WASHINGTON, June 19, 2013 — Young Irish immigrants, the Atlantic Monthly informed readers in 1896, were “too lazy to work.” An 1877 editorial in the New York Tribune asked of the Irish, “Is there no other way [besides violence] to civilize them?”
Even the New York Times was not above this, once editorializing, “These sneaking cowardly Sicilians who have transplanted to this country the lawless passion, the cutthroat practices … are to us a pest without mitigation. Our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they.”
Asian migration into California was decried as a “yellow peril” by many, among them socialist writer Jack London in his short story, “Unparalleled Invasion.”
Pessimism about America’s ability to absorb newcomers springs eternal. Each wave of immigrants has had the same aspersions cast against them: lazy, lawless, uncivilized, uneducated, a drain on the public coffers.
Yet however much these demographic determinists cloak their arguments in claims to be “protecting” or “preserving” (nativist code-words) America, we should not be deceived. On the contrary, we should emphatically assert that those who see demography as destiny do not love America. In fact, they do not even like America. Worst of all, they don’t believe in America.
The Nuevo-Nativists have now turned their ire against America’s newest newcomers: Latinos.
“[If] We have amnesty. The country is over and the only thing we have left for me and you to do, Sean, is to punish the people who destroyed America,” cried Ann Coulter on FOX News, adding that for supporting for the bill the Republican Party “deserves to die.”
Further, Rep. Steve King avers, “It’s clear 75 percent or more of [undocumented immigrants] are for more government, which means more taxes, and more dependability. And that means more undocumented Democrats.” This spells a prescription, King is certain, such that “Republicans will never win the presidency again—pass the Gang of Eight bill.”
Never mind that the share of government services used by undocumented immigrants is less than their percentage of the population.
Forget, too, that the “red” states — supposedly bastions of “small government” — nurse at the bosom of the state more than the “blue” states do — receiving more in government benefits than they pay in.
Much worse than these factual errors, what makes the view of the Nuevo-Nativists so contemptible is their total lack of faith in America, an utter ignorance of our history which they are allowed to get away with calling patriotism.
In reality, America is a place where a Yugoslavian immigrant can write a book titled How Columbus and I Discovered America.
America is a place where Roger Shimomura, the Japanese-American painter who was sent to internment camps in WWII, could paint a reinterpretation of the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, superimposing his face over Washington’s and making all the soldiers Asian to form Shimomura Crossing the Delaware.
America is a place where a sharp-tongued, possibly biracial writer born of a poor, illiterate mother on the slave island of Nevis, could become the Founding Father uniquely inspirational to freestyle rap. “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry,” writes Puerto Rican-American composer Lin Manuel Miranda in his The Alexander Hamilton Mixtape. Hamilton is someone Miranda “think[s] embodies hip-hop.”
America, the Jewish-American philosopher Mike Walker notes, is a name that doesn’t even pretend to tell you who lives there.
Research shows current undocumented Latino immigrants are following a similar trajectory to past waves of immigrants. Fewer than half of the foreign-born speak English proficiently, but Pew research shows that 98 percent of their children do. About a third of the first generation drops out of high school; yet the dropout rate plummets to nine and twelve percent in the second and third generations. First generation fertility rates are high, but following the global trend, fertility rates decline as women are educated and the poverty level of the group declines.
In out-of-wedlock birth rates, poverty rates, education attainment and incomes, Latinos regress to the mean of America, as have the waves of immigrants who preceded them.
What the Nuevo-Nativists take as confirmation for their peesmism in fact refutes it. America is so good at assimilating immigrants, Rehan Salam at NRO notes, that surveys of how third generation immigrants ethnically self-idenfy are misleading. They do no capture the large numbers who meet the definition of Hispanic, but do not show up in the surveys; with successive generations, they identify simply as “American.”
Being bullish on this possibility is quintessentially, uniquely, exquisitely American. Pessimism about this prospect is deeply un-American. And those whose vision of America is so small and so narrow that it fails to see this possibility do not deserve the mantle “conservative.”
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