At least twice, email found my mailbox, purportedly as an example of reader angst at lax immigration policy advocated by “liberal media”. First, that this “letter to the editor” is making the rounds by email, suggests a certain fabrication and an alternative means of dissemination and persuasion. Still, this does not change the message. It only removes the folksy veneer of casualness, in the writers attempt to paint current US immigrants as different in purpose and loyalty. Let’s examine this notion.

Non-English immigration is much the same today as it was 100-130 years ago. Anyone who does genealogical study will confirm this.

Yesterday’s immigrant spoke his own language at home, cooked her own foods, if possible, and lived in an ethnic community by choice. Some of these ethnic neighborhoods still exist today. The immigrant of 1880-1920 arrived thankful, but mindful that should conditions change back “home”, there would be no regrets moving back — somewhat richer, for all the hard work and frugal living.

My own great grandfather did just this. After working ten years in America, he returned to the family farm of many generations to have his son born at home. Five years later, with conditions just as bad for poor folk under Hungarian rule, his family of three returned to the US, never to travel to the land of his fathers again. While he did not became a citizen, he worked to own a home and a bit of farm land, through his efforts and savings.

Times were hard, great granddad worked as a laborer until the time of his death. Through the Great depression, his family and either his son’s family or his first daughter’s family lived in the same two-story duplex. There was no entitlement or social security beyond that provided by the labor union or the Catholic Church. Yes, his son and daughters chose to assimilate into the US culture, throwing off foreign language and custom, though neighborhood and taste in food changed slowly. They held no allegiance to a land they never knew and became US citizens.

Today, the US is wealthier than it was two or three generations ago. Living standards have improved. People, their hopes and aspirations have not changed. Unions have lost membership. Church attendance has declined and holds less influence on the welfare of the community. Government provides most of the social welfare for those living within its borders. These are real societal changes from times prior to the First World War.

Immigrants have not changed. They still work hard for the sakes of their families. They still miss family from the country of their birth. They still get treated as lower class because of their lack of language and citizenship. None of this has changed. The melting pot analogy works but slowly. And like before, the “ingredients” in the pot, changes the cultural stew. We become exposed to foreign cuisine, and language. Three generations ago, church services were held in the dominant language of the parish — not always English. Union ballots were written in the language of their members. Strong workers and happy parishes were the goal. Assimilation happened on its own, not by legislation.

Before the First World War, established Americans had mistrust and fear for the new arrivals. They dressed funny, spoke funny, ate strange foods, and lived much closer together in poorer communities — much like the immigrant today. Still, the country survived and prospered. As a nation, we should be less concerned with “assimilation into the Borg”, and more in tuned with the roots of our forefathers. Knowledge of the diverse cultural history of today’s US citizen may encourage tolerance of other countries and cultures, instead of building disingenuous opinion, leading to fearful responses toward what we do not understand.

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