Thursday, February 05, 2004
I'm sitting here in my wife's school, waiting for her school program to start.
Amy teaches second grade at a small school in suburban Texas. She loves her job, and tries to teach kids values and ideas that were important when she and I were that age.
In other words, she rejects a lot of the liberal claptrap about feeling good as opposed to learning.
But that's not what I am writing about this morning.
As I sit here in the cafeteria waiting for the program to start, I look down the row of tables at the ESL (English as a second language class). The teacher is addressing them all in Spanish, which is not surprising since all but two are Mexican immigrants.
It is bothersome. ON the one hand, I see a group of first, second and third graders eating breakfast at 8:10 (nearly half-an-hour after school started -- my guess is that it is part of the federal program providing meals to children from poor families), and they are doing all of their interactions in Spanish.
At home, Spanish is probably the only language used.
Here in the Dallas area, there are Spanish language television stations, Spanish language radio stations, Spanish newspapers, Spanish churches -- you get the drift. Voter cards are even in Spanish (as are all city regulations, utility statements, etc., etc.)
So, my real question is -- at what point are these kids going to be assimilated into the American culture? At what point will they learn the universal language of the United States (and indeed, many parts of the world) -- English?
When will we stop culturally and linguistically isolating these kids for the sake of "self-esteem" and "multiculturalism"?
When will we force their parents to contribute to and become part of this society, rather than just getting a job, taking the money, and remaining isolated?
I fear that we are losing this battle of the cultural war.
Wouldn't it be ironic if we were able to bring Western values to the Middle East and yet lose our identities at home?
Yes, I'm aware similar fears have been voiced in the past, most notably with the waves of Irish immigration and Italian immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
I also remember that Congress acted to curb the levels of immigration from those countries. I remember that even after immigration was dramatically lowered, both groups were culturally isolated for decades in the United States. I've seen the old signs -- "dogs and Irish not allowed".
It took nearly a century before these groups really assimilated and bought into the American dream.
The problem with today's level of immigration that makes it so different from previous waves is twofold. First, the Irish and Italians who immigrated came here in hopes of settling down permanently. They still viewed themselves as Irish or Italians, but they were not interested in trying to go back and forth between their old countries and the United States. They sometimes sent money back home, but this became increasingly rare.
Second, the Irish and Italians were forced to learn the language and customs of the United States, that is, the English language (yes, yes, I know the Irish spoke the English language, but in many cases their brogue was so thick they were not comprehensible to non-Irishmen) and Anglo/American government and societal mores. This was important because, while first generation immigrants might retain some affection for their homeland for their entire lives, their children were much more likely to think of themselves as "Americans" (and their grandchildren, even more so). This process of assimilation helped to preserve the central core of government, societal mores, values, and interaction that made America, well, "America".
Today's Mexican immigrants, however, do not seem as interested in this process. They are much more interested in simply gaining employment, and often travel back to Mexico when seasonal work is over. Much of the time, their children are so insulated from the Anglos that they adapt few of the positive aspects of Anglo culture.
And that is a shame because it robs America and the immigrants of the positive things each has to offer.