For a long time in the U.S., the discussion on immigration policy — how many, who? — has presumed that immigrants, or at least their children, assimilate into American society. I myself made that argument in my first public statement on immigration long ago, in a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal about East Asian immigrants, written in response to comments made by Peter Brimelow. And this of course has been the assumption about European immigrants as well.

With Donald Trump’s call for a moratorium on the admission of Muslim foreign nationals to the U.S. (“until we can figure out what the hell is going on”), the question of assimilation underlies the dialog. Yesterday the Journal ran a disturbing piece by a former jihadist, Maajid Nawaz, that pointed out that

Over the past few years, in survey after survey, attitudes in the U.K. have reflected a worrisome trend. A quarter of British Muslims sympathized with the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, according to a February poll by ComRes for the BBC. A 2008 YouGov poll found that a third of Muslim students believe that killing for religion can be justified, and 40% want the introduction of Shariah as law in the U.K. Another poll, conducted in 2007 by Populus, reported that 36% of young British Muslims thought apostates should be “punished by death.”

Note carefully that Awaz strongly disagrees with Trump, and calls instead for educational programs (he himself runs one)  to nip extremism in the bud among young Muslims. Mark Krikorian also rejects Trump’s blanket approach, instead proposing that entrants to the U.S. be subjected to a “Do you share our political values?” test.

I believe, though, that many would object to such measures. Awaz’s idea borders on Big Brother-ism, and Mark’s is uncomfortably reminiscent of McCarthyism (and indeed he cites a policy of that era).

Putting aside the frightening events that have led to such discussion, how much should we expect immigrants — and crucially, their children — to assimilate? What do we even mean by that?

My parents, dad an immigrant and mom what I call a near-immigrant, spoke Yiddish between themselves. My brothers and I recognize only the odd phrase of the language here and there. But my daughter speaks Chinese to my wife and me. Are we assimilated? I think so, and that was the theme of my letter responding to Peter. Mark, by the way, sometimes discusses his retention of his Armenian roots, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest he is not assimilated.

And yet, it has become common among ethnic activists, many of them U.S. born, to resent calls for assimilation, preferring Canada’s “mosaic” or “salad bowl” philosophy to the U.S. tradition of the “melting pot.” Most Chinese immigrants still give their American children Western first names, but most Indians do not. There is a substantial outmarriage rate among the Chinese, and to some degree the Indians, but I would guess a much lower rate for the Muslims.

Should this matter? The Brimelow view is that lack of assimilation, and a truly multicultural society, can cause severe problems. Maybe so, but where do we draw the line? Being only quasi-assimilated myself 🙂 I don’t have answers. But I do wish to raise the question.





14 thoughts on “Assimilation

  1. This is where I believe we should draw the line.

    I myself am descended from German Immigrants as are a lot of the general population around Fredericksburg, TX.


    • This sort of assimilation seems to me the gold standard, but there is still much ambiguity about it.

      I think my own tests for assimilation – which probably reflect my views both as an intellectual historian and as (in part) an ‘old stock’ WASP would relate to accepting the fundamental tenets of the classical liberal 19th century understanding of the country:

      1. Separation of Church and State.
      2. Insistence on rigorous honesty in public life – no tolerance for crony capitalism or corruption
      3. willingness to defend the country (the ‘citizen solider’ concept)
      4. fluency in both spoken and written English
      5. thorough knowledge of American history
      6. thorough knowledge of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence
      7. complete renunciation of any prior citizenship. No dual citizenship allowed.
      8. no public benefits before citizenship


  2. My great-grandfather was a Mohawk (in upstate New York). He married a white woman, and none of the grandchildren spoke a word of Iroquois. Does that count as assimilation?

    I suspect that the tribal mothers would have had an opinion about it.

    The reason why the US has had more success with immigrants than the UK is that we have birthright citizenship. In my opinion, a system under which “you were born here; you get to vote here; you get full rights” is the single most important reason why we have fewer problems than Europe, in this area.


  3. It is my belief that one can be respectful and faithful to his heritage and still be fully assimilated into the traditional American culture and values. It is this culture and values of prior immigrants and the Native Americans that has made the country a desirable place to call home. I question why someone would want to immigrate if they do not want to become a participant in the American experience. New immigrants should enhance – not replace – the culture and values.

    Not all recent immigrants oppose assimilation; some are on the other extreme. My sibling is married to a recent immigrant (a citizen for 6 years now); I am encouraging them to allow my nephew to become bilingual while he is still young. I am the one who gives him books about his heritage. By the same token, my grandchildren can be members of the Children of the American Revolution and the Children of the Republic of Texas. They receive age appropriate books about immigration and migration of early settlers describing their ancestors’ contributions to the history of the country. I hope they will continue the study of their genealogy; my child is so interested that he will travel to the small European town from which he grandparent immigrated from over 100 years ago. Perhaps one day my nephew will appreciate what his cousins’ ancestors did to make the US a country that was so attractive that his parent would leave her family and move where she knew no one.


  4. One issue that is not often addressed in the discussion is that many current citizens are not fully integrated/assimilated in society and the adverse effects that current immigration policies are having on this population. In my community there are, in my view, serious problems in the homeless, veteran, mentally ill, Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities that are exacerbated by the invasion that we are experiencing. (I live close enough to the southern border that there is a significant illegal population as well as new legal immigrants. We also had a significant Hurricane Katrina effect with displaced New Orleans residents that seems to have finally been resolved.)

    There are unrealistic expectations of what the community can do for immigrants when there are already so many citizens in need. Housing and education are the most pressing issues in my community. A story in today’s paper was about a family of 7 (including 2 working parents) that lived in a homeless shelter for a year after losing their previous home due to job losses, There are regular reports about the outreach to the homeless “community” under the bridges near downtown , How it is fair to them and others in the same situation to be pushed aside so refugees can have housing? Some schools are almost totally English Language Learners. How can we expect teachers to deal with children that are illiterate in their native language while trying to integrate them into the educational system as has always been the case in years past.

    How is it right that older citizens are unemployed because younger immigrants are viewed as “better” workers? Not many people will hire a laid off 64 year old retired military officer. Then there are older disabled workers who could be self sufficient if given a chance at even an entry level job. Most families are stretched to the limit assisting their own yet we are expected to do without for ourselves so we can take care of people who are voluntarily leaving their homes and are receiving more help than our own citizens.

    What gives me hope is that there are many intelligent, thoughtful, ordinary citizens with creative ideas about solving the problems that exist. Now if we could only get the politicians and leadership in DC, the states, and individual communities would listen to others outside the ruling cliques.


  5. This is a key issue. I’m glad you are blogging about it.

    I will give the Chinese credit: even with their vast numbers of college students over here, I see a lot of assimilation on their part. A lot of eagerness to make friends with Americans, learn the language and culture. A lot of inter-dating and inter-marrying.

    But when it comes to Indian immigration, most particularly the H1-B’s from my workplace, I see very little assimilation. And that’s not surprising. A lot of these guys have probably NEVER left India before coming to the U.S. They barely speak English. They are often married and sometimes have children. They have had zero reason to take an interest in other cultures. When I see them at work – I’m just being honest – they often seem pissed off and resentful. I rarely see them try to interact with non-Indians at work. They don’t speak English… at an American workplace!

    I will make a politically incorrect distinction. The Christian Indians who I know have some interest in understanding other cultures. I occasionally see them at work social events. Often, their kids will interact with and have non-Indian friends. But the Hindus? None of the above. The religious ones just come across as pissed off and resentful.


    • Generally the Chinese foreign students do not try to make friends with Americans. There is a question as to whether this is due to shyness or lack of interest; different people will give different answers on this.


    • H1B Indians actually know English quite well. I have been told that all Indian schools teach in English and not Hindi. In India, every state/province has its own separate language, so English is one of the few ways they can communicate with each other. Hindi is another.

      So if you ever get an email from an Indian, you would probably not be able to tell the difference. However, when they speak it, they have such a thick accent that they are sometimes difficult to understand.

      Before I knew better, I had no trouble making friends with most H1B Indians, but then I realized that when a new Indian showed up at work, it meant that an American was going to be laid off.

      My nephew married a second generation Indian and she does not have a Hindu accent. Her brother is the same way. My nephew was the first person in the family to marry outside his own race, but she is so likeable, you don’t really notice it.


  6. When it comes to assimilation, some muslims seem to have a higher melting point than normal people. I think any test should ascertain that fact and those that fail don’t get in.

    I remember about 20 years ago, there was this online psych test that was all the rage. Trouble is, I don’t know if it was real or not. The purpose of the test was to see if you were prejudiced and if so, against whom. Its been a long time, but as I remember it, the test would load a bunch of images on the screen and you had to quickly choose whether you liked the image or disliked it. They would show you people of all sorts of races. Then based on your responses and the time it took you to hit the key, it would decide what your prejudices were. I tried several times to fool the test, but it always said that I had prejudices. I don’t remember what it was called.

    Like I said, I don’t know if it was a real test or just urban legend stuff, but it did look real and I don’t see why a real psych test couldn’t be developed for entry to this country. That is, a test that can’t be fooled.


  7. There are many lessons in USA history, and in Europe. We’e waffled between integrating and treating Amerindians as sovereign nations, and I think the waffling is worse than going one way or the other.

    Then there is the core values issue. If we had national agreement on our core values vs. peripheral values then we could continue integration/ assimilation on the basis of core while picking family heritage and cultural practices that are valuable in that context. But that’s been broken since 1900 at least. It’s difficult to get into specifics without running into heated political disputes.

    USA was almost totally Christian. Many of the writings and petitions and court cases had to do with Christian denominations. But there were early Jewish settlers, and a very few Muslims shortly after. These were mostly English colonies, but we had the Dutch, French Huguenots, and Spanish still trying to purge the Muslims and Jewish from their midst after 8 centuries of invasion and counter-invasion, traveling intermediaries and hated foreigners.

    Some Jewish denominations are very worried about being eliminated. They strive greatly to preserve their religious as well as cultural ways (linked, but not the same from generations living in Muslim courts, in out of the way places, the Sepharad/Spanish and Ashkenazi and…what do they call themselves? The Greek/Roman remnant of just a few hundred, and for that matter the very small number who remained almost entirely in 2 villages on 2 mountains in northern Israel, carefully choosing marriages to preserve the culture and blood-lines and yet avoid those double recessive disasters). Some few are, like some of the Muslims, engaged in a race to out-proliferate the Muslims and other denominations. With many it is difficult to sort out the religious from the cultural.

    The “democratic socialist” PC of Europe is under great strain. The extravagant, financially unsupportable illfare programs were already under strain several decades back. The frictions between the encysted Muslim ghettos/no-go zones have been ramping up right along with the increased immigration. Arafat and others openly had declared an intention of conquest through massive population increase, and that appears to be what we are seeing. But it is interesting that it is also driving many non-practicing Christians and Jews to revive their religions and cultural practices.

    I have ancestors from throughout UK & Europe, so when I read the news I enjoy checking out the locations. Where are the “refugees”/”invaders” coming from by what paths, and where are there hot-spots, and where did this ancestor have a home, a shop, or found an abbey or synagogue, where does this cousin have a B&B, that one work a farm, or this other hold castles?

    No, there’s no solution but to make a serious effort at sorting out the benign from the malefactors and then be prepared to defend against the malefactors we didn’t catch on the first few tries. Whether that is 52% or 35% or 2%… and curb the ever-worsening over-population and over-crowding.


  8. I hope that everyone can check out This site favors no political party, but seeks to reduce overall immigration until our own unemployed can find jobs. You can check out the candidates positions on immigration and Roy has a great “gumball” video.


  9. There is a huge difference between what America means to a radical revolutionary, versus what America means to a typical immigrant.

    The immigrant accepts that the U.S. is boss, and that *they* will have to make some changes to assimilate.

    The radical revolutionary (whether political, religious, or otherwise) views the U.S. as territory to be conquered. The *U.S.* will have to be changed to fit *their* value system.

    This is the fundamental difference between an enemy of America, and a friend. If a friend wants to visit your house, he/she accepts that you’re the boss — it’s YOUR house. If an enemy visits your house, they want your house to submit to THEIR standards, meaning they take what they want, they come and go as they please, and you have to just lump it.

    Perhaps a more pertinent question to ask a prospective immigrant is, “What kind of America would you like to see in 20 years from now?”


  10. I am beginning to believe that all international students and guest workers should be literate in both written and spoken English. Although many universities required minimum TOEFL scores, there are no requirements on guest workers for even basic fluency in English much less of the level of literacy required in the business world.

    I also believe that these groups planning to live (not just visit) in the US should also be required to have a knowledge of US history and government. The absurd demands made by some on the immigration forums demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of US history, culture and laws. The sense of entitlement of some long term guests reveals a complete lack of appreciation of the people and forces that have made the US a desirable place to study, work and live.

    Whenever members of my family even visit a country, they become familiar with the history, geography, and traditions as they prepare for their trip. My then preteen daughter traveling with a Girl Scout group to the Far East was given the order that she would try every food put in front of her by her hosts; she did not eat seafood until after she married as a result of eating the sushi. I am sure she was a far better guest than the two international students invited for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner who refused to eat most of what was served.


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