As more information from the 2000 Census is released, it's increasingly clear that this is not our parents' country. Ethically, it stopped being their country in the 1960s. Ethnically, it now resembles not a united nation, but a United Nations, with divisions along class, racial, religious, language and ideological lines. Our national motto, E pluribus unum ("out of many, one,") no longer applies.
Census figures show that one out of every nine residents is now foreign-born. The response from politicians? Many are signing up for Spanish lessons. They should be telling immigrants to sign up for English lessons.
Yes, we are a nation of immigrants. There is a difference, however, between the way immigrants were treated a century ago during the Great Wave, and how they are treated today.
Then, they were expected to become part of America, which included speaking our language, knowing our history and respecting our traditions. Now, they are allowed -- indeed, encouraged -- to remain who they are and not bother to learn English or care about American history. Then, we sought to make Americans of immigrants. Today, we hyphenate their citizenship and tell them they may continue to bear allegiance to other countries and causes.
Here are only a few examples of how bad the situation has become: The safety video on the Delta Shuttle between Washington and New York is delivered in both Spanish and English; this November, Denver and several other Colorado counties designated as bilingual counties must print election ballots in English and Spanish; the Department of Justice has ordered Harris County, Texas (which encompasses Houston) to start providing ballots and voting materials in Vietnamese.
Part of the reason for this forming of a less perfect union is that we are no longer sure of ourselves. Embarrassed by our success and riches, we think we're doing the world a favor by engaging in self-flagellation, refusing to repeat for the next generation what was handed to us by the previous one.
A Texas schoolteacher wrote to express his frustration:
"We were raised with 'ultimate consequences' which would dictate punishment when there was no discipline ('When your father gets home...,' 'Your mother wouldn't approve of this...')," he noted. "Now, it's a question of how people can beat the law, rather than uphold it." This especially applies to those immigrants who have seen that if they can get to America illegally, their chances are good of winning amnesty and remaining in this country.
King Solomon warned: "Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint" (Proverbs 29:18). The casting off of restraint is what characterizes us now, from corporate boardrooms to private bedrooms. If immigrants know only how to get here and do not learn what made America so attractive to them, they will live by their own standards, just as we who were born here are doing in increasing numbers, further undermining our strength and cohesiveness.
In his 1992 book, "The Tyranny of Change: America in the Progressive Era: 1890-1920," John Whiteclay Chambers wrote of the great immigration wave of a century ago, noting that a majority of arrivals in this country never intended to stay. Many hoped that "after a few years of work, they could save enough money to return home to an improved position for themselves and their families."
"Although the majority of new immigrants permanently settled in America, a significant number left (with a departure rate of 35 percent for Croatians, Poles, Serbs and Slovenes; 40 percent for Greeks; and more than 50 percent for Hungarians, Slovaks and Italians; the rate among Asian immigrants was much higher, more than two-thirds)," Chambers wrote. Today the departure rate is only about 15 percent and anyone who gets here, even illegally, can now expect his or relatives to legally follow.
Many of those who stayed a century ago had poor skills and became part of large ghettos in major urban areas, where poverty continues to drain human and financial resources. The 1990 Census indicated that ethnic enclaves were huge and growing. In the city of Miami today, about half of the population speaks English poorly or not at all, new census figures show, and 74 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home.
A source for additional facts about how we have failed to assimilate immigrants can be found on the Web page of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (www.fairus.org/).
It would help if we would re-discover what once was considered "self-evident" truths about America, disdaining relativity. If we can't do that for those already here, we will be of no use to current and future immigrants and cannot sustain ourselves as the United States.