America Used To Know How To Assimilate Immigrants

America Used To Know How To Assimilate Immigrants

Why did Mussolini’s siren song of fascism fall on deaf ears with Italian immigrants, while the sadistic song of terror today finds a receptive audience among Arabs with long ties here?
Mike Gonzalez
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Two refugees are now in federal custody, charged with terrorism-related activities. So much for all immigrants and their children being assimilated into Norman Rockwell’s America!

That level of assimilation is a tall order, you might say. Yes, but it’s a worthy goal. In fact, we had some success when we at least tried it. The best purveyor of that American archetype in Hollywood was a Sicilian-born immigrant known as Francesco Rosario Capra—whom you might know as Frank Capra.

Contrast Previous Immigrants with Today’s Immigrants

Benito Mussolini found out the hard way that assimilation worked for America. In 1929 he called on Italian-Americans to remain loyal to the motherland. They pretty much reacted by giving Il Duce the gesto dell’ombrello, which is not exactly a salute. Hundreds of thousands of them fought in World War II, many in Italy itself.

But things seem different today. On Thursday, federal authorities announced the arrest of two refugees on terrorism-related charges. One of the men allegedly had ties to terror groups even before entering the country three years ago. The other came to the United States in 2009 and apparently became radicalized here. He then tried to recruit people here to join terror groups overseas.

What’s going on? Italian-Americans spurned Mussolini when he said “my order is that an Italian citizen must remain an Italian citizen, no matter in what land he lives, even to the seventh generation.” Why did the siren song of fascism fall on deaf ears, while the sadistic song of terror today finds a receptive audience among people with long ties here?

Then, We Didn’t Apologize for Deliberate Assimilation

Obviously, there’s much at work, and it will require different disciplines to arrive at a holistic explanation and solution. But allow me to humbly take up one strand and suggest something that is never discussed, yet seems so self-evident.

They were actually taught to love their new country.

At the turn of the last century, when Italian-Americans poured in large number through Ellis Island, they encountered what was then called—quaintly, and without irony or angst—an Americanization program. They were actually taught to love their new country.

One driver behind the assimilationist push was the fear that the Italians and other immigrants such as Slavs and Jews would bring in—and cling to—socialist and anarchist ideas ascendant in their native lands. By mid-century, the only traitors helping the Soviet cause were people with long American pedigrees like Alger Hiss.

The immigrants who experienced the Americanization program went on to become full-fledged members of the Greatest Generation. They endured the Depression, defeated Nazism and fascism in World War II, then Communism in the Cold War. To say the least, they met the existential questions of the day. No fewer than 14 Italian-Americans received the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in WWII.

Now We Encourage Newcomers to Hate Us

Today, our elites are far too “sophisticated” to promote Americanization. As immigrants, refugees, assylees and others come and settle here, they are actually taught that this is a racist, Islamophobic country and that they are victims. In fact, much about how they live—from social standing to actual tangible benefits—will depend on their status as members of an aggrieved, protected group.

As immigrants settle here, they are actually taught that this is a racist, Islamophobic country and that they are victims.

Is it any wonder we have the current situation? It is an economic axiom that the more you tax or deter something, the less of it you get, while the more you subsidize another thing, the more of it there will be. American elites’ decision to turn away from patriotic assimilation and pursue a multicultural model that perpetuates group differences—in effect, culturally and functionally segregating them—has created societal problems we will be dealing with for years.

Discussion of this issue has nearly become taboo, because the Left pounces on anyone who will take it up. One can surmise, of course, that the Left pounces as hard as it does because it realizes that an internally riven society is an essential ingredient of regime change—or “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” as some call it.

The Time to Debate This Was Yesterday

Monday, The Heritage Foundation published my special report detailing how we used to assimilate immigrants, then how and why we stopped. The word “assimilation” itself was used by President Washington and embraced by all the Founders on down to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Ronald Reagan. Most importantly, the report calls for presidential candidates of both parties to debate this existential matter.

This is a debate we haven’t really had. Elites in the academy and the arts, the bureaucracy and politics, decided on their own to stop assimilating newcomers and move to the multi-group model.

Undoing the damage of multiculturalism, affirmative action, and the entire culture of victimhood won’t be easy, and working only toward cultural and economic integration will not be enough. After all, 2013 Boston bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev and last year’s San Bernardino’s Syed Farook were “culturally integrated.” Patriotic assimilation is key. But first, we need to be able to talk about it—without being shouted down.

Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, spent close to 20 years as a journalist, 15 of them reporting from Europe, Asia, and Latin America. He is the author of the new book, “A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans.”
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