In the issue of February 21-27 issue of The Economist, in a story about David Cameron’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to get ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom to vote for the Tory party, mention was made of a reliable demographic projection that by 2050 about one third of Britons will be non-white. (By long experience, I trust The Economist to cite only reliable sources.) Due to my (possibly pathological) propensity for free association, a name popped into my mind—that of Richard Rodriguez. And this association leads to some interesting reflections.Richard Rodriguez was born in 1944 in California, where he still lives. His parents immigrated from Mexico; he only spoke Spanish until he entered school at age six. In 1982 he published a book that attracted widespread attention—The Education of Richard Rodriguez. In his own words, the book tells the story of how he “lost his Mexican soul” and became an American. The alleged loss of soul is a favorite theme in the discourse of Mexican-American cultural separatism. That is not at all how Rodriguez addresses the topic. He is positive about his Americanization, which brought about the enriching capacity to live in two distinctive worlds. This comes out very strongly in his opposition to bilingual education—he felt that the differentiation between school and family is expressed as having an “outside” (American) and an “inside” (Mexican) language. Of course the American language exerts a very powerful influence, but this does not make the Mexican one disappear. The two languages influence each other, and not only in the dialect called “Spanglish”. For the same reason Rodriguez opposed affirmative action. The demographic projections in 1982 were less dramatic than they are today, so that one phrase used by Rodriguez in his book now reads like a plausible prediction—“the browning of America”. He also used the term “mestizo nation” for the future of America. “Mestizo” is a term meaning people of mixed white Spanish and Indio descent – the “brown ones”, which now constitute the majority of the Mexican nation.Rodriguez wrote out of the American situation which differs significantly from the British one. Immigration into the UK is mainly by blacks and South Asians—many of them are Muslim, which is obviously a complicating factor. Immigrants to the U.S. are mainly from Latin America, virtually none of whom are Muslim. But there are interesting similarities, among them the salience of the date of 2050 in the demographic projections. In that year the U.S. Census projects that (non-Hispanic) whites will have shrunk to 53% of the population (Hispanic whites are not counted here, because many of them identify themselves in ethnic rather than racial terms).The political implications in the two countries are also similar—both Conservatives in the UK and Republicans in the U.S. want to avoid becoming parties of “angry whites”. Because of greater fertility of minorities, especially if they are Muslim, means that they are growing larger while the white population is aging. (Will five young blacks soon have to take care of fifty elderly Wasps with dementia? I should think that this would not be a happy prospect for either side.) The demographic projections vary from country to country in the European Union, also concerning the number of Muslims, but the percentage of indigenous whites is shrinking in most of Europe. Populist European movements express more hostility toward Muslims from Turkey than toward Christians from Moldava. I think it would be a serious mistake to throw all these fears into one big box labelled “racism” or “xenophobia”; some of these fears are not irrational—just think of the rabid anti-Semitism in some Muslim circles in France or Germany, or of radicalized youngsters from these countries voluntarily traveling to Syria to become sadistic murderers or enslaved brides of Jihad fighters.What are the chances of integrating all these minorities into Western host societies? The chances are better in the U.S. than in Europe, but there too, I think, one can imagine positive scenarios. A lot will depend on whether the barbaric onslaught of radical Islamism will be militarily stopped. I will not speculate about this here (though I’m rather sure that ideological propaganda designed by anti-terrorist experts will not do). But I recall some episodes from Europe.It must have been around 1960 that a joke circulated in Germany: The U.S. Army stationed in Bavaria wanted to cultivate good relations with the local population. To that end they organized sports events in which young Germans competed with young American soldiers. Many of the latter were black. They regularly beat the Germans. One Bavarian turned to another and said: “Just wait until our blacks grow up!”Much more recently I went for a walk in Amsterdam. On the night before a Dutch colleague had told me that there had been an increase of anti-German feelings in the Netherlands because of the increasing dominance in Europe of reunited Germany. On my walk I stopped in the city’s historical museum where I had never been before. On the wall where several portraits of leaders from the time when Amsterdam was a very powerful city. They were uniformly stern-looking Calvinists with beards. As I stood looking at this impressive gallery, a group of some twenty boys came in, about ten years old and all with brown faces, probably children of immigrants from formerly Dutch Indonesia. The white teacher was explaining the exhibits to the children. I understand very little Dutch, but as he was pointing at the portraits I could make out his saying “our ancestors”. Then I had a fantasy: A group of Dutch ten-year olds are shouting at a group of German ten-year olds: “We know what you did to us during the war.” At this point the problem of immigrant acculturation in Europe would have been solved.An old friend of mine in Vienna is a pediatrician who used to work in public schools before her retirement. A few years ago she told me how shocked she was when she visited a first-grade class of children who spoke only Turkish. She is a person without even the least ethnic or religious prejudice, but I can understand her reaction. Of course these children would eventually speak German, but, as recent events have shown, language acquisition does not necessarily lead to identification with the culture and values of the host country.Speaking of Austria, the parliament has just passed a law on the status of Islam. It expands the rights already enjoyed by Muslims (such as freedom of worship, religious accomodations in employment and work rules, equal rights of citizenship), but includes some new provisions, some of which Austrian Muslims have welcomed, and some that they feel are discriminatory. Mosques are now given the same corporate status previously enjoyed by synagogues and Christian churches, also the state increases its financial support of Muslim institutions. But on the other hand sermons in mosques and religious instruction in Muslim schools must be in German, imams must be trained in Austria and financed by Austrian sources. Until now many imams were trained abroad and sent to Austria, and paid as well as supervised, by the Turkish government department of Islamic affairs (an odd institution that originated under the old regime as an agency of “disease control” in defense of secularism, but has been increasingly Islam-friendly since the installation in power by a comparatively moderate Islamist party). I find intriguing that the new law was preceded by a study of how Islam was treated by Austria-Hungary in its rule in Bosnia from 1878 to 1918, when the government pursued policies very respectful of Islam (funding of Muslim institutions, elements of Shari’a incorporated in public law, imams in uniform serving as military chaplains).In 2010 Thilo Sarrazin, a public servant who was a member of the Social Democratic Party, published a book titled Deutschland schafft sich ab (“Germany abolishes itself”). The book became a bestseller overnight, despite denunciations by important political leaders from the Chancellor on down. The book was criticized for careless use of demographic data about an alleged “Islamization” of Germany. In an interview after the publication of the book Sarrazin was asked, “What do you really want?” He replied: “I want my grandchildren to go for a walk anywhere in Germany, and feel at home.” That is not an objectionable sentiment. But of course it leaves out the possibility that the grandchildren may have a broader sense of a scenery in which they can feel at home. In a recent referendum that prohibits the erection of new minarets in Switzerland, a majority of Swiss citizens gave an answer to the question about the range of their feelings of being at home. The range did not include tall minarets overlooking peacefully grazing cows and the Muslim call to prayer blaring out the sound of the little bells hanging around the cows’ necks. I can imagine various ways of accommodating both traditional Swiss nostalgias and Muslims’ religious freedom: One could limit the permissible height of minarets and have the call to prayer’s sound reduced by a number of decibles (which, I think, is already in force in places with the sound of church bells). Democracy is dependent on the willingness to compromise. I would hope that a compromise would not include a requirement that imams preach in Swiss-German.Unless one wants to envisage a future of renewed ethnic or religious hegemony (which is morally repugnant in a democracy and impractical in a pluralist society), people are forced to ask such questions as “What is a black Bavarian?”, or “What is a Swiss Muslim?” There are the broader questions: “What is a nation?” and “What is patriotism?” A nineteenth-century British wit once defined a nation as a language with an army. That is not altogether accurate: a nation can have more than one language (like Switzerland) or no army (like Palestine). What is empirically plausible is that a nation is a quite modern synthesis of a political system with a real or imagined culture. Since patriotism or nationalism have been discredited by Nazism, some on the German Left have argued that not the nation but the democratic constitution should be the focus of political loyalty (“constitution patriotism”). That is not quite accurate either. It has some plausibility in cases like the French Republic and the United States, but even there the political system is patriotically associated with much more mundane sentiments. I would think that more French soldiers in the two world wars fought with thoughts of the smell of baguettes and of French children’s songs than of liberty, equality and fraternity. President George H.W. Bush, speaking of his love of country, was not very credible when he reported that, after being shot down over the Pacific in World War II, floating in the water and waiting for rescue, he thought of the constitution and the separation of church and state. I remember a very different expression of American patriotic nostalgia from my student days in New York. There used to be a pizzeria in Greenwich Village that claimed to make the best pizzas in the world. (It should be pointed out that American pizzas are much larger than their Neapolitan prototypes – belonging to American rather than Italian cuisine.) In the window of the aforementioned pizzeria (I think it was on 8th Street) there was a framed newspaper story: An American soldier from New York was lying in an army hospital somewhere in the Pacific theater, close to death from his combat wounds. Someone asked him if he had any, possibly last wishes. He said that he yearned for a pizza from the aforementioned pizzeria. He probably did not think that the Air Force would promptly fulfill his wish.I think that these considerations of patriotism, political system and culture (including food culture) suggest that Richard Rodriguez’ notion of a mestizo nation can serve as a metaphor for successful pluralist democracies in many countries. (To justify inclusion of this post in my blog, let me add that, of course, religion is an integral part of culture… The smell of incense in a medieval cathedral… The full-throated sound of African-American Gospel songs…)
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Published on: March 4, 2015
Immigration and AssimilationMany Mestizo Nations
What are the prospects for immigrants assimilating—in Europe as well as in the United States? Perhaps not as bad as you might believe.