There is an identity crisis facing America. For every other state, there is a nation to be defined alongside it. The people of Norway are the Norwegians. The people of Japan are the Japanese. But who are the people of the United States? African-Americans? Muslim-Americans? Chinese-Americans? Why is so much of our identity caught up in ‘the hyphen’?
The answer is two-fold. First, any resemblance of a coherent and sane immigration policy has vanished in this country; be it due to the political strategy employed by the left to garner a larger voter base, or due to the inefficient and deleterious detentions-centers on our borders so often promoted by the right. It used to be the case that when a new wave of immigration struck our country, the borders would be tightened to allow for the citizens to undergo a socialization process within the American culture, and then they would be re-opened when the country was ready for the next wave. They let the pot brew, the German sauerkraut get soft, the Italian spices become absorbed, and the Irish potatoes boil. This approach was not rocket-science, it was common logic.
Today this is no longer the case. Ever since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, our policies have left the country unable to effectively deal with ‘Americanizing’ our citizens. This is not to say the bill did not do well to end the discriminatory National Origins Act, but rather that the bill did not take into account the intent of immigrants. The basis of immigration often comes in the form of seeking refuge, seeking a better home, seeking a better-life—a reactionary response to a bad-situation. First-World Europeans immigrated in a time of need, whereas Third-World immigrants were always in a time of need. Thus, when the bill was passed in 1965 the nature of immigration changed.
Immigration went from dealing with an influx of people that came in waves from specific European countries as a response to some tragedy to a never-ending stream of immigrants from across the world. The United States was simply not capable of dealing with this change adequately, and effective immigration legislation has gone down-hill since.
A country cannot make a decision for the better of itself and its citizens if the ideal of ‘we the People’ is dominated by the concept of ‘I, the hyphenated American’.
But perhaps the problem goes deeper than mere policy. I believe that a shift has occurred within the American culture and our perspective on what it means to be an ‘American’. This brings us to the second point. Somewhere along the way, we as Americans, politicians, and voters have lost the distinction between the processes of assimilation and integration; more specifically, the notion of sacrifice became lost to us. With every one of the great immigration waves—the Germans, the Italians, the Irish—there was present an initiative to give up part of oneself in order to become part of the greater whole. This is the difference between assimilation and integration: assimilation is sacrifice one’s own values, culture, history in order to make room for better ones.
Simply put, a state is comprised of one people brought together through shared values and vision—the melting pot. What we have today is communalism; different groups of people all living as if the U.S. is nothing more than a governed territory absent of culture—the salad bowl. A country cannot make a decision for the better of itself and its citizens if the ideal of ‘we the People’ is dominated by the concept of ‘I, the hyphenated American’.
Until we learn to sacrifice; until we learn to all become Americans, regardless of our background, upbringing, and country of origin we will never meet the standard of togetherness hinted at in the name of our great country—United.