Posts tagged ‘Eastern Europeans’

The "They Will Not Assimilate" Argument Rising Yet Again From the Grave

How many times does an argument have to be wrong, and for how long, before it finally loses credibility?  I suppose the answer must be nearly infinite, because the "they will not assimilate" argument is rising again, despite being about 0 for 19 on the groups to which it has been applied.  Germans, Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Mexicans and now Chechnyans.   This argument always seems to be treated seriously in real time and then looks stupid 20 or 30 years later.  As an extreme example, here is Benjamin Franklin writing about Germans in 1751:

why should the Palatine Boors [ie Germans] be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

(By the way, if you want to retain an unadulterated rosy image of Franklin, who was a great man for many reasons, do not read the last paragraph at that link.  People are complicated and sometimes even great men could not shed all the prejudices of their day.)

The only good news is that the circle of those acceptable to the xenophobic keeps getting larger.  It used to be just the English, then it was Northern Europeans, then much later it was all Europe and today I would say it is Europe and parts of Asia.  So that's progress, I suppose.

Fun fact:  Ironically, the English King at the time Franklin wrote the quote above was George II.  He was actually a German immigrant, born in Germany before his father came to England as King George I, jumping over numerous better claimants who were Catholic.  His son actually assimilated very well, as George III spoke English as a first language, and his granddaughter Victoria practically defined English-ness.  By the way, Victoria would marry another German immigrant.

Nativists in their Own Words

He warned "that immigration to this country is increasing and"¦is making its greatest relative increase from races most alien to the body of the American people and from the lowest and most illiterate classes among those races....half of whom have no occupation and most of whom represent the rudest form of labor," are "people whom
it is very difficult to assimilate and do not promise well for the standard
of civilization in the United States."

[He] complained that many of them "have no money at all.  They land in this country without a cent in their pockets." ...He objected that many "stay but a short time in the United States" in order to "then return to their native country with such money
as they have been able to save here." He warned that these sorts of
immigrants, "who come to the United States, reduce the rate of wages
by ruinous competition, and then take their savings out of the country, are not desirable. They are mere birds of passage. They form an element
in the population which regards home as a foreign country, instead of
that in which they live and earn money. They have no interest or stake in the country, and they never become American citizens."

Whoa, who is that?  J.D Hayworth?  Tom Tancredo?  Surely its someone bashing on Mexican immigration -- the mantra is so familiar.

Well, no.  Actually, it is Henry Cabot Lodge, in 1891, most likely referring to your grandparents.  In these words, he was speaking mainly of Italians, but they are the same charges made against the Irish in the mid-19th century or Eastern Europeans in the early 20th century or, of course, against Mexicans today.  Do you really want to stake out the position that yes, this argument was wrong every time it has been used in the last 200 years but it's suddenly right today?