Two, Three, Many Balkans—Right Here In America
Print Friendly and PDF

It probably tells you something significant about our immigration policy that the question whether the immigrants are assimilating or not remains controversial. If lots of Americans think they are assimilating and lots of others think they're not, it's probably a safe bet that they're not. Now a new survey gives a perfectly clear answer to the question: Yes and no.

The survey is the 2002 National Survey of Latinos, sponsored by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which interviewed some 4,000 people of all ethnic, national, and racial groups across the nation. According to news reports, the most important conclusion of the survey about Hispanics in the United States is less than shattering: Hispanics are not a monolith.

That's perhaps the nice way to put it. What it means is that Hispanics in the survey tended to identify themselves less as "Hispanics" than as natives of the particular countries from which they came. "More than half of Latinos say their country of origin is their first and only choice for identifying themselves," a recent story in Newsday reported. "Only one-fourth of them said the umbrella terms 'Hispanic' and 'Latino' were their first choice and only one-fifth said 'American' is their preference."
"Breaking the Mold /Survey: Homeland a key identifier for America's Latinos"
By John Moreno Gonzales, Newsday, December 18, 2002

But if most Hispanic immigrants still identify themselves by their countries of origin and only one-fifth identify themselves as Americans, then they're probably not Americans. Immigrants who do identify themselves as Americans may not really know much about the country they've joined, and they may get quite a bit about its culture and people wrong, but at least they've decided to try to be a part of it. With the new Hispanic Americans (pardon me if I offend anyone by using that term) that's not the case. They haven't made the decision yet and see no reason to do so

The Hispanics, however, do see the need to learn English—not because they think that's the language Americans ought to speak but simply as a practical proposition: Almost 90 percent said you need to learn English in this country in order to succeed—not to become an American. "Your culture and your language, you maintain that," one immigrant told the interviewers. "Once you lose that, you lose what the real heritage is."

There are also some interesting differences between the immigrants interviewed and the attitudes of white Americans. "Nearly 90 percent of Latinos agree that relatives are more important than friends, compared with 67 percent of whites."

"Strong family values," as the saying goes, but the family bonds are not necessarily those of the European West.

It's not clear that the survey asked the right questions that would really have tested deep assimilation or serious alienation. It would be interesting to know what natives of non-democratic societies think about democracy American style, about religion in public life, about the role of women in work and politics. Questions like these might at least tell us how liberal or non-liberal the new Americans are. There's no indication such questions were asked. [Click here for the questions and answers in PDF.]

Assimilation in the surface sense is easy enough, especially in an age when global trade and television impose the same plastic bubble over the whole planet.

But the process of really moving from one civilization to another takes decades and may never end.

If the Latino Survey suggests anything, it is that the United States is becoming even more "Balkanized" than critics of mass immigration had thought. It would be one thing if all Latin Americans thought of themselves as "Hispanics" pure and simple. It's a bit more complicated when they think of themselves as Mexicans, Salvadorans, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, etc., etc.—and only 20 percent think of themselves as Americans at all.

The Washington Post reports that the survey found that "Only 43 percent of those surveyed believed that Latinos from different countries are working together to achieve common political goals, while 83 percent reported that Latinos discriminating against other Latinos is a problem, reflecting wide divisions among the groups." [ Hispanics Polled See Themselves as Diverse, Washington Post, December 18.] What the survey points to is not one, but two, three, many Balkans in America.

The debate over immigration has changed over the years as it became more and more obvious that many immigrants are not and will not or cannot assimilate.

Once the forces pushing for virtually endless immigration saw that, they changed their song. Now it was the glories of "diversity" that the immigrants brought.

Where will the "diversity" end and where will the unity that makes a vast aggregate of 280 million human beings a single, coherent nation and culture begin?

The Open Borders lobby has never asked that question, let alone bothered to look for an answer.

If the Latino Survey tells us anything about it, it is that there's no answer in sight.


January 06, 2003

Print Friendly and PDF