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Bruce S. Thornton
How Assimilation Works « Back to Story

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America can do no wrong! Why is it so hard for you people to understand that!

America was the engine driving the transatlantic slave trade, directly causing the genocide of 1.5 million + nameless souls in a torrent of violence, rapes, starvation... but remember, this was only so that freedom and democracy spread over the world.

That's also why we nuked cities full of women and children (twice) in Japan and dropped napalm on little girls in Vietnam.

Repeat with me, sheeple, its all about FREEDOM & DEMOCRACY!
Bill Carrothers May 18, 2013 at 2:08 AM
So sorry to tell you this, Professor Thornton, but mass immigration to this country should have ended about a century ago. Our population would have naturally stabilized at about 200 million, and nations like Mexico, with a four fold increase in population, could have discovered that the only practical ways for achieving a negative fertility rate are abstinence,war,famine, plague, and pestilence. What we are experiencing today in California is negative net migration of citizens, as the entire growth of the population of this state since 2000 is due to immigrants and their children!
The end result of this is tragic. Large groups of people won't identify with their home, won't be accepted as authentic in their former homelands (they'll be viewed as Yanks), and social commonality wil wane. I for one don't care where you came from, what you speak in the home, or how/if you pray. However, I do care that you value individual liberty, property, justice, and freedom. teaching people that the society is crooked won't do that. America- what a great idea. If only we lived up to it.
Just false. The author ignores the deep pre-american hispanic roots of California. The author ignores that the first consitution of California and its government were bilingual. Stop distorting american history! True that immigration has dramatically changed California in the last few decades. But true as well that it did so in the second half of the 19th century by anglicizing and dehispanazing California. On top of that, anglos stole hispanic private property land against all treaties and law through crooked taxation or plain seizure.
tommy mc donnell May 22, 2011 at 10:36 PM
that was when people came to america to be free. now people are brought to america by our politicans to get something for free. in return for their "free" benefits all they have to do is become become a permanent bought and paid for voter.
@Bruce lets agree that the role of ethnic groups and others have documented significant contributions towards America's development. Like any program regular evaluations are important and changes to improve the educational process is vital so if including more and accurate history-- is a "good thing" for America.
What is American? Having a tolerance for others, working hard, individualism, and liberty. Remember you have a singular perpsective--Your European heritage encountered anti-immigrant policies and prejudices but keep in mind nothing on the scale of African Americans, Native Americans, and Asians. I will agree that understanding English is vital to the US. I would emphasize the master of English and encourage the school system to require pupils to learn a second language--that will be an American asset!
e pluribus unum May 21, 2011 at 8:56 PM
It all starts in government schools. Schools where the teachers themselves have been indoctrinated in other government schools with textbooks approved by "educational experts" such as William Ayers. Without firing a shot the war over the minds of our children has been won by the progressives and their socialist agenda. Thinking, real thinking, is not permitted. Speech is censored lest someone be "offended".

Vouchers, where the tax money for education follows the student to the school of the parents' choice can fix this. The time is now.
Rather interesting approach to making immigration work again.
The entire school curriculum should be centered around the history and values of Western Civilization. The West has always been exceptional, as argued in the recently published book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization.
This is your basic premise, and I don't think you have any way of proving it: "those cultures had in some significant way failed them". You're equating migrations that were the result of political and economic difficulties with whether someone is “ok” with their own culture? Makes no sense. Moreover, America has a long and violent history of navigating cultural differences, which you've ignored here, and tied up in a LOVELY little package you title "assimilation". I'm happy that the assimilation of the San Joaquin valley was a happy utopia. It wasn't for the rest of the continental United States. This piece is what reasonable academics would refer to as whitewashing.
Recruiting Animal May 18, 2011 at 2:05 PM
It seems that you exaggerate the desire of generations past to assimilate.

Do immigrants think that their own cultures failed them? Or did they simply move to find a place where they could earn a living?

Your wife's grandfather didn't become a citizen and your grandmother never made the effort to master English.

People from her hometown settled together in the new world and continued to maintain their own customs.

They weren't looking to assimilate.

The children wanted to be American or Canadian because they went to school here.

But they did not see themselves fully reflected in the mainstream culture and some or even many felt like 2nd class citizens as a result. And they resented it.

We see same thing today in the children of immigrants who become terrorists or sympathizers.

They are American but in order to feel like they really count they have to identify with their parents' culture.

B. Samuel Davis May 18, 2011 at 12:46 PM
This is pathological - what other country tolerates such hatred of its own culture? Do the French allow the teaching of the hatred of French culture, under state subsidy no less? The Russians? Ukrainians? Who then? No one but the United States, and other western nations. It's amazing. And pathological.

This is an important issue. Where is the media in all this? Where are the news reports, the coverage? How can this happen under the radar so to speak?

And that's really how it happens - our media carefully hides, distorts, makes excuses or just plain ignores issues like this. No publicity means that no one notices, it is a non-event so that the situation gets to where it is today. THIS is the real issue here, not the event, but our media's role in all this. In an sense everything else is secondary since it is the media that both sets the agenda and defines our perceptions of these events.

Take a close look at what is happening - wouldn't this merit a mention somewhere? Yet you won't find much on these issues anywhere but in the alternate media. Again, that's the real issue here. A second report came out today how Soros organizations influence the mainstream media - but the issues discussed in this article arose long before Soros' evil began. My own view is that all this is tied into a pro-Democrat party bias - somehow the state of affairs described in this article is conducive to electing Democrats, and therefore the media leaves it alone. But, who knows?

Is anyone ever going to explore the media's role in this and other issues? How about it City Journal - how did we come to this point, and why is it happening? The issue of media bias goes back to the 1930's when Republicans claimed that William Paley was excluding political advertisements on CBS radio. The broadcast and most of the major print media has by and large supported the Democrat Party and causes the Democrats believe in since that time. Why was this done? How was this done? No one knows and those who implemented this policy are dead or dying. Is anyone going to investigate this? Anyone listening over there?

Listen the President's immigration speech and you will hear something even more disturbing than mere demagoguery. When the President talks about the (unfinished) wall and enforcement of immigration laws, the largely Hispanic audience responds with sustained booing. They do not want either wall or enforcement of immigration laws. The President overlooks this fact in his pursuit of political advantage.
The Republicans could use that response in campaign ads, but will be gutless as always. Some Republican candidate for President could use this to great effect rallying anti-immigration sentiment, but I doubt they will (see Steyn’s America Alone) use it.
----I am a high school teacher in Houston, Texas. I understand both the push and pull factors involved in the immigration debate. Texas will have a plurality of Hispanic citizens in the next couple of decades. Those citizens will have been born here as all native-born US citizens are born here.
----The question of legalization of their non-citizen relatives is an entirely separate question. I feel the question of allowing foreign workers should be separate from the question of a legal path to citizenship. The US economy can use the increased labor force, but to dilute the concept of citizenship and respect for the rule of law is unacceptable.

Kevin Frei
Houston, TX
Many young Americans do not know how exceptional America is in the world. As Mr Thornton explains, this causes conflicts fragmenting our national identity/unity. Our hope lies in the new media such as this to examine our condition. Thanks Mr Thornton.
Nice article, but it omits a few things. During the author's childhood, despite his rich ethnic stew list at the beginning, California was not only massively majority White, but majority non immigrant American, with LA the most anglo city in the US. California was more populated by migrants from the midwest than the middle east.

So, yes, when immigrants are a varied, but tiny minority, assimilation is easy. When they are a large, and largely homogenous group (mexicans) its a bit harder.

And, when immigrants were very numerous, in the great influx of the late 19th and early 20th century, assymilation wasn't just about teaching Valley Forge, it was about making ethnic origins a little shameful and down market, just a bit of a dirty word and not to be celebrated, so that kids shunned their parent's culture and children were given Anglo first names.

So, to fill out the soft focus assymilation picture, it woudl be necessary to add the issues of demographic numbers and the harsher stick of prejudice that gave the carrot of Americanization its taste.

Does the author advocate recapturing these aspects? If not, his project is doomed to failure- merely stopping ethnic cheerleading in public schools will do very little, though its one step.
Well said! Thank you for such a thoughtful article.
Enlighten me please May 18, 2011 at 7:05 AM
I visited a history museum in Santa Fe several years ago. According to the museum's version of New Mexican history, the Catholics from Spain were the original villains who subjugated the indigenous people. Then came the White Protestants on covered wagons centuries later to further subjugate the indigenous people. But by now, the indigenous had some Spanish blood and were Catholic. Isn't there a little bit of villain in all of them?
With geographic and ethnic alterations, the author's article reflects 21st century Britain.
tma_sierrahills May 18, 2011 at 3:41 AM
Possible sub-title to this article?

Or how critics of liberal social planners can be almost equally crazily Utopian as the liberal social planners themselves, only wedded to the flip side of the same starry-eyed delusions.

"California is a concentrated example of the time-honored idea that America is an immigrant nation. From its beginnings as a territory through the twentieth century, California comprised a riotous variety of ethnic groups, nationalities, and religions. The whole world, it seemed, was coming and contributing to the state’s ethnic tapestry: Mexicans, Irish, Australians, South Sea Islanders, Italians, Basques, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Armenians, Volga Germans, Filipinos, Hmong, Laotians, Punjabis, Vietnamese. And for a long time, immigration worked, because everyone was expected to assimilate, more or less, to the American paradigm."

Actually, as the Gold Rush continued into the decades thereafter, California became heavily European-American. The values applauded in this article are really Western European values with an important American twist.

"This process has been compromised over the past 40 years as the ideology of multiculturalism has colonized schools, government, and popular culture. Today, immigrants learn to embrace a sense of entitlement and grievance and to demand that schools and government acknowledge and atone for America’s sins."

True, but, hmm, all this just happened to coincide with the FEDERAL policies, approved by members of congress all around the nation, that started flooding California with immigrants and illegals from the Third World.

(1) As a lifelong Californian, don't even get me started criticizing my state's nutty politicians and our dreamy/cynical planners, but consider what a conservative state, such as, let's say, Montana would be like today if it had been smack up against the Third World for the last four and a half decades as the federal government encouraged an invasion of countless millions.

In fact California's Governor Pete Wilson was about the only governor in the nation that tried to take on illegal immigration. It was his most popular issue with a majority of California voters, until he was smacked down by the federal courts and then his own national party--the GOP. (Of course most national and state Democratic elites approved of the invasion early on.)

(2) City Journal is one of my favorite publications, but there is often a sort of bait-and-switch game going on here. First it is shown how dysfunctional are the liberal social policies. Yes, but this is not exactly a brand new discovery. Then a sort of lie creeps in, which is basically that all we have to do is get rid of these liberal policies and everything will work again as it once did in the good old days.

News bulletin: Non-Europeans, particularly southern-hemisphere Third World peoples are NOT going to assimilate as the Italians or the Irish or the Germans did with the English-Americans, even without liberals doing there best to make matters worse. Bring in tens of millions of migrants from [name your favorite Third World nation, awash in poverty, violence and corruption] and they are NOT going to assimilate, period. Any more than it would work to bring tens of millions of Italians into China and expect them to assimilate into becoming Chinese.

(3) No one else in the world but white people are cluelessly romantic enough to believe that the various races of the world are not inherently different. It should tell us everything that our final prescription to solve this problem is to demographically erase the group that built Western civilization, a civilization that will collapse without its people.

(4) One of the central delusions of liberals is to trumpet multiculturalism as some sort of new modern universal enlightenment, without noticing that multiculturalism is in itself a Utopian belief of Western European peoples.

For example, such planners would never argue in favor of including the long honored tradition of, say, female circumcision as a wonderful part of respectful-to-all-cultures multiculturalism. They just take various parts of European traditions that are to their liking, particularly the socialist ones, and assume they are simply the result of the most advanced form of modern enlightenment that everyone everywhere will eventually adopt. But, of course, everyone can still keep most of their various quaint beliefs, and we will have a wonderful array of restaurants and native costumes and languages and parades--and a different cultural festival to celebrate each day!

By now most halfway intelligent people already know all of this is a zany pipe dream. The mystery is why people thinking themselves conservative are almost equally deluded. Assuming that Somalis and Eskimos can be as successfully assimilated into Manhattan as the Irish and Italians once were is something so stupid that only highly educated abstrusely theorizing people could believe. Both liberals and professional anti-liberals chronically believe they can virtually defy the gravity of human nature with just the exact right policies.

The truth, guys, is that it really is not that great of an achievement to be only somewhat less deluded than the semi-deranged liberal social planners you love to fillet. Although, admittedly, it is fun to watch you do it.

Finally, it is all really quite tragic. Having found that Communism could not be instituted by the normally anti-Communist working classes of the world, the cultural Marxists have been relentlessly marching through the institutions of the West.

On the other side, instead of the rest of us being thrown a lifeline by the capitalists, their dream of worldwide free markets in many ways fits perfectly with cultural Marxism in believing that all humans are simply interchangeable cogs or actors in the future big dreamy glittery system of, respectively, justice or wealth.

So it turns out that both liberals and capitalists, while quibbling over the details, end up working hand-in-hand destroying the greatest civilization, with all of its faults, the world has ever known.
- - - -
Border Enforcement + Immigration Moratorium = Job, Crime and Eco Sanity

Nouja - daar het jy dit. Every country must have its own version of how to deal with migration. I thin of the Bergers - had they remained in Austrian or German groups they would not have been the Americans they are.
But, Mr. Thornton, do we have teachers in this day and age who could impart those values of Americanism? It seems to me that, while the barbarians have always been at the gates, we now have a large segment of academia actively cheering on the barbarians! Let's face it, sir, the current sense of angst shared by so much of the population is caused by an increasingly agreed upon belief that America's best days are now behind her.
Richard K Munro May 17, 2011 at 11:54 PM
One writer said:”What is "the common culture and political principles that immigrants once learned to become Americans."?

Until we can clearly articulate these concepts we are all guilty of 'sour grapes' “
I think Bruce Thorton alluded what the common culture was. I understand what America is all about. I, for example, have no English ancestry at all but I identify with an Anglophone or American English-speaking political and cultural heritage. All Americans can be, as John F. Kennedy said, “proud of our ancient heritage.” I remember speaking to a European who said that America had no past and no “ancient heritage to speak of.” I told him he was wrong. America DOES have an ancient and famous record of fighting for freedom and for individual rights. And Americans as English speaking people, in particular, have a very ancient history of political freedoms. And in any case those of us who are Christians and Jews DO have a strong connection to a philosophical and religious heritage which is ancient indeed. We are heirs to a great and ancient tradition of which we can be proud.
What is America’s common culture? Learning American sports in school. I learned the Star-Spangled Banner and patriotic traditions attending baseball games with my immigrant parents and grandparents for the Fourth of July. Of course, serving in the American military helped us transfer our allegiance to America. When I was in school there was much more emphasis on patriotic military culture than there is today in most schools especially in the big cities though I think it true to say heartland America which produces the bulk of ROTC/NROTC officers and military recruits still embraces a popular patriotic military culture.
What is American’s common culture?
Learning about Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, the Letter from Birmingham Jail, memorizing the Gettysburg Address, learning about the Magna Carta and the “Rights of Englishmen”, learning about the 1628 Petition of Right and the English Bill of Rights (1689). Those charters were legal limitations on the power of the English monarchy that eventually tilted the balance towards the Parliament. This concept of Limited Government and the Rights of Englishmen –such as due process, trial by jury and no taxation without consent were carried into America by the colonial charters issued by the Crown. The Magna Carta and the legal tradition associated with it came to English North America at Jamestown and at Plymouth. And of course the Mayflower Compact is the seed of what became the United States; there the colonist proclaimed their need to elect their own leaders, and obey laws for the good of the entire community. This helped establish strong notions of popular sovereignty and consent of the governed. But America was exceptional. For all the vaunted liberties of the English Bill of Rights there were great flaws in the English system because, for example, religious minorities such as Puritans, Quakers, Jews or Catholics were persecuted or forced to be non-jurors. In America, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties written 48 years before the English Bill of Rights was more expansive. America took steps at religious tolerance long before England with the Maryland Toleration Act (1649) which was all the more remarkable because Maryland was a Catholic colony. And of course the American Bill of Rights made defense of religious freedom even stronger. The whole history of the USA is one of the expansions of rights and educational opportunities. Our country is not perfect I and would not claim for example that every military intervention by the US Marines was “for freedom” alone (sometimes they were protecting US interests and thus “keeping their honor clean” –following orders of civilian leadership). But in the really great wars the U.S. Marines were the tip of the spear for free nations and free societies and they have an exemplary record not only for courage but also for restraint and discipline. Likewise in WWII and WWI American soldiers came as liberators not as conquerors. It’s a story that we can all be proud of as Americans.
No one in my family ever voted before they came to America but I recognize the greatness and nobility of George Washington, the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Eisenhower, Kennedy and so on. Their history became OUR history.
My immediate ancestors were subject to the whims of monarchs, press-ganging into military service and the oppression of state sponsored established churches.
Of course, there are things of my ancient heritage of which I am proud -our religious faith, our own musical and literary culture- but I do not romanticize the class ridden and undemocratic world of my forbears. That is the main problem with Multiculturalism; it is dishonest and tends to romanticize or misrepresent foreign or ancient cultures. I consider myself a cosmopolitan individual. I speak several languages and have travelled widely. I admire and cherish aspects of other cultures and enjoy visiting other places. But also know that I owe everything to America. We owe everything to America. Our debt of gratitude for our freedom and opportunities in this great nation is so immense that I would think we should be ashamed if we did not recognize it. So you can bet I teach both my own children and my students to say “God Bless America” and pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God, invisible, with liberty and justice for all. “

I would stake my life that the majority of Americans completely agree with and support Mr. Thornton's point of view. We are not anti-immigration or anti-immigrant. We are,above all else, simply Americans and proud to be.
"The effect is to divide, not unify, to pit group against group as each tries to out-victim the other in a zero-sum competition for political clout and slices of the public fisc."

Can't we all admit that division is more natural than some abstracted propositional unity of Americanism?

What we lament is simply Nature. We moderns think America is the critical mass machine that can finally defeat the contingency and vagaries of Nature, with no unwanted eruptions of Nature along the way, such as ethnic turf wars.

Let's praise the division, because only through it, will America's founding stock take notice that the America that was founded by our gene pool for our gene pool and has been given away to our ethnic competitors and enemies by the worst of our set: the White liberal elite politicians.

Now that we know whom to blame, we must find a way to throw our enemies over the barricades to their awaiting "diversities". Only then will we force the discipline of the iron laws of nature upon those who broke these eternal laws and profited from it while the made us suffer.

Transcend Diversity, Embrace Whiteness, Beware and Prepare, because you really do know what's coming next... you see it in your nightmares...
One other thought for us limited government geezers -- we need to stop mindlessly giving money to our alma maters - and to public schools in general.

They are now our enemies. Let's stop being "useful idiots" with our wealth.

If you MUST give money to a college, pick Hillsdale or one of a handful of other schools that still retain some semblance of championing freedom and individuality. But frankly I feel a better choice would be the freedom academic think tanks such as Reason, Cato, Manhattan Institute and others.

Welcome to Canada
Professor Thornton has failed to follow every PC tenet of the academic world.

Thank goodness.

One side thought: With the ever-increasing imposition of victim theology into public schools' curriculum, perhaps now is the time to push for privatizing public schools -- at least partially though school vouchers, or (better yet) education tax credits as now employed in Arizona.

Better education for less than half the current per student cost -- and preferred by parents from every demographic.
The problem is nationwide. I took an English Phd level course at my east coast alma mater twenty years after graduating. The course turned out not to be about the literature of California, as professed, but a political screed.

The reading list was given over to accounts of minorities’ victimization at the hands of the white man — certainly part of the story, but not the only one.The only representations of white culture further enforced the concept of white privilege.

Completely lacking were John Steinbeck's field workers, Tom Wolfe’s cultural reportage of surf culture and the LSD 60s counter-culture, Po Bronson’s brilliant reporting of the Internet revolution, Christopher Isherwood’s documentation of the Nazi era Jewish diaspora, which created Hollywood. In other words -- anything that would give students insight into the real world they were about to enter.

The history of Mexican and Native American persecution is part of the California story, but there is so much more, and so much brilliant writing students missed out on because of the need to highlight victim politics.

Incidentally, bullying of minorities is pronounced at this state university campus.I wonder how much of this has to do with the fact that multiculturalism has been so embraced by the faculty that the poor, working class and lower middle class "non-minority" students who sit in class, and are told over and over that they are the root of all evil, lash back in frustration. They cannot speak up in class, so feeling marginalized themselves, bully in private. This is no excuse for bullying — we are all responsible for our own behavior.

What is "the common culture and political principles that immigrants once learned to become Americans."?

Until we can clearly articulate these concepts we are all guilty of 'sour grapes'