July 1, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

No end to this dawn’s early light

“Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?” That’s what we sing on patriotic occasions. But, on this Fourth of July, we may not be so proud.

That’s because many people in the world fear or hate us because of our primacy in the power department, our wealth or our mistakes, which are numerous. Even some of our own citizens are disaffected about the Iraq war, the polarization of rich and poor in our society, or what they perceive as neglect of the environment.

Plenty of things about our country and its policies are open to criticism, including immigration. In his syndicated column in The Washington Post recently, Charles Krauthammer addressed this problem with the headline, “Assimilation, not immigration, is the key.”

He noted that our relative success in Afghanistan after ousting the Taliban was due in large part to the fact that our ambassador there was an Afghan-born Afghan-American. This man spoke the language and understood the culture of Afghanistan, Krauthammer said.

The columnist concluded, “It is not every country that can send to obscure, faraway places envoys who are themselves children of that culture. Indeed, Americans are the only people that can do that for practically every country.”

That’s true because ours is a nation of immigrants. Like most folks, I don’t know any Native Americans personally except through reading Tony Hillerman mystery novels or the pages of National Geographic. All the people I know, including the members of my family, are either immigrants to this country or are descended from immigrants.

Krauthammer wrote, “America’s genius has always been assimilation, taking immigrants and turning them into Americans. Yet our current debates on immigration focus on only one side of the issue: the massive waves of illegal immigrants that we seem unable to stop.”

He said critics focus on today’s large number of Hispanic immigrants as though this makes them unable to be assimilated, when “in fact, the percentage of foreign-born people living in America today is significantly below what it was in 1890 and 1910—and those were spectacularly successful immigrations.”

While increased border patrols, guest worker passes and the like will help the illegal situation, he said, they won’t solve the more serious problem of division between Hispanic newcomers and established Americans. What is needed is their assimilation into the fabric of American society, especially through learning to speak, read and write English.

Certainly, we in the Church can be proud of efforts, such as Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein’s weekly Criterion column in both Spanish and English, to help Spanish-speaking immigrants. At the same time, many Church agencies are working to teach English to Hispanic parents or to find better-paying jobs, better living arrangements and the like, while their children learn English at school.

Hispanics and other immigrants, as well as we who have been Americans longer, can continue to be proud that we live in a country where every culture, religion, race or language is respected and assimilated into a democratic whole.

God bless America.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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