By now you’ve no doubt heard about Jeb Bush’s comments regarding our not needing a “multicultural society” and the predictable, ensuing backlash from the Left. At the Washington Post, Ed O’Keefe launches into a well intentioned but rather odd defense of the statement, even though the old “when you’re explaining you’re losing” rule is still in effect.
Bush was merely expressing a long-held belief that immigrants and refugees need to assimilate and that countries permitting “multiculturalism” can suffer from a lack of unity among people. When he discusses the subject, he’s adhering to the strict definition of the words “assimilation” and “multiculturalism.”
Assimilation: The process of adapting or adjusting to the culture of a group or nation, or the state of being so adapted.
Multiculturalism: The preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society, as a state or nation.
There’s nothing terribly amiss with any of that, nor with the sentiments being expressed in the piece, but I think it rather glosses over the main point of what many people – primarily conservatives – have have been saying on this subject for as long as I can remember. Assimilation and multiculturalism are not mutually exclusive concepts. In fact we can trace this idea back to the earliest days of the nation and straight through most of the 20th century. (Of late the idea has rather gone off the rails, but that’s a battle for another day.)
People came here from all over the world and if they wanted to make it in America it meant becoming Americans. That wasn’t a curse or an insult or some form of subjugation. It was a transition. It was a bridge one crossed to escape whatever tyranny or other horror you were escaping and giving yourself a chance to make it in the great experiment which is the American democratic society. Yes, that required some adjustments along the way. We need to get along with each other and communicate so you actually do need to speak American. (For you younger kids, that’s what they used to call “English” until we improved upon with various colloquialisms and an improved accent.) You also needed to learn our laws and follow them. And if the nation was threatened you were expected to pitch in and do your part to defend her.
Beyond that it was pretty much free range living. You earned your rights and were free to explore them to the utmost. But even with all of the aforementioned transition you weren’t expected to entirely forget your family’s heritage. In fact we eventually encouraged everybody to celebrate it. If you were Irish you could revel in that and show up for the St. Patty’s Day parade. (Sorry about that whole “No Irish” thing in the beginning, guys.) The Italians still made the best food, though the Polish clearly disagreed. Granted, we got off to a very rocky start with the “involuntary imports” from Africa, but sooner or later we got the message and everyone was getting holidays and festivals and all sorts of things to celebrate their roots. And yet that was all just multicolored icing on the cake because underneath it all they were all Americans.
It’s sort of a nice thought, isn’t it?
But the wheels come off the wagon when “remembering and honoring your heritage” shifts over to importing your previous culture and insisting that everyone else goes along with it. We don’t have to learn to speak your language if it’s not American and no amount of heritage entitles you to an automatic bigger slice of the pie than anyone else. You signed up for an equal opportunity show… and that means equal for everyone.
I rarely find common ground with Jeb Bush, but he’s on to something here whether he meant it that way or not. Celebrate your historic culture. But yes, we still expect you to assimilate. You’re an American now. It’s neither racist nor offensive to ask you to sit on the same bench and wear the team colors.