Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kids Like Immigration

The NY Times this morning points out that there is a sharp and growing generational divide over immigration. Those under 45 generally are comfortable with it and are for it, both legal and illegal. Those over 45, even those who consider themselves "liberal," feel very threatened by immigration. The Times reporters I think rightly point out that this is largely a consequence of experience.

People in my generation grew up in an exceptional period in American history where the population was unusually homogenous. People were either white or black. In the 1950s and 1960s, foreign born immigrants of all kinds made up only 4.5% of the population, and most of those were older and European.
Since the 1970s, the USA is returning to something like the polyglot population of the late 19th century, from roughly 1850 to 1912, when perhaps as much as 15% of the population was foreign born, and from everywhere. The current estimate for foreign born population, legal and illegal, is about 12.5%, still short of its height in the late 19th century.

People born after 1965 experienced a very different America from my generation, and are themselves much more diverse, and much more comfortable navigating across cultural differences. I see this in my own students. I notice students from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, West Africa, and Eastern Europe freely socializing and even dating each other. For me, this is astonishing. For them, it is a commonplace barely worth noticing.

Once again, I'm out of step with my own generation. When they were reading Abby Hoffman, I was reading the Boy Scout Handbook. When they were going all corporate and Ayn Rand, I was exploring socialism. And now, when they are panicking over the invasion of the swarthy hordes, I'm actually happy about it and see it as testimony to the success of the United States. In my own small way, I'm involved in this transformation as an educator, and I take tremendous satisfaction from it. I am confident that the USA will endure and be renewed. I'm sure that the future population a century from now will be very different in appearance and customs from the population I grew up with. But then, the population I grew up with was sharply different from the population from the previous 100 years.

***

I agree with those who think that this could be a big loser of an issue for Republicans in the coming elections. People for whom immigration really is a big threatening issue would probably vote Republican anyway. The people who will most likely be motivated to turn out in droves to vote because of immigration are Latinos and other immigrant groups. They will almost certainly not vote Republican.

Has it really been that long ago when Ronald Reagan declared that Latinos were naturally Republicans? I can remember when Lee Atwater urged Republican candidates to actively campaign for Latino votes with Spanish language ads. But then, that was back in that far off time when American Muslims were among the Republicans' most loyal and reliable voting constituencies.

Where are the snows of yesteryear?


11 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

There's no question about it as far as I'm concerned that immigration enriches our country. With a heritage like mine, how could I think otherwise?

French
Spanish
English
Cajun French
Portuguese
German

That my ancestors lived in a port city contributed to the variety of the mix. I'm thankful for the rich environment of New Orleans where I came of age.

Counterlight said...

Well, that beats me. I am...

French
German
English
Dutch

i.e., Northwestern Europe.

Michael is...

Irish
Sicilian
German

Grandmère Mimi said...

Perhaps most people are more Heinz 57 than I thought. Neither you nor Michael are pure WASPS.

Counterlight said...

No, we were never pure WASPs, but my family pretended to be.
I strongly suspect that if we looked further back into the history of who married whom in my ancestry, the WASP purity would dilute even further.

And Sicilian is already a little bit of everything from Ancient Greek to Arab to Viking with a little French and German mixed in there.

I think most of humanity is Heinz 57, certainly in this country.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

And now, when they are panicking over the invasion of the swarthy hordes, I'm actually happy about it and see it as testimony to the success of the United States.

Count me in!

I just wish I had the time to learn Spanish....

Counterlight said...

I'm so bad with languages.

JCF said...

I'm 99% in favor of immigration...

...and 1%, an Unemployed Person who fears an immigrant will not only be cheaper, but just plain better than me (See, I can ADMIT my fear---whereas the Arizona mob will only say the "cheaper" part).

Basically, I think borders are BS. You can't see 'em from space. Pollution and global warming and epidemics don't give a damn about 'em.

Nevertheless, like that website says (I haven't actually checked it out):

I Need a Freakin' Job!

JCF:
English
Scottish (and Scots-Irish)
Welsh
German
Ass. Appalachian White Trash
.25 Jewish

Counterlight said...

"Ass. Appalachian White Trash"

And I'm not exactly royalty either. My grandmother (father's mother) began her life picking cotton as a sharecropper in the Texas Panhandle (Clarendon, TX). She had her reasons for thinking "one drink" meant a bottle of bourbon with a straw.

My truly WASP ancestors are all descended from a ne'er-do-well who shipwrecked near Sandy Hook, NJ while fleeing gambling debts back in London.

JCF said...

My father's peeps are from (I kid you not!) "Rural Retreat" in western Virginia (not to be confused w/ West Virginia---but not far from the Tennessee border). Actually, they were from just outside Rural Retreat!

[I stopped at the family church---Asbury Methodist---while there, and looked at the graveyard. Full of "Fs". One was named "Lula Mae" F. I could no longer pretend to my then spouse, with me there, that I was descended from anything OTHER than White Trash! ;-p]

It's on my mother's side, that I was more high-falutin' Philadelphia Quakers . . . except for my mom being (ethnically) half-Jewish (which was something she either didn't know, or chose not to. Her bitterness at my brother's {quite coincidental} conversion to Judaism, suggests the latter. ;-X)

Oy Vey: FAMILIES!!!! }:-0

Counterlight said...

It looks like no invite to the coronation banquet for the likes of us.

Did I mention that one of my great grandmothers was named Minta Knuckles? My father used to call her "Minnie" Knuckles or "Grandma Knuckles" when he was a boy, speaking of Texas white trash.

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