Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Immigrants are America

The Economist is a British periodical that has been published each week since 1843. It styles itself as a "newspaper" but its format is what most of us would call a magazine. It also claims to be politically conservative, but that term probably has a somewhat different meaning in Britain that in the United States. Despite its foreign origin, The Economist devotes a good deal of its news and commentary to the rest of the world, especially the United States. I have subscribed to it off and one for parts of the last three decades. The "off" periods occurred when, because of inattention, I failed to renew, or the total amount of reading material I had coming regularly became too much to handle. For the latter reason, it was my intention to allow the current subscription to lapse. But then came this season’s "Special Holiday Double Issue" with the cover story "Progress and its Perils" emblazoned across an illustration of naked Adam and Eve (with fig leaves, of course) enthralled by an Apple I-Pod with my friend the Infernal Serpent lurking overhead. Clever as the cover is and as interesting the featured commentary was to read, what really enthralled me was the story inside entitled "A Ponzi Scheme that Works." This feature describes the multi-national, multi-continental origin of the American people. It presents the thesis that the greatest strength of America is that people want to live there, and presents considerable evidence that is quite true.

For those interested the story can be found at or in the print version at page 41.

Immigration has been at the forefront of American concern for a long time. I mean a very long time. According to archeologists and geneticists, as well those in other scientific disciplines, the first human being first emerged (you can believe that God created him/her directly, through the process of evolution, or it just happened; it matters not) in or near the Great Rift Valley in eastern Africa, and the species migrated to the rest of the globe from there. I suppose that makes all of us, including those whose biological ancestors were here pre-Columbian, African-Americans, even if in an extremely attenuated sense. Those who were native here before and during European colonization and settlement doubtless were anxious – with good reason it appears – about the arrival of the colonists, but most of the anxiety about immigration in the now United States occurred after independence from Britain.

Immigration populated the United States and the other American countries. The Western Hemisphere was sparsely populated before the arrival of Christopher Columbus and those who followed him. The microbes that the Europeans unsuspectingly brought with them wiped out most of the then indigenous population, and those remaining were subjugated (in Latin America), or disbursed and marginalized (in North America).

The main characteristics of immigrants – whether from Europe or the other eastern hemisphere continents – was, and is, their boldness, courage, and adventurousness. They were not "huddled masses" described in that obnoxious poem that some idiot believed was appropriate for the Statue of Liberty. Many have suggested that immigrants who left their homeland migrated because they were not doing well where they were. That is probably true in most cases, but the tone of that suggestion often is that they are and were what some might call "ne’er-do-wells." That notion is misplaced. The ne’er-do-wells usually stay put and eke out enough to get by, and no more. Those who have gumption and vision, but are repressed by a hidebound society and culture, or a pathological political system, are the people who emigrate. Two such new Americans are featured by The Economist article. One is the perhaps rather well known Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who suffered persecution in her native Somalia, and later in the Netherlands where the pusillanimous Dutch failed to protect her from the barbaric Muslims they have allowed to run amok in their country. The other is the more or less (until now) obscure Joshua Lee, born in Korea, but who prefers the more relaxed social atmosphere in America and did not come here to escape violent persecution. Like these examples, most immigrants to America have done pretty well, and their descendants have done better. I here include the current Mexican and other Latin American immigrants, legal and illegal. They come here to work, not to collect welfare. And they work hard. As The Economist article points out, it is difficult for an able bodied male to do anything but barely subsist on welfare in America, as they can in Europe. To the extent that illegal immigrants are able to sponge off the taxpayers for medical care and other services, that is the fault of our government at all levels. Not being stupid, the immigrants accept the largesse offered to them.

The late Samuel Huntington, a Harvard political scientist, wrote two influential works before his death last year. The Clash of Civilizations theorized that world conflicts are the result of civilizations of disparate values coming into contact and competing to establish their hegemony and value systems. The most widely disparate are the Western and the Islamic civilizations, and that violence between the two is inevitable. Writing in 1994, he sure got that right. It is almost if he had a crystal ball. In a later work, Who Are We?, alluded to in The Economist article, Huntington questions whether the numerous Latin American immigrants will change the United States into "two peoples, two cultures, and two languages" and eschew "the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream." It is probably too early to tell if Huntington’s fears have merit – similar fears were expressed about Italian, Polish, and other immigrants 100 years ago. In his Clash of Civilizations, he observed that the two aspects of culture that kept people cohesive were religion and language. I have not studied the extent to which it is happening, but have noticed that there are quite a few Protestant churches catering to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in my city and its environs, and I hardly ever have any contact with anyone who cannot speak English. As a lawyer, I have a number of clients whose first language is Spanish. They are self-employed entrepreneurs, and their main problem, like many of their indigenous competitors, is collecting debts for goods and services provided. Like the article’s author, I am not real pessimistic about our current immigrants. What really worries me is the sixth plus generation descendants of Mayflower immigrants who are guilt ridden about their inherited means and believe that everyone’s wealth is unearned like theirs. Those are the leftists, the real racists who believe that today’s immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America are incapable of fending for themselves as individuals and must be coddled by a nanny state.

I have heard some radio and television polemicists complain that during the last Presidential campaign, the present First Lady opined that America is a downright mean country. I have never heard or read a direct quote to that effect by Mrs. Obama, but if she so opined, she is correct in many respects. Americans are generous to a fault, and our government has spent much of the blood and treasure of its people trying in vain to export our Republican Democracy. Nevertheless, America does not welcome and cannot use ne’er-do-wells or huddled masses. Not to worry, because, as related earlier, most of those stay put. America needs and welcomes individuals with vision, gumption, and fortitude. The sports adage displayed in numerous locker rooms that when the going gets tough the tough get going is never truer than in this country. The United States won World War II with the help of immigrants, many of whom came, or whose ancestors came, from the enemy countries. The immigrants to this country have provided individuals like that; from John Smith to General John Shalikashvili; from Ann Hutchinson to Ayann Hirsi Ali, and countless others. There will doubtless be many more.

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