One Teacher`s Classroom Conclusion: Immigrants Just Don`t Want To Assimilate
June 25, 2005, 05:00 AM
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My English as a Second Language class at California`s Lodi Adult School ended for the year in late May.

And as is my custom, I`m looking back and evaluating my effort to teach English and to instill enthusiasm for the American way in my students.

Is it just my imagination or does my task grow more difficult every year?

As usual, the class attendance was sparse. During the two semesters, only 350 pupils signed up—a tiny fraction of the total number of Lodi residents who need English language training—even though we accept students at any time of the year.

The average daily attendance was about 35 students. In other words, for every 10 who sign up, only one stays in class.

The 10-1 ratio is disappointing, but consistent with the pattern that has evolved over the last few years.

The more non-English speakers who arrive in Lodi, the easier it is to get by without speaking English.

This is particularly true among the Spanish speakers from Mexico and Central America.

Nevertheless, I start each new school year with optimism. But I have over time adjusted my game plan.

On the first day of class, when I look out at my students, I ask myself two questions:

  • Will I be able to instill in you an appreciation for what it means to live in America?

  • Will I be able to help you understand the difference between getting along in America and thriving in America?

These two concerns, more than the technical task of teaching English, is the focus of my effort.

Indirectly, through lessons and conversations about life in America, the students will improve their verbal skills.

But in 2003, my revised strategy hit a bump in the road.

Current events in our history—specifically the Iraq War and the presidency of George W. Bush—have made it more difficult to wax poetic about America.

No matter what the country of origin is for my students—Mexico, Pakistan, Guatemala, Russia, China and Spain—they vehemently oppose the war and distrust President Bush.

One young woman, visiting from Spain on a tourist visa, told me in her above average English that everyone she knows back home "hates" the U.S. for its arrogance.

Still, she is trying to figure out how to become a permanent U.S. resident.

When I asked her why, feeling the way she does about America, she would want to live here permanently, she admitted being enamored of life in the U.S.

"Can I love America but hate its politics?" she asked.

Like my student from Spain, my two Russian fiancée brides also speak nearly fluent English.

They`re passionate about politics too, having no use for either Bush or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

When Super Bowl weekend rolled around, I asked them if they planned to watch.

"We don`t like football and we don`t eat hot dogs," they said.

I encouraged them anyway.

"You don`t have to do either to enjoy the Super Bowl. Remember: watching the Super Bowl is the most American thing you can do, "I told them.

The class talked about California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. They all knew him as a Hollywood star. But surprisingly few were aware of his history as a poor but legal immigrant from Austria who made a multimillion-dollar fortune in movies and real estate.

And almost no one knew that Schwarzenegger is married to a prominent television journalist related to one of the wealthiest and most influential American families.

I told the students that if they learned how to spell S-C-H-W-A-R-Z-E-N-E-G-G-E-R, they would be among a very small percentage of people nationwide, even including college graduates, who could write the governor`s name correctly.

For reasons best known to the students—perhaps being able to do something that college graduates cannot—they took to that task with enthusiasm.

But there remained, this year as every year, the nagging sense that my students weren`t getting all they could out of the American experience.

Every Friday, with the weekend edition of the Lodi News-Sentinel in front of them, I pointed out what was going around town—much of it free—with the hope that the students would get involved.

But, more often than not, when Monday rolled around, disappointingly few students had browsed at the Street Faire, shopped at the local farmers market or signed up at the library for computer lessons.

For all of the eighteen years I have been teaching at the Lodi Adult School, getting immigrant students involved in the community has been a frustrating problem.

A May 2005 Public Policy Institute of California report, "Second-Generation Immigrants in California", reveals that, despite my experiences, I have even underrated how serious the failure to assimilate is among first, second and even third generation immigrants.

Categorizing immigrants as "Asian/Pacific", "Latino" or "White", the P.P.I.C. found that, regardless of generation, Latinos lag across the board in voting, petition signing, attending local meetings, writing to elected officials, contributing to political campaigns and volunteering.

First and second-generation immigrants (including illegal aliens) account for 27% and 20% respectively of California`s population—nearly half the Golden State`s population.

To think that the nearly 17 million people those percentages represent will be disengaged from the communities they live in is disheartening.

This is the point at which my students—those studied in the P.P.I.C. report—have to make their choices. Will they assimilate or not?

Since most of them will spend many more years in the U.S. than they ever lived in their home country, their decision should be obvious.

These immigrants came to the U.S. of their own free will and volition. And I always urge them to become part of the Great American Way.  

But the plain fact is that they don`t want to.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.