The past few years have witnessed an intensification of anti-immigration sentiment in America. In 1994 came the passage of California's Proposition 187, which cut off state benefits to illegal immigrants. The following year saw heated debates in Congress over limiting the number of people allowed entry into the United States. And in the summer of 1996, President Clinton signed a welfare reform bill that for the first time restricted the rights of legal immigrants as well as undocumented aliens. At the same time, many prominent public figures took the position that immigrants are undermining the social fabric of our country, bringing with them strange customs and foreign ways that will destroy the essential nature of the United States. There was even talk of amending the Constitution to deny automatic citizenship to native-born children of immigrants. Where once America opened its golden door, that door now seems to be closing.Lost in the midst of the acrimony is what actually happens to immigrants once they arrive and settle here, a story that is told in Assimilation, American Style. Peter D. Salins, himself a child of immigrants and a leading scholar of urban affairs, makes a powerful case that, at a time when the immigrant population of the United States is growing larger and more diverse, the nation must rededicate itself to its historic mission of assimilating immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds. Reviewing the history of assimilation, he reveals how successive immigrant populations have become Americanized, despite being considered "alien" in their time-notably, the Germans, Irish, Italians, and Jews-and how assimilation continues to work among Hispanics and Asians today. America's vitality as a nation, Salins argues, depends on its being as successful in assimilating its newest immigrants as it was in integrating earlier immigrant groups.Salins advances our understanding of assimilation in two important ways. He convincingly shows how America's unique social compact of assimilation has permitted immigrants and their descendants to hold on to their ethnic traditions even as they acquired an American identity. He also documents the dire ramifications of our retreat from the ideal of assimilation in recent decades, countering the multiculturalists who ask ethnic Americans to reject assimilation in favor of ethnic separatism, and the nativists who reject further immigration altogether. It is America's unique paradigm of assimilation, Salins argues, that has enabled it to maintain national unity alongside unparalleled ethnic diversity and has kept it from experiencing the ethnic discord found in places like Canada, Germany, and France-let alone the ethnic warfare of Bosnia or Rwanda. Unless America revives its commitment to assimilation, he concludes, it risks undermining the foundations of its prosperity, social cohesion, and national civic culture.
About Peter D. Salins
See more books from this Author
Published January 2, 1997
by Basic Books.
Political & Social Sciences.