The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, January 24, 2005

Heat of the Melting Pot

Belmont Club has an appreciative post about Neil Prakash, an American soldier of Indian descent, including:
Prakash, who comes from a family of doctors (his mother, father and older brother are all physicians) was set to follow in their footsteps at Johns Hopkins when he attended an orientation course for reserves. He was awed by a stylish colonel in a Stetson and spurs and resolved to join the forces. Although born in India and maintaining strong ties to the Indian community, he was raised in Syracuse, New York, in what he says is a very patriotic American household.
This is a tremendous American success story with two components, economic and ideological. A skilled and gifted family followed the current of brain drain to the United States, and here prospered, and that is good (for America anyway). But this story happened because the Prakashes did not simply use America as a stepping stone for their own economic self-interest; they became American.

It is possible to imagine an alternative, and there are certainly many people who, if their stories were made public, would exemplify the opposite of this one. Participating in America's economy is no guarantee of true assimilation. But, as a vital matter of national interest, we should be working to ensure as much assimilation as possible.

This could be characterized as unfair; we are asking immigrants to give up or submerge large parts of their own cultural heritage. However, this criticism is unjustified, because it assumes that America has the obligation to offer economic benefit without asking for cultural assimilation. Instead, we should offer a single package: the immigrants we desire are those who desire to be Americans in every sense. If assimilation seems like an unpleasant word, remember that there is only one good name for its opposite: ghettoization.

It is more difficult to name specific policies which would work to increase assimilation, beyond the obvious one of ensuring that English is the first language of all education, thus destroying the native-instruction ghetto.