Editor’s note: This summer, Regnery Publishing (a HUMAN EVENTS sister company) published an updated 2006 edition of The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again (originally published in May 2001) in paperback with a new section on immigration and terrorism.
In The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again, Michael Barone, distinguished political analyst and historian, brings a heartening and reassuring perspective to recent years’ fierce debate over immigration. Since America’s inception, our ranks have been swelled by newly arrived immigrants looking for a place to escape the oppression and abject poverty of the Old Country. While each infusion has over time slightly changed the cultural contours of America, immigration never diluted the essential character and mores of the land since those who came here assimilated and became energized bearers of Americanism. Indeed, it enriched the country and gave it flavor.
With the concept of “The Melting Pot,” America was spared the balkanization and tribalism experienced by other countries whose ethos was to not integrate newly arrived foreigners but keep them apart. Barone rightly contends that if the Melting Pot paradigm is revived, the millions of new immigrants will not be a threat to our way of life, rather an asset. However, as he points out, elites in today’s society keep pushing for multiculturalism, hoping that Latinos, for example, will feel alienated from mainstream America. This, of course, poses a grave danger to the very character and values of historic America, endangering our very survival as a functioning civilization.
The elites are those in academia, school supervision, the courts and government bureaucracy. Why do they disdain the historic goal of “Americanization,” insisting, instead, on multiculturalism? Barone writes: “Influenced by the civil-rights movement and the Vietnam War, elites starting in the 1960s began to doubt the fundamental goodness and decency of the country they nevertheless felt entitled to lead. They became convinced that the white majority was obdurately racist.” The elites, of course, are referring only to others, never to themselves.
Impediments to Americanization surfaced when elites initiated, for the first time in U.S. history, programs of bilingual education and, as a rectification for their indictment of “American racism,” instituted preferences, affirmative action and favorable quotas for newly arrived groups when no record of systemic racism against such groups had ever occurred here. The upshot is exactly what (mostly) white liberal elites wanted: millions of non-English speaking immigrants who have been made to feel different by policies designed to make them feel so—and, I might add, all in the name of compassion. No doubt, many of the non-assimilated will vote for left-leaning candidates.
The bulk of The New Americans does not address the hot issues of border patrols, fences, illegals or amnesty, nor is it a treatise on how to undo the destabilizing programs instituted by the liberal multiculturalists. That is not its purpose. Nor is it a “raw meat” polemic. Barone’s goal is to demonstrate that through sociological maturation, immigrant groups who arrived here with perspectives and attitudes not yet American over time adapted and contributed. If it happened so many times among so many groups in the past, it can, Barone asserts, replicate again, now.
The author makes his case by choosing six major immigrant groups and then coupling them into three categories. He does so brilliantly, with precision, expressing in a few choice phrases what for most others would require lengthy paragraphs: evidence that Michael Barone has spent years thinking through his points. His observations and conclusions are refreshingly candid.
He surprises us by matching groups we never would have imagined had more in common than less. For example: There were hardly any blacks in Ireland, yet he shows that these two groups, Irish and blacks, share a common history, namely, having been specifically set apart from the mainstream of their host society—the Irish from their English overlords and blacks from white America, especially in the pre-1965 South. The Irish immigrated to America and many blacks “immigrated” to the North.
Not too many Jews ever lived in China and Southeast Asia, yet he finds their symbiosis through their strong desire for advanced education, their abundant energy and their love of self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship. He calls them the high achievers. Nor do we hear of many Latinos having lived in Italy, yet Barone finds in these two groups the similarity of hard work and strong families.
The purpose of retelling the story of each group is to demonstrate that no matter the unique and far flung differences inherent in a multitude of immigrant groups, assimilation, or at least integration, is eminently possible if Americanization is the goal.