This commentary on Mark Krikorian's latest book on immigration is typical of James Schipper's fresh and independent outlook. He shows the problem of assimilation from a different angle. It is not simply a matter of "too many too soon". Other factors come into play as well. Why is integration of newcomers important from an environmental perspective? Dr. William Rees, co-author of Our Ecological Footprint, said that social cohesion will be necessary to meet the upcoming ecological challenges that will face us. - Tim Murray
Hello. I just received and started to read “The New Case Against Immigration” by Mark Krikorian. His central thesis is that mass immigration is undesirable, not so much because immigration today are quite different from those in the past, but because the US and the world are different.
One difference that he mentions is that modern means of communication and transportation make it much easier for immigrants to remain in contact with their country of origin and practice what he calls trans-nationalism, which hinders their assimilation.
I think that the problem of trans-nationalism is vastly overstated. What matters more for purposes of assimilation are the frequency of contacts between immigrants and the natives of the new country than those between immigrants and their country of origin.
Let's take two Polish immigrants: Karol and Tadeusz. Both speak Polish at home, are members of a Polish club and a local Polish Catholic church, phone Poland twice a week, e-mail people in Poland regularly, read Polish newspapers on-line, receive a Polish TV channel at home and visit Poland every summer for 4 weeks. We can say that they have not been cut off from Poland.
Karol lives in a Polish-dominated neighborhood, his co-workers are mainly Polish and his children go to a school where over 50% of the pupils are children of Polish immigrants. Tadeusz, by contrast, lives in a neighborhood which has only a few Polish families, his co-workers are all non-immigrants and his children go to a school where there are only a few Polish children. I would say that Tadeusz is subject to constant assimilatory pressure because for 48 weeks per year most of his contacts outside the home are with natives. The same applies to his children.
It may be useful to make a distinction between additive assimilation and substitutive assimilation (my terms). With additive assimilation, the immigrant masters the language and culture of the new country without losing those of the old country. With substitutive assimilation, the language and culture of the new country replace those of old country.
I don't see a problem with additive assimilation as long as it is not carried forward to the second, third, fourth, etc generation. Of course, this refers only to objective assimilation, that is, mastery of the language and familiarity with the culture of the new country. Subjective assimilation, that is, going native, feeling like natives and identifying totally with them, is another matter. I would say that very few adults immigrants, regardless of circumstances, attain full subjective assimilation.
It should be pointed out that modern means of communication can also favor assimilation. TV and radio from the new country can enter the immigrant home at each hour of the day. I know a Greek woman whose TV watching essentially consists of a channel from Greece. When I asked her once whether her children watch that channel too, she laughed. "Are you kidding", she replied. This woman speaks nearly perfect English, so seems to be a case of additive assimilation.
In Paraná, my home state in Brazil, there were dozens of Polish colonies, many of which remained Polish for over a century. This occured, not because those Poles had such frequent contacts with Poland, which of course they didn't, but because they had such infrequent contacts with native Brazilians. They tended to live in largely self-sufficient rural communities with their own church and school.
In Southern Russia, the Germans imported by Catherine the Great in the second half of the 18th century resisted Russification for many generation.Mind you, many if not most of them were Mennonites. In Eastern Europe, many Jews lived in separate Yiddish-speaking communities for several centuries. I would say that those three examples illustrate the importance of contacts with the host population for assimilation.
One important difference between the world today and the world of 1900 is that schooling is much more prolonged. This favors rather than hinders assimilation. When children of immigrants have to spend 12 years in schools of the host country, they are are subject to constant assimilatory pressure, unless the children from one immigrant group are the overwhelming majority at the school.
It is generally assumed that Hispanic immigrants in the US are the least assimilated. If that is true, it isn't because they have more frequent contacts with the homeland than other immigrants but because their large numbers and their concentration in a few states allow them to have contacts mainly with their own kind.
The lesson in the above is very simple. If you want your immigrants to be assimilated, don't import too many of them from one country or from countries that are similar, such as the Spanish-American countries.
James Schipper is a resident of London, Ontario (August 2/08)
Submitted by Tim Murray, Director Immigration Watch Canada www.immigrationwatchcanada.org