Assimilation, American Style

Assimilation, American Style

Assimilation, American Style

Assimilation, American Style

Synopsis

The past few years have witnessed an intensification of anti-immigration sentiment in America. Lost in the midst of the acrimony is what actually happens to immigrants once they arrive and settle here, a story that is told in Assimilation, American Style. Peter D. Salins, himself a child of immigrants and a leading scholar of urban affairs, makes a powerful case that, at a time when the immigrant population of the United States is growing larger and more diverse, the nation must rededicate itself to its historic mission of assimilating immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds. Reviewing the history of assimilation, he reveals how successive immigrant populations have become Americanized, despite being considered "alien" in their time - notably, the Germans, Irish, Italians, and Jews - and how assimilation continues to work among Hispanics and Asians today. America's vitality as a nation, Salins argues, depends on its being as successful in assimilating its newest immigrants as it was in integrating earlier immigrant groups. Salins advances our understanding of assimilation in two important ways. He convincingly shows how America's unique social compact of assimilation has permitted immigrants and their descendants to hold on to their ethnic traditions even as they acquired an American identity. He also documents the dire ramifications of our retreat from the ideal of assimilation in recent decades, countering the multiculturalists who ask ethnic Americans to reject assimilation in favor of ethnic separatism, and the nativists who reject further immigration together.

Excerpt

A number of things impelled me to write this book. My work on New York's economic problems and prospects led me inexorably to the issue of the growing role of immigrants in the city's economic and social life. Looking at New York's immigrants led me to think about immigration more generally. As the son of immigrants, I had a firsthand appreciation of America's unique status as a nation of immigrants. Seeing my parents come to grips with life in the United States, I also had a firsthand understanding of the promise and perils of assimilation. My parents were profoundly grateful for the sanctuary and economic opportunity America offered but continued to speak their native language and held on to many habits and attitudes forged in the land of their childhoods. Even my sister and I, as assimilated as we were, were occasionally embarrassed by our parents' somewhat alien ways and were shaped by aspects of our ancestral culture.

However, what really made this book an imperative for me was my fear that Americans no longer appreciate the value of assimilation as an indispensable means of integrating America's immigrants and unifying its ethnically diverse population. As a product and a student of immigration, I have long marveled at the way America effectively assimilated its immigrants. I marveled at both my parents' successful adjustment to American life. I marveled at the vitality of the new immigrant communities of New York, generally populated by non-Europeans. But my sunny perspective on this country's immigrant saga and generally harmonious ethnic relations has been . . .

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