“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all… The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities… There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.“
President Roosevelt spoke the above words before the Knights of Columbus in 1905. The audience was comprised primarily of Irish Catholics immigrants and their recent descendants. While welcoming the legal immigrants, Roosevelt sternly demanded they must shed their old identities. Though Americans fiercely debated whether or not we should limit immigration in the early part of the 20th Century, they were united behind the belief that all immigrants should be thoroughly Americanized.
Immigration was reduced in 1924 and the process of assimilation worked. Americanization came to be tested during World War II, when Americans of German and Italian descent fought proudly for America against their native lands.
To say the least, times have changed. A century later, both Democratic and Republican Presidents will speak before minority ethnic interest groups like National Council of La Raza (The Race) where they encourage them to promote their hyphenated identities such as Hispanic- Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and Arab-Americans. In part due to changes in society, such as the Internet, cheap phone cards, and air-transportation that make it easy for immigrants to maintain ties with their home countries; and in part due to this shifting attitude amongst Americans, assimilation has stalled.
For immigrants to assimilate, they must adopt American culture, history, and customs. The late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington defined the basic elements of America’s creed to include: “the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, including the responsibility of rulers and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, a ‘city on a hill’.” While Huntington viewed these values as a product of our Anglo-Protestant founding, he emphasized that millions of immigrants from different ethnicities and religions have been attracted to America for these very reasons.
In adopting these values, immigrants must shed much of their old identities. In Israel Zangwill’s famous play of 1908, The Melting Pot, the protagonist famously analogizes the process of assimilation,
“America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! …I see them at Ellis Island… in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to-these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians-into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.”
While Zangwill was considered a liberal in his day, the melting pot view of cultural assimilation is now seen as politically incorrect. The sociologist Joel Spring referred to the assimilation as “cultural genocide.” Our cultural elites now promote “cultural pluralism” and have replaced the melting pot with the “salad bowl.” The multiculturalists believe that having diverse and even conflicting cultures within one society is an asset, while parroting slogans like “diversity is strength.”
Our policy of multiculturalism has resulted in a country where many of its inhabitants do not identify with national values. According to a 2009 poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, only 21% of American-Hispanics view themselves as Americans first, with the rest either identifying with their nation of origin or generically as Latinos; 39% do not even identify themselves as Americans at all.
The most bare bones measure of assimilation is learning English. Teddy Roosevelt said, “We have but one flag. We must also have but one language.” A century later Barack Obama dismissed concerns about immigrants learning English, noting: “Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English – they’ll learn English – you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.”
Obama was wrong about immigrants learning English. According to another poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, 71% of Mexican immigrants speak little or no English, and only 16% consider themselves fluent. Only a quarter of Hispanic immigrants, who have resided in America for over a decade, are fluent in English. While these numbers improve in the second and third generation, the majority of second generation immigrants still speak Spanish at home. In many major markets such as Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, the Spanish language television network Univision is as, or sometimes more, popular than the major English language TV networks.
America must return to the concept of the melting pot and work to assimilate the immigrants living in this country. If we continue our policies of mass immigration and multiculturalism, we are doomed to become what Roosevelt called nothing more than a “polyglot boarding house.”
Official English: One only needs to look at the French-speaking province of Quebec in English-speaking Canada or the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in Belgium compared to the French-speaking region of the country to see examples of industrialized nations being torn apart on the basis of language. In America, past immigrants were immersed in the English language; while today, bilingualism is promoted in schools and the government conducts much of its business on a multicultural basis in Spanish and other languages. English should become the official language of the United States, specifically meaning that the government conducts all its official government business in one single language, English, and no one can sue to make services available in a foreign language. This does not mean, however, that other languages will be banned from government use when useful, such as promoting tourism or public health. There are some government documents that should only be in English, such as election ballots. English is a requirement to become a naturalized citizen. However, the tests are so easy that only 52% of naturalized Hispanic citizens say they speak English very well or pretty well. These tests need to be improved, and bilingual election ballots should be abolished. Finally, bilingual education should be replaced with English immersion programs.
End Multiculturalism and Promote American Values: It is impossible for immigrants to assimilate into American culture, if Americans do not understand and celebrate their own culture and history. When Americans are taught that our Founders were genocidal, racist, sexist, slave owners, why should they expect immigrants to embrace this culture? This practice of denigrating the “dead white males” combined with affirmative action and racial preferences to non-whites, gives non-white immigrants incentives to focus on their ethnic, rather than American identity. Fixing this problem is not simple. On a policy side, steps such as abolishing race based congressional caucuses, ending government funding of race-based groups such as the National Council for La Raza, and ending racial preferences would be a solid first step to encourage newcomers to see themselves as Americans first. Ultimately, it will take a much more profound change in attitudes on the part of our educational and cultural establishment.
Reduce Overall Immigration: When immigrants from a certain country come in small numbers, they are forced to assimilate. Low numbers prevent the creation of ethnic enclaves, powerful political pressure groups, and immigrant focused media that can discourage and ultimately prevent assimilation. Our 45 year policy of high immigration intake has already unleashed these aforementioned forces. When a melting pot is boiling over, it is not wise to keep pouring in more ingredients until the temperature goes down, at least to a simmer. While much is made about the successful integration of the German, Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants, it is often forgotten that each wave of these immigrant groups was followed by periods of low immigration, which is when most of the assimilation occurred. America needs to return to lower immigration levels so we can help focus on helping the immigrants already here to integrate into our society.