The New York Times reports that an anti-immigrant backlash is building among Republican primary voters in Iowa. There is room to doubt how significant this trend is, since the two most anti-immigrant candidates in the Republican field are Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, who are struggling to register in single digits, while the early leaders, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both fairly pro-immigrant. But there is no question that, even if it remains a minority sentiment, there is a substantial nativist, even xenophobic, wing in the Republican party.
As it happens, I was in Miami yesterday and got a chance to observe diversity in action. I loved it. What a booming, vibrant city! I reveled in the Latin and Caribbean accents, the variety of foods, the multiplicity of cultures. My lasting taste of Miami was a terrific Cuban sandwich, espresso, and guava pastry at a Cuban coffee shop at the airport. Beats Hardees hollow.
I’ve been to Des Moines before, and I hope I don’t unduly offend any Iowans by noting that I prefer Miami or other multicultural metropolises like Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York. It’s not just a matter of the weather—though there is that too. And it’s not that the Midwest doesn’t have any ethnic spice; every part of the U.S. was settled by someone from somewhere, who brought along native customs, foods, languages, and cultures. The big difference is that the dominant immigrant groups in the Midwest arrived long ago, generally in the 19th century. Their cultures have blended into a generic white-bread Americana, so now these assimilated German-Americans or Scandinavian-Americans or Polish-Americans resent new arrivals just as much as they were once resented by English-Americans.
All this immigrant-bashing, itself a long American tradition, is pretty silly. Ambitious young immigrants, both high-tech inventors and low-tech lettuce-pickers, provide much of the vigor that keeps our economy vibrant. They always have. The contrast with insular, graying Japan, which is only now recovering from a decade-long recession, couldn’t be starker.
Concerns that these immigrants won’t assimilate or will destroy our common culture seem to me vastly overblown. American culture is spreading all over the world, much to the distress of the Academie Francaise and other guardians of traditional folkways. People all over the world are acting, dressing, and speaking like Americans, while watching American-produced TV shows and movies, playing American video games, and listening to American music. (Indeed, on a recent trip to Berlin I did very well speaking English to everyone from army officers and government officials to waiters and taxi drivers.) Do nativists really mean to suggest that, while American culture is conquering cities from Singapore to Santiago, it will die out in San Diego or Miami? It seems implausible, to put it mildly. Indeed, Miami remains identifiably American. Its secession from Florda—the lurid and implausible nightmare of some immigrant-bashers—isn’t remotely in the cards.
This isn’t to minimize some of the problems with immigration, which undoubtedly puts a strain on schools and social services. But on the whole I’d say immigration was and remains a major plus for the United States. There is even something to be said, dare I say it, for the concepts of “multiculturalism” and “diversity.” Shorn of some of their radical academic dogma, they are a realistic recognition that America is the sum of divergent parts. The inevitable process of assimilation, which is going on now as in the past, is a good thing on the whole, but it does have its downside. I, for one, hope that Miami never loses its Latin flair.
*Editor’s Note: The title of this post originally contained an error.