Though Mandarin is the official national language of China, the pronunication of the Chinese New Year greeting familiar to many Americans is Cantonese, Gung Hei Faat Choi (“Congratulations and produce wealth”). Happy Chinese New Year to you all, Chinese or not.
An oft-heard justification for a liberal immigration policy, “It helps the economy,” is overly simplistic and largely misleading, but in my view a compelling justification is that immigration brings diversity. A wonderful TV commercial run by the Bank of America a few years ago put it best: “Californians can celebrate three New Years each year,” with the picture showing January 1 and the Chinese and Jewish New Years. Actually, they could have thrown in a couple more.
But the topic also raises questions. First, how much immigration-generated diversity is “enough”? We in the San Francisco Bay Area are pretty darn diverse now, and have major problems doing well by the folks already here. It’s hard to get across the Bay Bridge almost any time of the day; BART is standing-room only for increasingly-long periods in the morning and evening; at my university, UC Davis, it’s gotten quite difficult to find a seat in the student union cafeteria, let alone a seat in a classroom. UC just raised tuition again, and in recent years the trend has been that students pay more and more but get less and less. After they graduate, many will wonder how they will ever be able to buy a home, even with two incomes. We have double the number of people in the state today than when I was growing up.
Second, in most if not all ethnicities, the culture and traditions do fade away from one generation to the next. NPR’s Kat Chow had a nice piece today on feeling guilty that she is not being “Chinese enough” to please her immigrant dad. Do we need a “pyramid” scheme to keep replenishing that diversity? And, as noted above, can we afford it?
For now, though, enjoy the holiday. As Ms. Chow said, during Chinese New Year it is customary to eat fish for prosperity (the word for fish is a homonym for one meaning “abundance”) and noodles for longevity (long noodles). I wish abundance and longevity for you all.