In the past week, the discussion of the immigration reform bill has been colored by the bombing in Boston allegedly perpetrated by two immigrants to the United States. The horror and confusion surrounding that act has fed opponents of immigration reform to feel even more justified in their resistance. Of particular interest, from a rhetorical perspective, is the discussion of a supposed lack of assimilation among recent immigrant groups and a call by conservative commentators for “patriotic assimilation.”
Last Friday, on her talk show, conservative commentator Laura Ingraham lamented the fact that we cannot evaluate immigrants on their level of assimilation because it is politically incorrect: “So we can say someone is potentially unstable who’s an American citizen, but if someone is potentially not assimilating as a foreigner then we can’t raise any issues about that.”
John O’Sullivan, of the National Review Online, also worried about assimilation – specifically “patriotic assimilation,” a term coined by John Fonte of the Hudson institute. Fonte provides this definition of “patriotic assimilation.” “By patriotic assimilation I mean that immigrants essentially adopt American civic values and the American heritage as their own. “
Sociologists Richard Alba and Victor Nee reject a more dated definition of assimilation, implied in Fonte’s work. That definition, by Milton Gordon, found “middle-class cultural patterns of, largely, white Protestant, and Anglo-Saxon origins” as the marker of “over-all American culture.”
Alba and Nee argue for a new definition of assimilation that recognizes a reciprocal nature to the process. They assert:
Assimilation, as a form of ethnic change, may occur through changes taking place in groups on both sides of the boundary. . . We define assimilation as the decline of an ethnic distinction and its corollary cultural and social differences. . . Individuals’ ethnic origins become less and less relevant in relation to the members of another ethnic group. . . and individuals on both sides of the boundary see themselves more and more as alike. . .
How do you define assimilation?
Is it a reciprocal or unidirectional experience?
Should it be included in any discussion of immigration reform?
What does “patriotic assimilation” mean to you?
What does it mean to be American?
What are “American civic values” ?
What is “American heritage”?
How might an immigrant demonstrate an acceptance of those concepts?