi-racial a society is, most people like to live and work with people that are a good bit like themselves. That becomes somewhat less true as income and education levels increase, but it’s always true. The old WASP acronym NOKD (not our kind, dear) is more about human nature than it is specifically about what we used to call ‘Preppies’. That doesn’t preclude mixing things up, especially in pursuit of a higher goal. Theodore Roosevelt found that cowboys and Yalies got along pretty well, at least in Cuba in the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry (the Rough Riders). Another interesting thing about that unit was that the Lieutenant Colonel was a guy called John Pershing, his nickname was ‘Blackjack’ because he had commanded a troop of the 10th Cavalry, one of the black regiments, the Buffalo Soldiers.
In fact the American military has always had a lot to do, especially in wartime, with bringing our disparate groups together.
But those are exceptional. More common was the Irish migration in the 1840s and 50s. They knew all about discrimination, and that had much to do with why they stuck with their own people. They only began to be accepted during the civil war, and units such as the storied Irish Brigade, from New York, and the Confederate one, from Texas, had much to do with it. They were also overrepresented in the Army during the Indian Wars and provided the bulk of the labor force that built the western railroads.
And if I look back at my own family, they migrated from Norway in the 1880s and 90s, to entire communities of Norwegians, and continued to be Norwegian outposts in mostly Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, speaking Norwegian until the First World War. None of that implies that any of those settlers, Irish or Norwegian, or any other, had any real loyalty to anything but the United States, they all gave up almost everything they knew and loved, including most of their families, to come here, but it was hard.
That’s the thing, acculturation is hard, even if you’re fairly similar, like an Irishman in New York, where the laws are even fairly similar, and it simply takes a long time. Is America good at it? Yep, we are, but we’ve never made it easy on anybody, from John Winthrop on down. The melting post is a crockpot (slow cooker) essentially. But you know, Lutefisk is improved by Colman’s mustard and a taste of Jalapeno peppers. It takes generations to acculturate people, usually it starts with the children in school, and often churches have helped. We have found that being a bit hard is good, for instance, a common language is nearly essential, and a common dream is very useful. But expecting somebody to get off the boat and be a fully formed and functioning American (or Christian, for that matter) is quite simply a pipe dream.
We can help, probably more than we ever have, with English as a second language programs, citizenship programs and such. I imagine there are similar things in evangelization, they are a good idea, but we are not going to take a Mexican, or a Syrian, and make them into an instant American, or Scotsman. Can it be done? Not instantly. But, I’m not sure the UK doesn’t have some of those answers itself. It seems to me, as the Empire shrank, and the UK let so many former colonials in, they found that they had indeed, become pretty much Englishmen, even if they looked a good bit different. Like our immigrants, they became what they wanted to be, and they were prepared to do the work necessary to make it so.
And that may be the main lesson: If the immigrants don’t want to acculturate, they won’t, and if they don’t, they weaken the society, not strengthen it. Vetting is essential, especially for permanent residents.