To the Editor:
Linda Chavez, in “Hispanics vs. Their Leaders” [October 1991], offers a painful contrast between the conduct of today’s radical and separatist Hispanic leaders and that of earlier ethnic leaders. But she is mistaken if she assumes, as she appears to, that Polish, Italian, German, Jewish, and other ethnic leaders of the past behaved as they did because of some innate common sense or good judgment.
Assimilation is a bitter pill to swallow, and an immigrant group will swallow it only if it has to. But the melting-pot ideal, so important in digesting previous waves of immigrants, is now derided or ignored by elite American opinion. We can hardly expect immigrant groups to assimilate if every signal—from the government, the churches, the media, the schools—tells them they don’t have to.
In other words, professional ethnics did not force the United States to accept multiculturalism and related foolishness—we have done this to ourselves. And only when society at large declares ethnic separatism and multiculturalism illegitimate can ethnic spokesmen be expected to preach Americanism to their followers.
Linda Chavez writes:
Mark Krikorian is certainly right that elite opinion no longer favors the goal of assimilating diverse racial and ethnic groups into a common culture. It is far from clear, however, that such opinion reflects a popular consensus. When voters have had an opportunity to endorse a common language, for example, they have overwhelmingly supported such measures. Indeed, a majority of Hispanic voters endorsed a constitutional amendment to make English the official language in California in 1986.
Most Americans take for granted that we will continue to have a shared, common culture; but they are unaware of how far adrift from that purpose public policy has strayed, especially in the education of minority children. Ignorance and apathy on the part of the general public have contributed to the success of self-appointed ethnic leaders in getting their separatist agenda enacted into public policy. Mr. Krikorian sounds an appropriate alarm.