I Want To Be Just Like You

Author: Gary Hart

The immigration “debate”, which routinely produces more heat than light, is contentious in part because it assumes foreign people entering the United States want to remain foreigners and not become Americans.  Most recently the British prime minister decried “multiculturalism” because it was producing more or less permanent ghettos in the U.K.  American critics of Mexican immigrants often reflect the same opinion.  And throughout our history as every wave of immigrants arrived here, there were always haters who sought to keep them in their place.

Experience, at least in the U.S., proves that immigrants don’t want to be separate and will find a way to break out of a majority-imposed ghetto.  Name a hyphenated-American group that has refused to integrate.  Of course, different cultures, like different religions, seek to retain their identity.  But it is a fundamental fact of human nature that young people want to fit in.  They want to dress like, eat like, date like, and mostly of all sound like American kids.  Even though none of us can change our skin color, it is amazing to look at and listen to kids of varying colors and nationalities who look like and sound like fifth generation American kids.  We didn’t become a melting pot by accident.

This powerful urge is called assimilation.  Anyone over 50 finds it difficult.  Everyone above the age of 5 finds it easy and important.  Assimilation is very near the heart of the genius of America.  People all over the world want to come here for a lot of reasons, most importantly economic opportunity.  But they–and most of all their children–want to become Americans in every sense of the word.  You don’t do that by insisting on speaking your original language or dressing in strange clothing.  Besides which, television and global marketing are making millions of people all over the world into something like Americans.  Osama bin Laden hates this.

Whatever else the immigration debate–one in a series of many throughout our history–is about, it should not be about assimilation.  Pick virtually any nationality group and bring them to the United States.  It is an absolute guarantee that their children will be every bit as American as yours and mine

11 Responses to “I Want To Be Just Like You”

  1. nothingpetty Says:

    One difficulty I see happening, today, is that certain groups want their religious law to trump the national and local laws. Because of this, I see a great need for education of the incoming.

  2. Debbie Lackowitz Says:

    Thoughtful post Gary. Yeah, over 50 we tend to get ‘set in our ways’. But I still find it amazing how this country of ours has assimilated so many who wanted to join us. Become American. My husband and I both are examples of children of immigrant families who ‘became American’. My grandparents, his grandparents were immigrants. But their children (our parents) started the path to being American. English was spoken, even though languages such as Italian and Polish and Lithuanian were spoken as well. WE spoke English. As children of the sixties, we also took on our American roots and sure enough became American. I love that idea. And it really bothers me that some want to repeal the Amendment that makes that possible! All because of their dislike of the current wave of Latinos. My opinion; that takes it way too far. It takes away the ideal of being American. AND the possibility of becoming one! Oh, and by the way, my best friend and her husband are immigrants. Who became American citizens. She’s from the Dominican Republic. He’s from Thailand. So, all of us were (and are) part of an immigration journey that made us into who we are today. That’s why immigration reform, real reform is SO important!

  3. Ken Dean Says:

    Many years ago on this date, Feb 14th,(in a previous wonderful Gary Hart endeavor) we use to gather friends and pals, to raise funds and inspiration to keep going, keep trying, seeking the breakthrough. Literally trying to take pieces of straw and turn them in to gold. With the help of many precious souls, your vision and goodness constant, a nice nugget of gold on Feb 28th emerged with sparkle. 27 years does go by, way too quickly.

    The sparkle and quiet inner light of your wisdom remains. Thank you for your frequent sharings. Wish you and Senator John Danforth could go on a national speaking tour together. Ideally covered by CSPAN. Joined from time to time by other former U S Senators. Remind America of a deeper politics, deeper values, deeper insights about the soul and purpose of the nation. The elder sages of the American political wisdom tradtion, have gems of gold in their hearts, that can help redeem the conscience of our people, and especially our leaders, to something higher. Maybe the Huffington Post could be the sponsor. Arianna are you there. All the Greek Socratic Saints & Sages will smile with beams of light upon such a tour and American discussion.

    Senator Hart, thank you again for another superb essay. Like all your stuff a lot. Right From The Start….as they say (:>))!!

  4. Americulchie Says:

    Mr. Hart
    Thank you for a most excellent commentary.It is really over time to take a real hard look at our Immigration policies.Like you I believe that immigration is a good thing,I grew up among immigrants from everywhere and I would say that I am a better more accepting person for it.It is true what you say that if you are raised in America;you become American as it should be.

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  6. Bill Dick Says:

    Thanks for the excellent article. As an expat who lives in Istanbul, Turkey is has become clear to me that Turkey is much more of a melting pot than the USA has ever been. The people of Turkey have been mixing for hundreds or thousands of years. (Turks, Italians, Jews, Armenians, Kurds, Greeks, Macedonians, Germans, Arabs, Persians, Russians etc etc etc) If one compares the USA from 1630 to 1850 one finds that Americans lived in small communities and rarely married outside of those boundaries. One part of my mother’s family lived in Newburyport, MA. Her ancestors in Newburyport married 1st cousins, double second cousins, etc etc etc. Everyone was related. In fact, we now know that some illnesses gained genetic strength because of this inbreeding. Another branch of the family, Scots, only married Scots from their community as they moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Iowa over a period of 160 years. While the USA is now a melting pot, it is a rather new phenomena and the mixing is nothing compared to Turkey over the centuries.

  7. Natalee Says:

    Yes, you’re right about that. Three instances brought this home to me. In the 1980s when all the Eastern European tennis players being interviewed after major tennis tournaments sounded American I was taken aback; then I learnt they had moved to Florida to train year round. The second instance was a friend’s experience on a flight from Miami to our Caribbean country in the mid 1990s. There was a team of swimmers on the flight all happily laughing and talking, with American accents. She didn’t think it was likely that a group of American swimmers would be travelling to the Caribbean swim meet to which, she realised, this group must be enroute. She asked them where they were from and they turned out they were from the Netherlands Antilles. She then asked them how come they all spoke English like natives…and sounded so American. You’re right again….American TV! The third and final instance is from the naughties. I was spelling a word once for my young nieces (I recall they were 5 and 6ish at the time) and called out the letter Zed. Their blank faces told me that I had lost them and I quickly spelt the word again calling out the letter Zee. “Oh,” one of them said, ” We were wondering what you were talking about.” The scary part about this for me is that the latter two examples are children who do not even live in your country!

  8. John Alcomb Says:

    You want a group that hasn’t assimilated? How about Somalis? Hmong? Many Muslim immigrants. I find this sort of sentimental meandering to be accurate as of about 1965…not so much today. We need a long immigration timeout to attempt to assimilate those who are already here before continuing to add a couple million a year. Of course multiculturalism has failed, and failed miserably, as has our suicidal immigration policy.

  9. Neal Taslitz, Esq. Says:

    The risks of immigrants, whether legal or illegal, is small compared to the risk of American corporations continuing to export jobs and factories to foreign countries, and turning the middle-class in America into the working poor.

    I suspect some immigrants may soon choose to go elsewhere if America continues to export jobs and factories.

  10. Prof. Richard J. Cadena Says:

    Thank you, Senator Hart:
    Assimilating and becoming American is very much a natural process. I am the proud grandson of 4 grandparents who immigrated to the US from Mexico. I grew up in the Anglo neighborhoods of Los Angeles where I was born and did not learn Spanish until my teens. I also spent a summer at age 15 in Mexico City and fell in love with Mexico. At age 23 1/2, I piled all of my belongings into my VW and set out for Mexico City or bust. That was February 1966. The last 45 years have been the most incredible experience of discovering and defining the apple pie All-American I have always been and will always be.

    During these 45 years in Mexico City, I have had to learn how to become and live like a Mexican in their terms which has entailed discovering the values of my origin and incorporating many of them into my person as a fundamental part of me, without relinquishing or foresaking the original “me” from Los Angeles. It has been quite a challenge, to say the least.

    Though more complex to achieve in view of the high mobility of American society, one should take pride in the city or town where one is born. The phrase “land of my birth” does not have the semantic meaning of pinpointing a specific geographic location. Instead, I get the impression that “land of my birth” has people contemplating all 50 states, taken as a whole.

    As a former ESL teacher and now free-lance Spanish to English translator of financial documents, I find a completely different semantic meaning in the translation into Spanish of “land of my birth”. Yes, one can say “tierra de mi nacimiento”, but that is a literal translation. What people say in Spanish-speaking countries is “Tierra que me vio nacer”. Literally, that means “Land that watched me be born”. It is as if to say “Land that was on duty watching over things when I was born”. It also has a certain underlying sense of being the land that is not only on duty when one is born, but also watches you while you grow up. It is the land that also molds, shapes, and sculps you into who you are.

    In becoming familiar with and absorbing this value in Mexico, I learned how to love my Los Angeles in a way that would never have happened had I remained in the US. Here in Mexico City, when asked where I am from, it is with undescribable pride that I say “Soy de Los Angeles, California (Soy de – I am from).

    Yes, the United States is my country, but Los Angeles, California is that one specific geographic area that me under its wing and shaped and molded me. Los Angeles: the freeway, the beach, the Lakers, the Dodgers (the Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars before the Dodgers arrived), the former Los Angeles Rams (until they left town), my grandmother’s house on Saturn St. in Mid-City LA, latin night at the Hollywood Palladium, Saturday morning pick-up basketball at Fullerton High or LA Valley College.

    This is why I so highly recommend and stress developing that special love for that special place, whether a large city or a small town, where one was born and grew up. I would imagine that for someone who grew up in different cities or even states, you would have to take something from each one of this places, make a special place in your heart for them, and try to balance them.

    In conclusion, having become 100% bilingual and bicultural has not changed the basic person who I have always been and will always be. Not even one iota. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife, Graciela, Mexico City’s most darling native daughter. She will tell you that I am a “gringo”.

  11. MinerSam Says:

    The primary problem is the daily brainwashing over the 90% Republican (Gas&Oil Party) control of US Drive time where Americans busy with their lives and not psychic are having their brains washed by, among other things, such Bold faced lies as that the Democrats want to give their jobs to illegal aliens. With the latest being the lie that 300,000 pregnant Mexican women a year come and “drop” their babies in the US.

    This despite the fact that much smaller numbers of illegal aliens have been entering the US, many decades, since the Republicans sucked our country dry and pushed it off the cliff. And that under Obama the southern border has never been so protected, in our history, as it is now.

    One is reminded of the time that Reagan told working class men that their economic woes are caused by welfare mothers. He then eliminated the the training program that was putting tens of thousands of welfare mothers into hi-tech jobs.

    20 million people listen to Mr. linbaughs alone every day, then come home to beck and then read newsmax believing where they hear the same lies while believing they are getting a cross section of opinion.

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