My best friend ever, Mr. Vogel, was an immigrant from Germany. He was born in 1900, and died in 1984. He survived military service on the infamous Western Front–then came to the United States, married an American woman, and worked as a cabinetmaker until his retirement. As you can probably imagine, Mr. Vogel had a lot of fascinating, personal stories to tell. He lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin before moving to the rural outskirts of Mobile, Alabama (that area now a part of the city).
Mr. Vogel once told me about how, when he lived in the German section of Milwaukee, the local newspaper was printed in German. But he wanted to read only the English-language newspaper. “Why?” other German immigrants asked him. “Because I want to learn English,” he replied. Mr. Vogel was an ideal immigrant–he insisted on learning the language of his new country, understanding the culture of his new country, and even taking an active part in the governmental process of his new country.
I was thinking of this story earlier–and I began to wonder: What about those other German immigrants who chose to read the German-language newspaper instead?
It is said that immigrants to the United States today are not like those of the past–that they are less inclined to learn English, to understand our culture, or to care at all about our governmental process. But are they? Are they really any different from most immigrants of the past?
Remember our European ancestors–immigrants to this land beginning over 500 years ago? Did they have any interest in learning the languages of the Native Americans? Did they make any attempt to understand the Native American cultures? Did they care at all about the Native American governmental processes? Of course not. Generally speaking, our European ancestors–immigrants to this land beginning over 500 years ago–had a shared superiority complex. And
they we still do.
But back to immigrants of today: How different are they, really? Are they really less inclined to assimilate into our culture–or do we just assume this, and treat them accordingly?
I remember the Mariel Boatlift of 1980. Thousands of Cubans, released by Castro, showed up on South Florida shores. Soon Spanish began to trump English in South Florida–and South Floridians blamed the Cuban refugees. But were they to blame–or was the State of Florida to blame?
And now Spanish is offered as an alternative language by just about every American corporation–and even by the U.S. Government. But again, are Spanish-speaking immigrants to blame–or are American corporations and the U.S. Government to blame?
Most recently, President Obama gave temporary citizenship to 5 million illegal immigrants from south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Not only was this act unfair to natural-born American citizens, but naturalized American citizens as well (immigrants who had taken the legal steps to become citizens of the United States).
Yet instead of taking action against President Obama for this blatant abuse of power (arguably an impeachable offense), a large number of U.S. politicians and their constituents is determined to simply deport these 5 million people. Why? Are they to blame for what the President of the United States has done? Wouldn’t it be much more “American” of us to guide these 5 million people through the legal naturalization process?
I’ve had very few negative experiences with immigrants–most of my negative experiences have been with natural-born American citizens whose families had been here for generations.
And I’m certainly no expert on immigration issues.
Yet I know this question is valid:
When our government–at the federal, state, and local levels–makes unwise concessions toward immigrants, legal or illegal, why should we hold the immigrants responsible?