A post for Independence Day: America the welcoming
The following quote eloquently expresses an important aspect of what “America” is, was, and perhaps should be:
"On our national birthday, and amid an angry debate about immigration, Americans should reflect on the lessons of our shared immigrant past. We must recall that the challenges facing our nation today were felt as far back as the Founders' time. Immigrant assimilation has always been slow and contentious, with progress measured not in years but in decades. Yet there are steps communities and government should take to form a more cohesive, successful union . . .
"We native-born Americans are doing less than our great-grandparents did to welcome immigrants.
"A century ago, religious, civic and business groups and government provided classes in English and citizenship. Historian Thomas P. Vadasz found that in Bethlehem, Pa., a thriving town of about 20,000, roughly two-thirds of whom were immigrants, the biggest employer, Bethlehem Steel, and the local YMCA offered free English instruction to thousands of immigrants in the early 20th century, even paying them to take classes. Today, immigrants face long waiting lists for English classes, even ones they pay for . . .
"Assimilation does not mean immigrants shed ethnic identities. Our national experience with hyphenated identities shows that good Americans can retain a strong sense of ethnic identity.
"We've lived our national motto, "E Pluribus Unum" ("Out of Many, One"), better than any other country. But we ought not to airbrush our ancestors' difficulties in assimilation, nor fail to match our forebears' efforts to help integrate immigrants. Government, churches, libraries, civic organizations and businesses must cooperate to address this challenge, as they did a century ago."
- Excerpted from Jeb Bush, governor of Florida 1999-2007, and Robert D. Putnam, Harvard University, "A better welcome for our nation's immigrants," in The Washington Post, July 3, 2010.
A previous version of this post ran on NRDC's Switchboard on July 4, 2010.
- The many scenes of Memorial Day (May 28, 2012)
- Song for the day (July 4, 2011)
- What does 'the pursuit of happiness' mean for communities? (June 29, 2011)
- Coming to America: immigration and sustainable communities (May 9, 2011)
- Speaking of community . . . (July 3, 2008)
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Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment. For more posts, see his blog's home page.