When the melting pot stops boiling
When everything works right, a startling transformation takes place between first generation Americans and second generation Americans. First generation Americans speak with funny accents, eat funny food, wear funny clothing, worship funny invisible creatures, and follow funny customs. Second and third generation Americans talk like us, dress like us, eat like us, and are us, even if their skin color or facial characteristics are different. When things don’t work right, this melding does not take place. Citizens either choose or are forced to stay together, which separates them from the country as a whole.
If ghettoization occurs, or if people are not permitted to integrate into mainstream society, then they may maintain accents and customs for generations, suffer economically and socially, causing civil unrest and potential danger to society at large, which includes those under our care and protection. At the moment, the problems of failure to integrate seem clearest to us when we look at un-integrated Middle Eastern populations in Europe, but this merely distracts us from the American black population that is still not as completely integrated socially or economically into American society as one might hope and expect.
The difference between the two cases, however, is clear: People of color in the United States know they are Americans, and merely want their equal opportunities and rights. In the European case, people seem to be trying to force their home-country customs on the wider community where they now live. This has largely not been the case here, although we have seen some attempts by religious, er, folks to force their particular beliefs on the community as a whole.
One deeply religious, deeply fundamentalist friend of ours explains this as the result of people almost, but not quite, having faith in God. As an example, he believes that abortion is a mortal sin, and that anyone having anything to do with abortion will be deprived of God’s light in eternal perdition. He has, however, no particular interest in making abortion illegal, and no interest whatsoever in picketing hospitals or blowing up clinics. He believes that while it would be reasonable for abortion to be illegal if we had a theocracy, in a democracy it is inappropriate. If people in a democracy choose to involve themselves in mortal sins they will face eternal perdition, which is way worse than any criminal penalty. It is only when one does not quite have confidence in God’s power that one feels impelled to act in God’s place. Almost (but not quite) having faith, he believes, is more dangerous to society than actual faith or lack of faith. We are certainly neither theologians no psychologists, but this seems as good an explanation as any of why people commit loony and destructive acts in the name of their god of choice.
Lack of integration is not helped by cultural pride when it serves to separate a citizen from society. This view was clearly expressed by Teddy Roosevelt on 12 October 1915, when he spoke to the Knights of Columbus in New York City. He said:
There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all.
This is just as true of the man who puts “native” before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance.
But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else. The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English- Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian- Americans, or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality than with the other citizens of the American Republic.
The men who do not become Americans and nothing else are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no room for them in this country. The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the better it will be for every good American.