Opinion: All immigrants must adopt an “America first” attitude, and we should be a real country, with protected borders and love for the country shared by all its citizens.
By Vinson X. Palathingal and Ashwin Johri
The population of the United States grew from about 5 million in 1800, to 76 million in 1900, to 290 million in 2000 and to 321 million in 2015. Immigration has played a major role in this growth. Until the mid-1900s, this immigration was mostly from European Christian nations. What followed have been waves of increased migration, particularly from South-East Asia, the Middle-East, and South America. These “new” immigrants brought in, not just totally different cultures, philosophies and life experiences, compared to the earlier immigrants, but completely diverse belief-systems and religions as well. The mandates and requirements to assimilate faster to the local American ways of life that existed during the former immigration-booms became less stringent with time.
Earlier, new Americans were prompted by authorities to change their names to more mainstream ones – something we cannot imagine happening in America today. With this change, the alternate philosophy of “multiculturalism,” wherein some of the new immigrants lived their lives pretty much as they used to live in their home countries – speaking the same language, dressing as they did back home, took root. Though such differences in lifestyles were fully protected by the constitution, a passionate debate between those who advocate for assimilation and those embrace multiculturalism as the new norm soon ensued.
The 2016 Presidential elections brought this debate to the forefront. Along with this debate, the violence against religious and ethnic minorities who stood out farthest from the mainstream increased to some extent. In this context, we weighed the pros and cons of both streams of thought in a pragmatic and rational way, to conclude that at least some reasonable effort to assimilate faster into the mainstream culture is necessary for America to remain the economic and military superpower it is today and also, for generations to come. Here, we outline what distinguishes America in its ethos from the other nations, explore why people immigrate to America in particular, and, then lay out case for advocating assimilation, as opposed to widespread multiculturalism.
What makes America, America?
The United States has stood out as a nation over the last two centuries. What started as a band of outcasts has today become one of the strongest nation-states on this planet. How were these “rejects” able to achieve this magnificent feat? What separated them from the very civilizations that bred them? Some fundamental traits of these “first Americans” have been artistically captured in the great constitution that defines this country. These traits are the very foundation on which America could reach such great heights. Dr. Gary Weaver identifies them accurately in his path-breaking article American Cultural Values. In a nutshell, he accurately portrays America as:
- Not a melting pot
- Not an European culture, but simply, another European culture
- Risk-taking and upward economic mobility-driven
- Equality, action, and individual achievement
What is the meaning of all this? Simply stated, Dr. Weaver has brilliantly identified the distinct elements that have transformed America into what it is today. He argues that the United States is not a “melting pot.” Sure, it is a land where many diverse cultures co-exist but one cannot ignore the overarching culture that has shaped and continues to dominate the American mainstream. Similarly, contrary to popular belief, the first immigrants were not “typical” Europeans either. They fled their native countries to avoid political or religious persecution and were often labeled outcasts for following their distinct beliefs. They were religious minorities in Europe who were opposed to the Roman Catholic Church or the official religion of their country.
This segues right into Dr. Weaver’s argument of America being a strongly religious nation. Early immigrants faced massive hardships back in their native lands because of their “alien” beliefs. These people were passionate and were often willing to even go to jail in the defense of what they held to be true. America promised them a land, free of any persecution and encroachment. Add to this base, a land that promises opportunity, encourages risk-taking, and emphasizes notions of individual identity and equality, and we have a unique composition of the “American being.” Most people truly believe that America does not have a culture of its own, we however strongly disagree. America has a unique culture of freedom and individuality where you can be what you want to be, not what your family or community thinks you should be. It is this culture of freedom and liberty that has made America the greatest power in the history of mankind. It is this success that has attracted all of us here, to begin with. Continuation of that history of success is totally dependent on preservation and maintenance of the true American culture.
The “American being” however is incomplete without the “American dream.” This strive for success and excellence has been blessed with an organic zeal of individualism and work ethic that Americans embody. A recent Pew study found that Americans are most probable (73%) to note that it is very important to work hard to get ahead in life. The same study found that Americans (57%) are the most inclined to DISAGREE that success in life is mostly determined by outside forces such as family background, social status, race, language or religion. In comparison, only 27% in India hold such an opinion. The steadfast spirit that is ingrained in the lines of “Invictus”, an 1875 Victorian poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” is very much in line with the ultra-individualistic American ethos, where “can do” attitude is considered a must for success.
Nearly 200 years after the French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville described America as “exceptional,” this land continues to offer a nurturing ecosystem unlike any other. Nowhere else on earth, even in a different time, have the stars aligned in such a way. And the most important thing to note is that this is not by accident, but by design.
Why do people migrate?
In general terms, “migration” can be broadly divided into 4 categories – economic, social, political, and environmental. For instance, waves of Asian historically migrated to the US for economic opportunity; the US has also seen generations of females arrive ashore, leaving behind cultures that don’t treat men and women equally; defectors from North Korea, for instance, are categorized as political migrants; and, environmental disasters like Haiti’s Hurricane Matthew can also trigger heavy numbers of immigrants.
Increased migration over the last few decades to America undoubtedly proves that America scores well on all these fronts as opposed to where the migration originates from. Better economic opportunity is the most evident and indisputable factor that attracts all immigrants to this great land. Liberty and social freedoms, where what you do and what you are capable of matters, not the forces that came with your ancestry are other positive aspects of American life. Having a say in the political process and governing is another deeply important factor, once your economic and social issues are taken care of, and there are tremendous such opportunities in America.
Excellent infrastructure development throughout the nation enables people to live comfortably even in adverse environmental situations. All these friendly factors make America a preferred destination for many potential immigrants from all around the world. However, it is also key that we preserve and maintain these beneficial traits to keep America intact and shining bright for future generations. The story of American success is not a miracle but is by design, and if we are not vigilant, we can start losing the advantage. Still, people often seem to overlook the importance of why that may be the case. Having witnessed extremely unfriendly forces (economic, social, political, and/or environmental) in their own native countries that restricted their own activities and beliefs and prompted them to leave, some may believe that the state of affairs in America is great and will always remain that way.
The American culture that is very individualistic in nature, may be harder to understand than other cultures, where people are used to being more interconnected through large families, communities and other identities. The essence of America’s birth was instilled in individual freedoms – freedoms that we hold dear. But our separate freedoms cannot challenge the very foundation that gives us these constitutional collective freedoms, that have paved the path for all the prosperity in this country. Immigrants must acknowledge and embrace these American values to preserve the proven results of this culture for future generations, rather than arguing with and contradicting it, by unabashedly advocating for and recreating what they left behind in their native countries. America is sought after by all immigrants because of these exceptional values and we must zealously uphold and strengthen these virtues to ensure that America will remain the “shining city on the hill.”
A plea to assimilate for a better and stronger future
Today, America is going through one of its worst identity crises in its entire history. One of us — Palathingal — is an immigrant. As immigrants, we cannot help but attribute a portion of this to America’s immigrant-children. Having welcomed people from all over the world for generations, a general theme has developed. When immigrants come in small numbers, they tend to assimilate and become Americanized. However, when immigrants come in large numbers, they are less inclined to learn the local ways and may soon find themselves in what we like to call “islands”. For instance, we have heard of English-free neighborhoods in America. This isn’t multiculturalism, this is isolationism. Doesn’t this indicate a burgeoning need to assimilate faster?
Nobody is advocating for putting a full stop to multiculturalism (if that’s even possible). Having said that, all immigrants must adopt an “America first” attitude. As a community, we must collectively understand and promote American values and attitudes. One way to facilitate that is through our religious institutions. Such spaces should start considering teaching our youth the history and culture of America, along with individual histories. We should stop fetching priests and gurus from abroad who don’t quite understand American culture, and instead focus on appreciating the freedoms we have here, and understand our constitutional rights and particularly the rationale behind those rights. Many immigrants remain ignorant of their basic rights – whether it’s about the extent of their first amendment rights or even why the second amendment right exists. We need to become more eager to learn what America is and encourage our children to do the same. “Sailing on two boats” does not always produce the best of outcomes.
We must embrace and promote America’s culture of individuality, it’s “can-do” attitude, the risk-taking mentality, it’s leadership acumen and the strong policy of worldly-engagement that has made this country what it is today. Subsequently, clannism must be rejected. This is not to say that we should all become selfish or self-centered, but we must help empower individual aspirations and freedoms to have primacy over clan or commune mentality. Even when we are in a team to get things done, individual opinions and ability to dissent without having to become an outsider count. Majority decides the outcome but everyone in the team has the right to voice their own opinions. Only these philosophies can breed leaders. Instilling these ideas in the minds of our children is also essential to ensure active participation in the democratic process.
It’s time for this great country to restore the lost trust in the American dream and to come together as a unified nation under one flag and one constitution, sharing common values and aspirations. We should be a real country, with protected borders and love for the country shared by all its citizens. America as a nation should believe in American exceptionalism. America should remain “the shining city on the hill,” a place where law and order and security are norms, not exceptions. America should remain the hope for the entire world and a place that is everyone’s dream, the same dream we all share, and one that we want to pass onto our future generations.
(Vinson X. Palathingal is the Executive Director and Ashwin Johri is a Researcher at The Indo-American Center in Washington DC (IAC), a 501(c)(3) independent, non-profit, non-partisan, free-market, think-and-do tank, dedicated to spreading the values of small government, liberty and freedom among immigrant communities in the United States. IAC advances policies that lead to higher levels of transparency, economic freedom and economic growth, by reducing government-bureaucracy, eliminating redundant processes, and simplifying the tax code.)
More from Vinson X. Palathingal:
Decreasing H-1B quota is not in the American interest, nor is it practical (November 15, 2016)