The End of Embracing America?

No immigrant who has come to America has had an easy beginning.  The difficulties are reflected in learning a different language with its mind-boggling idioms, understanding a new culture, and ultimately needing to be self-sufficient.  Often education in the immigrant's country is insufficient or completely lacking.  Even those who are well educated in their birth country need to return to school to become properly licensed according to American standards.   

Yet "[b]etween 1850 and 1930, about one million Asians from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and India came to the United States. But by the second half of the 19th century a backlash had developed [.]"  The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act created increasingly restrictive laws against Asians.  At one point, a law passed by the California State Legislature and signed by the governor created a $50 tax per head for Chinese entering Californian ports that was to be paid within three days.  The California Supreme Court later ruled the law unconstitutional.

This discrimination was not limited to the Chinese.  In the early 20th century, "[h]otels and clubs refused Jews admittance, and universities established Jewish enrollment quotas. Industrialist Henry Ford, a popular public figure, openly expressed anti-Semitic sentiments."  A notorious incident of anti-Semitism took place in Georgia in 1913, when Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent, was convicted, on circumstantial evidence,  of murdering a young girl and was lynched.

Then there was the "[d]iscrimination against Roman Catholics in the U.S. [which] began in the Colonial era, when Catholics were few in number. However, in the 1840s, the Catholic population expanded significantly when thousands of Irish Catholics immigrated to the U.S. following Ireland's potato famine. In the late 1800s, a second flood of Catholic immigrants came from Eastern Europe and Italy. Protestants feared Catholics, coming from customs which included communal religious hierarchies, would not adapt to the individualism promoted by democracy."

Furthermore, "[a]mong the Italian immigrants arriving in the late 1900s were large numbers of young men from southern Italy who hoped to earn money for the impoverished families they left behind. Discrimination against southern Italians was rampant. Newspapers fostered theories that Sicilians and other southern Italians were intellectually inferior to northern Europeans."

So, sadly, discrimination has existed against many groups who eventually became Americans and shared in the American dream. 

There are never excuses for the irrationality of prejudice.  The latest shift in this country is where whites are now demonized in subtle and blatant ways just for being white.  It is an idea being fostered in the halls of higher learning.

In the Pacific Standard Magazine of March/April 2017, an essay titled "The Mexican American Dream" begins with the following: "Despite the rhetoric and hate crimes, Mexican immigrants are poised to reframe American culture, if white people would only let them."  Clearly a provocative opener, it sets the stage for the "us against them" mentality that seems to be propelling all conversations these days.  The narrative has become a brown-black vs. white storyline and has taken on a decidedly nasty racist overtone.

With this backdrop, the reader is supposed to feel an emotional angst for the protagonist of the article, named Vianney, who was born to "undocumented" parents.  Her father had a drinking problem, and there was domestic violence.  Despite drinking, taking drugs, and almost "flunking out of school," Vianney was propelled into the Music Academy at the Colburn School in L.A., where she excelled.   Noting the differences between the "world she had grown up and the [white] world of privilege, wealth, and status," at one point, she "really wanted to be white."  Eventually, she "stopped trying to make herself seem white and started to embrace her Latina heritage." 

The author, Sarah Menkedick, maintains that "[w]hat these young Latinos become will be determined not only by their own struggles and achievements, but also by the willingness of many Americans to rethink their fundamental conceptions of Americanness, to recognize the dangerous fiction of an essential, unchanging America defined solely by white culture."

What "dangerous fiction" is the author asserting?  America is great because it has welcomed people from all over the world and, accordingly, we enjoy the food, dance, music, art, and religious rituals of others. 

And, what is "white culture?"  Is it hillbilly culture, Southern culture, cowboy culture? 

Is this all-encompassing vague category an excuse to malign and divide America?  Or is it, as Carrington Tatum maintains, a culture "centered on individualism ... the basis of our values of freedom and justice[?] While it was constructed by white philosophers, the philosophy was reinforced, reworked and retained by a variety of minority cultures."

What all parties misunderstand is that it has nothing to do with race; it has to do with a belief system, or the foundational ideas that created America. 

According to Menkedick, one view of assimilation was when immigrants "would gradually be allowed into white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon, middle-class clubs and institutions, and would ultimately identify with and marry into the dominant group. In this theory there is no mutuality, no fusion. Assimilation is a one-way train to the cookie-cutter suburbs of Kansas, Applebee's, Kmart, and the NFL."  It is "progressive, complete, and irrevocable, a gradual, generational act of erasure."  Thus, "[t]o understand the challenges faced by second-generation Mexican Americans, it is necessary to understand the pervasiveness of this fiction of an essential national identity based on the norms of white privilege, and the prevalence of the fear of brownness and differentness [sic] that underlies it."

Consequently, instead of embracing the ideas, values, and ideals of America, apparently, "[a]ll of these factors render it ... extremely difficult and increasingly undesirable for second-generation Latinos to blend into a white cultural mainstream. The conflicted Americanness they carry with them – even when in Mexico – is not an Americanness those so accustomed to proclaiming the country's greatness would recognize or understand."

Menkedick asserts that "[it] is an Americanness based less on a mythical, traditional foundation than on constant re-invention, the twinning and fusing of seemingly opposed forces: resistance and celebration, hope and skepticism, inclusive patriotism and ethnic pride. It is an Americanness that, by valuing inquisitiveness and adaptability, has the potential to heal social rifts and transform the nation."

Nowhere does she write about truly identifying as an American.

In the Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2013, William J. Bennett writes that "[i]n particular, Latinos, by far the largest group of immigrants, do not seem eager to identify themselves as Americans."  In fact, "a 2011 Pew Research Center survey of Latinos showed just one in four (24 percent) think of themselves as Latinos while a majority (51 percent) prefer to identify themselves with the country of their origin. (One in five describe themselves as Americans.) Asked whether all Latinos living in America share a 'common culture', nearly seven in ten Hispanics said they did not."

In addition, "[r]eferencing a new paper ('America's Patriotic Assimilation System Is Broken') co-authored by John Fonte and Althea Nagai, National Review Online noted, 'By roughly 31 points (81.2% to 49.5%), the native-born are more likely than naturalized citizens to believe that 'our schools' should focus on the 'rights and responsibilities of citizenship and pride in being part of America' rather than on 'each student's ethnic identity' and their 'pride in their own heritage and ethnic group.'"  Bennet claims that "[t]he problem is clear: Immigrants aren't identifying as Americans in ways they used to. But, at the same time, America also isn't turning immigrants into Americans."

In the same Claremont issue, Angelo M. Codevilla writes that "Abraham Lincoln voiced the fundamental truth about immigration in America: 'perhaps half our people ... are not descendants at all of [our Founders]; they are men who have come from Europe – German, Irish, French and Scandinavian – men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things.'"  Codevilla asserts that what "bound them all was this 'moral principle.'"

Today, that has changed as the founding principles of this country are ignored or scorned and no longer taught with reverence and respect, if at all.

When "generation after generation of Americans tightened that very cord  [of moral principle] around each new wave of immigrants, this country made good Americans out of persons previously civilized as Chinese, Sicilians, Finns, Basques, etc."

So the Menkedick article merely reflects what has been happening far too often: "admitting people as members of sectors and as recipients of privileges, likelier to dissimilate into subjects than to assimilate into citizens." 

It is aided and abetted by a rampant historical illiteracy, left-wing propaganda and indoctrination, and screams of  "white privilege" with the end result that the rifts in this country will increase if we don't return to educating people about the exceptional nature of America.

Eileen can be reached at