June 18, 2007
The American Assimilation Set
Diana West is unhappy with Bush's blase attitude towards immigration:
"Do you think we assimilate immigrants as well as in previous waves?" Mr. Bush's answer: "Absolutely."
Obviously, Mr. Bush hasn't ridden a rush-hour bus where no English is spoken, or listened to a business office recording asking "oprima el numero dos."
This sort of thing gets tossed around a lot. Doesn't Bush realize that the immigrants speak Mexican, rather than American? Has he ever seen the face of a child who's been forced to "press 1 for English?" Doesn't he realize how different this all is?
But these fears of linguistic separation are old hat. You think a bus in Austin, Chicago, circa 1930, after Italian immigration had pumped the tiny suburb's population from 4,000 to 120,000, had a whole lot of English on it? Doubtful. And you didn't get business recordings in other languages because there were no recordings during previous waves of immigration. Hispanic immigration happens to be the first to occur during the era of automated answering services.
The relevant metric here is whether the second-generation assimilates, as it's they, and successive generations, who will remain in the country. And in that, the data is clear. Mexican immigrants assimilate. In the first generation, English proficiency is undeniably poor. Only 24 percent on Mexican immigrants speak it well, as compared to 40 percent of Asian immigrants. But the intergenerational transmission of English fluency is higher among Mexicans than among any other immigrant group. 50 percent of the native-born children of Mexican immigrants acquire proficiency while still in the household, putting them on par with second-generation Asians, and of those Mexicans who are second-generation+ (either out of the household or third generation or more) proficiency is 86 percent. Indeed, if you control for other relevant factors (age, income, etc), second- and third-generation Hispanics are much more likely than other immigrants to speak English fluently.
So in this, President Bush is right. America is perfectly capable of assimilating immigrants. Even if, along the way, Diana West has to hear some Spanish spoken on the bush.
Of course, those Italians in Austin, Illinois did not have Italian language cable channels, Italian language radio, Italian language DVD, and cellphones with long distance accounts to keep calling relatives in Italy. The economic and cultural reasons for even bothering to learn English has never been lower.
Also, what percentage of children of those Italian immigrations managed to complete school in 1930 versus what percentage of the children of mexican immigrants manage tocomplete school in Los Angeles in 2005?
Posted by: superdestroyer | Jun 18, 2007 5:10:10 AM
Superdestroyer, it is true that there are lower incentives to learn English, but it does still happen on a large enough scale that Americans it will not be expected for Americans to be fluent in Spanish to be able to function. As far as the prevelance of Spanish (or Korean or Chinese or Hindi) media and international calling cards they advertise at bus-stops, it is not relevant in and of itself how people entertain themselves provided they still learn enough English to contribute to a functional society.
Statistics on school completion are not an integral aspect of immigration like those on language, and it would be illiberal to crack down on immigration by individuals because of the rates of that (more or less innocuous) statistic among the children of immigrants.
Read my blog everybody!
Posted by: Wido Incognitus | Jun 18, 2007 5:37:30 AM
The question comes up on how to new immigrants learn enough English to communicate with a 911 operator, an ER nurse, a government employee if not only is English not spoken at home but that the parents reinforce Spanish (or any other language) through the use of Spanish language entertainment.
The idea that later generations become proficient in English is a lagging statistic. The second generation that learned English did it perform Univision and international calling cards. I believe that the electronic media will discourage children from learning English and will allow them to function, inside the U.S., in a Spanish-only environment. Also, the Italians in Illinois did not have a huge number of new immigrants each year to reinforce their Italian and to discourage their English learning.
Posted by: superdestroyer | Jun 18, 2007 7:24:05 AM
Actually, I think Superdestroyer is just wrong. In certain urban neighborhoods and certain rural communities in the 19th and early 20th century, hardly any English was spoken, signage was in a native language, and newspapers (the cable television of the day) were in the native languages. And the know-nothings of those times feared the danger of America swallowing this unassimilated blob of aliens, most of whom had no traditions of democracy and freedom (and many of whom were Catholics and Jews!). And this foreigness wasn't just in New York or Boston or Chicago and other big cities. Even small towns in my state of Texas had their German and Czech language newspapers in the 19th century. Of course today, the only traces of their ethnic heritage are the names of the towns, the excellent sausage they make, and their Oktoberfests.
Posted by: RWB | Jun 18, 2007 8:03:20 AM
Superdestroyer is wrong. I teach History of the English Language, so I know a bit about this, and Superdestroyer might want to look into it. No, there weren't DVDs, but there were plays, there were music hall shows, there was an entire publishing industry putting out books and magazines in Yiddish or German or Greek or whatever, there was bilingual education -- whole school districts taught in German or in Scandinavian or Greek whatever language was dominant in the area, because, guess why, that's who was paying the taxes, and because, guess why, children learned better that way (have a look at Amish schools today) -- and, guess what, the second generation of immigrant children still learned English, still assimilated. It wasn't until around WWI and then the Russian Revolution (with the influx of those Socialists and their scary notions) that good white Americans started fretting about what those foreign folks might be saying in those languages "we" couldn't understand.
Especially, you know, the *dark* ones.
Posted by: delagar | Jun 18, 2007 9:53:43 AM
The economic and cultural reasons for even bothering to learn English has never been lower.
This is - wrong. First generation immigrants work at lousy jobs that pay crap because they can't speak English. They do this so that they can get their kids into a better life. Part of that better life in America is having a desk job in an office somewhere so you don't have to bus tables, clean houses, or do the other shit work that you can find if you don't speak English.
There are lots of incentives for second generation immigrants to learn English in this country -- beyond the broad cultural issues of being able to identify with American pop culture, you need to be able to interview for jobs. If you want to work at a law firm, or in an accounting agency, or even do temp work you need to be able to speak English.
This has been true for previous waves of immigrants and it will probably continue to be true for future waves of immigrants. The difference now is that the language of the first-generation immigrants isn't restricted to the barrios because of global corporatization -- you have advertisers who WANT those first-generation immigrants to buy their stuff, so you have channels like Telemundo and Univision to advertise to them, you have Spanish-speaking radio advertising to them, etc.
The other difference between Mexican immigration and previous waves of immigration is that Mexican immigration isn't slowing down. Previous immigration waves were just that, waves. Large influxes of people coming into the country all at once, usually due to upheaval or economic depression in their own countries. Mexican immigration is a slow trickle, mostly because the Mexican economy is constantly bad off. You want to be serious about slowing down Mexican immigration? Push for large-scale NAFTA reform that gives Mexican workers more incentive to stay in Mexico. Push for large-scale Mexican government reform to cut the corruption in the country down to manageable levels (like the level we have in the US). Until those things happen, there will always be a strong incentive for Mexicans to come into the US looking for work. (This is why we don't really have a "Canadian border problem" -- Canada is a nice place to live and Canadians don't need to sneak across the border to find jobs in the US).
Posted by: NonyNony | Jun 18, 2007 9:57:32 AM
Superdestroyer, what you believe is not relevant or even interesting. If you believe that roses grow best in concrete do you expect gardeners to take your advice? This is an issue that concerns facts, not the fact-free beliefs you've decided to form because they fit your political and emotional predelictions.
Posted by: bloix | Jun 18, 2007 10:06:30 AM
I don't get what Ezra is saying here. He runs a liberal blog. The people who are reading this blog are left wingers. Left-wingers aren't likely to be complaining about the evils of hearing spanish. That's a right wing, racist sort of thing. If he really wants to make a difference, he'd be better off talking to the audience he has rather than making fun of the audience he doesn't have. Many of us don't support this bill either, and it's not due to language or fear of central and southern American cultures.
And yes, keeping Mexico a shithole has been American policy for over 100 years. Mexican immigration will NEVER slow down as a result, and it can not be treated as a normal immigration wave because of this. Italy wasn't right next door, and it had a good chance of getting it's shit together soon enough. Irish immigration was driven by a temporary famine. Eastern immigration by the collapse of the soviet union. Mexican illegal immigration is driven by greedy employers in the US and a drastic difference in income levels between two bordering nations. That's not going to end for a long time and pretending otherwise is either foolish or dishonest.
Posted by: soullite | Jun 18, 2007 10:09:20 AM
There was lots of recorded sound during the early twentieth century immigration, and lots of it was in languages from elsewhere. Enrico Caruso, anyone? Probably, not much of those 80 year old 78s have reached youtube.
Like many immigrants of their generation (grandpa was born 1908, immigrated 1922), my grandparents listened to Yiddish radio, Yiddish records (both music and comedy, all produced in New York) read one of the several daily Yiddish newspapers published in New York in those days, shopped at the Yiddish grocery, attended the Yiddish theatre, and lived their lives without much contact with English. Dad was born in New York but didn't learn English until he started school at a Yeshiva (that's Yiddish for "madrassa"), where the language was Yiddish but they taught English for an hour a day. Not much exposure until public high school. Naturally, he became a Professor of English and American Studies. Apparently Diane West and Superdestroyer weren't in his class.
Posted by: arthur | Jun 18, 2007 10:33:26 AM
One of the big issues in pre- and early-statehood Iowa newspapers in the 1850s was whether government documents and proclamations should be made available (at taxpayers' expense!) in German. The papers with "Democrat" in their title all said "yes", those with "Republican" in their title all said, "no".
The arguments, in the 1850s, were exactly the same as they are today. Only the nationalities (and technologies) have changed.
Posted by: dm | Jun 18, 2007 11:37:36 AM
By 1930, the typical (average or median, take your pick) immigrant in the U.S. had been in this country longer than the typical native-born resident. The assimilation of the children and grandchildren of such immigrants was complete.
Americans, generally, in 1930, were far more group-oriented and group-identified. Prejudices about the "personality" characteristics of, say, Germans or Italians, were vivid and pronounced, even among the highly educated. Brooklyn accents and Southern accents were thick, with radio barely peeking over the horizon.
In 1930, immigration was under legal control, and the great surge of immigration was far in the past. Assimilation was part of the accepted educational policy.
Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Jun 18, 2007 12:23:07 PM
I went to grad school with some guys from North Dakota who spoke German at home and had a hell of a time learning and keeping up with English in the public schools. Their ancestors came over from Germany before the Civil War, usually.
Immigrants have a hard time learning the language of their adopted country, their kids are bilingual and their grandkids aren't able to have in-depth conversations with grandma and grandpa. That's the way it's been, that's the way it is now, that's the way it always will be in every nation in the world.
"Concerns" about assimilation are always based in either ignorance or bigotry, usually both.
Posted by: Stephen | Jun 18, 2007 1:34:37 PM
Spanish spoken on the bush?
Posted by: terryinaz | Jun 18, 2007 2:38:40 PM
Spanish spoken on the bush?
See? (or sí) - Bush Derangement Syndrome in action: the b*st*rd is ?everywhere!!!)
Posted by: Jay C | Jun 18, 2007 3:59:25 PM
So, I was flicking between Telemundo and Univision to see highlights of the Mexico-Costa Rica match, and what was featured in the ad breaks? Oh, yeah: Ingles sin barreras.
Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Jun 18, 2007 5:16:32 PM
Everyone's basically said what has needed to be said-- first generation immigrants, both historically and now, don't always learn the language; second generation immigrants do. In any event, the fact that some people speak a foreign language isn't really a threat to society anyway; they aren't plotting against you in that language that you don't understand, but are just trying to live their daily lives.
But I should add something else-- if the concern is really that not enough first generation immigrants learn English, rather than fear of foreigners, it's pretty easy to deal with that problem. In many parts of this country, there are waiting lists for adult ESL classes. Federal funding could help a lot.
Also, if you allowed more Mexicans and Central Americans to emigrate legally to this country but required them to pass English proficiency tests to take advantage of the benefits, you'd see plenty of them study the language.
Of course, I don't think these anti-immigrant types particularly care if the foreigners speak English. They just want to keep them out of the country.
Posted by: Dilan Esper | Jun 18, 2007 5:17:01 PM
What Stephen and arthur said. When my mother was 4, her family emigrated from Lithuania to America, the catalyst being Lithuania's absorption by the USSR. She grew up in NYC, immersed in a Lithuanian community, speaking Lithuanian at home and amongst her friends. She learned English just fine. And now her own children speak no Lithuanian past "hello" and "come here," and refer to their Baltic ancestors as "those pagan goat-worshippers."
Posted by: J.D. | Jun 19, 2007 2:47:43 PM
Posted by: judy | Oct 8, 2007 9:17:26 AM
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