Bard College professor and The American Interest editor and contributor Walter Russell Mead is fast becoming one of my favorite commentators. He has a lot of common sense, real world observations. One of his latest is on the subject of immigration. He writes: “No country on earth is in the same league as the US when it comes to the quantity of immigrants who have come here in the quality of their contributions. But lately, and are generally sour mood, Americans have been questioning the benefits of immigration. Many worry that today’s immigrants differ from those of the past: less ambitious, less skilled, less willing and able to assimilate.” Not to worry, at least for one group: those from South and East Asia. See America’s New Tiger Immigrants.
Immigration has been at the forefront of American concern for a long time. I mean a very long time. According to archaeologists 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-Colombian, 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 as it turned out – 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 dispersed 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 fool believed was appropriate for the Statue of Liberty. (See below) 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 were featured sometime back by an article in The Economist. 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, the Harvard political scientist, wrote two influential works before his death two years ago. 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-system. 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, not to mention the Germans in the mid-18th Century – by Benjamin Franklin, no less. (Many, possibly including Franklin, were highly offended that the Pennsylvania legislature required the draft of the proposed Constitution to be printed in German for publication. (But no one had to “press 2 for Deutsch” – they didn’t know what they were missing.) See also Peter Feinman’s “Who is an American?” in The American Interest.
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. I know of a number of self-employed entrepreneurs whose first language is Spanish, and their main problem, like many of their indigenous competitors, is collecting debts for goods and services provided.
I am not pessimistic about our current immigrants, whether from Asia, Africa, or our Western Hemisphere neighbors. 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, not the greedy, lazy, and scared people that historian Ian Morris opines direct societies. 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.
A while back, I thought I would try to improve on Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” verse on the Statue of Liberty, and invited my brother Steve to give it a shot. I invite others to do so.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “I welcome your stalwart, intrepid,
Tired of being poor and yearning to breathe free,
Scorned by kings for wanting more.
Send these, the ill-used and fed-up home to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Sentiment, the sweetly stuff of saps,
Requires that tears be shed for victim’d good
Yet nursing those whose souls have given up
Renders Liberty’s message misconstrued.
Charity is not the strength we claim in patrimony.
A torch, a book: no open purse.
Opportunity, no promise of success:
Give me your tired – who rested will bring forth
Energy to light my beacon torch.
Give me your poor – who they themselves will make
Rich through enterprise, recorded in my book
Agreed among us all to common good.
Ye huddling masses, give each other strength!
The air is fresh and clear: breathe it for yourself!
Wretched refuse? Prove you are not.
Homeless, build a home
Here, keep what is yours:
Nothing is Caesar’s, Nothing is God’s.
Helpless, stay away.