From the Crow's Nest / Ed Chrostowski
Citizenship requires more than language
Immigrants, legal and otherwise, never really leave "the old country." They bring much of it with them when they arrive in the United States.
And, as a "rainbow nation," America has become far more colorful for it. Their folk festivals and foods have added zest to our own society, their music and literature have enriched our culture and their languages have expanded our own.
But what has happened to our legendary "melting pot," the e pluribus unum ideal, the concept that one great nation inevitably will evolve from the many in this variegated amalgam?
Instead, multi-culturalism seems to have become a goal in itself. Immigrants habitually create their own enclaves, living among other expatriates from their native lands, speaking in their native tongues, hewing to their native customs, shopping in neighborhood stores where a clerk who speaks their language can sell them the foods and clothes that are "just like those you can get at home."
All of that is perfectly natural of course. It is understandable that strangers in a strange land would seek out and cling to what is most familiar to them. Maybe it's even an essential step toward making a formidable adjustment in a new country.
Great as all that may be, however, it can also become a stumbling block to assimilation into American life. One can assume that citizenship is the objective of immigrants taking up full-time residence legally in the United States. But the continuing debate in the complex immigration issue routinely ignores one of the most basic questions: Can immigrants became the kind of functional citizens the nation needs and wants if they are not fully indoctrinated into Americanism?
In years gone by, citizenship was avidly pursued but not routinely achieved by millions of European immigrants. They enrolled in night classes and learned to speak and read English, often haltingly and heavily-accented, but nevertheless the language of their new land. And they were schooled in American history, geography and the rudiments of traffic and civil laws. And then, only after passing tests, they took an oath of citizenship in impressive courtroom ceremonies. It always was reason for a big and joyful neighborhood celebration.
It didn't mean then and it doesn't mean now that the foreign-born who have chosen to make America their home must abandon the customs of their native lands. Indeed, "hyphenated" American, Irish, Italian, Polish or whatever have been mainstays of the nation for generations as they cling to bi-culturalism.
Gradually, ethnic enclaves disperse. Interaction with others at work, schools, churches and civic and social organizations instill in immigrants the habits and spirit of American loyalty and patriotism. And those qualities, after all, form the basis of sound citizenship because they ultimately define the characteristics of a national identity.
Immigrants who can handle English learn more and earn more and because most of them come here for economic opportunity, language facility is important to their success and the assimilation that ultimately binds them tightly to their adopted land. But more is necessary for full, functional Americanism. Basic familiarity with America's civic and social culture, some knowledge and understanding of its political and governmental structures (if, indeed, that's attainable by anyone) and comprehension and respect for its laws are essential for proper citizenship, naturalized or native born.
Throughout history, America has been good for immigrants and immigrants have been good for America. Again, however, that is not enough. It is better when immigrants become fully functional, practicing citizens of the United States, rather than just people of foreign origins, and when their host nation cares enough to instill that quality in them.
The Federal Immigration and National Act asks simply that newly-minted Americans be of "good moral character" and that they be "attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States."
Now, that's not really too much to ask of people in their adapted land. Nor, for that matter, is it too much to expect of government authorities tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that immigrants comprehend how the estimable benefits of full citizenship are achieved.