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TABLE OF CONTENTS
About the Authors
Foreword By Mark Krikorian
Is There an American People? By Nathan Glazer
Response By Orlando Patterson
Response By Noah Pickus
Is America Too White? By John Isbister
Response By Peter Brimelow
Response By Linda Chavez
Do We Really Want Immigrants to Assimilate? By Peter Skerry
Response By Lawrence Fuchs
Response by John Fonte
About the Authors
Nathan Glazer is Professor of Education and Sociology, Emeritus at Harvard University, and co-editor of The Public Interest. A native New Yorker, he attended the City College of New York, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University. He has authored, among other books, Beyond the Melting Pot (with Daniel P. Moynihan), Affirmative Discrimination, Ethnic Dilemmas, The Limits of Social Policy, and most recently, We Are All Multiculturalists Now. He also edited Clamor at the Gates: The New American Immigration.
Orlando Patterson is John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. A native of Jamaica, he received a Ph.D. in sociology from the London School of Economics, and came to the U.S. in 1969 as a Visiting Professor at Harvard. His first book, The Sociology of Slavery: Jamaica 1655-1838, was followed by a number of other works, including Ethnic Chauvinism: The Reactionary Impulse and Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, which is the first of a two-volume series.
Noah Pickus is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University. His recent publications include “Does Immigration Threaten Democracy? Rights, Restriction and the Meaning of Membership,” and “Hearken Not to the Unnatural Voice: Publius and the Artifice of Attachment.” He advises “Immigrants and Citizens,” a program of civic education for new immigrants.
John Isbister immigrated to the United States from Canada in 1968 to join the Economics faculty at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he is now Professor and Provost of Merrill College. He earned a Ph.D. in economics at Princeton in 1969. His latest book, The Immigration Debate: Remaking America, was published last year. His is also author of Promises Not Kept: The Betrayal of Social Change in the Third World, which is in its third edition.
Linda Chavez is President of the Center for Equal Opportunity, and has written Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation. She is a syndicated columnist, appearing in newspapers nationwide. She is a familar face on television’s “The McLaughlin Group,” “CNN & Co.,” “Equal Time,” and “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer” and has served as White House Director of Public Liaison and Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Peter Brimelow is a senior editor at Forbes. Among his books are The Wall Street Gurus: How You Can Profit From Investment Newsletters, The Patriot Game: Canada and the Canadian Question Revisited, and most recently Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster. A native of Britain, he received and M.B.A. from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
Peter Skerry is Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Claremont McKenna College. Having earned his Ph.D. in politics from Harvard, he has held positions at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, UCLA’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy, and the American Enterprise Institute. His writings on politics, racial and ethnic issues, and social policy have appeared in a variety of publications. In 1993, his book Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority was awared the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Lawrence Fuchs is Meyer and Walter Jaffe Professor of American Civilization and Politics at Brandeis University. He is Vice Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and Staff Director for the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy from 1979-1981. Five of his seven books deal with race and ethnicity, including his latest book, The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity and the Civic Culture, winner of three national prizes, which has just been released in a second edition.
John Fonte is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago and co-edited Education for America’s Role in World Affairs, a book used in international education classes. He has written for the Chronicle of Higher Education, National Review, and other publications. From 1984-1993 he served as a senior research associate at the United States Department of Education, and has served as a humanities administrator at the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Much of the recent debate over immigration has focused on fiscal costs, job competition and population growth. But disagreement over immigration is driven by more than economics and demography — the subtext of much of the discussion over sustained high immigration is how we define ourselves as a nation and a people.
The limited public discussion of this pressing matter has too often been dominated by cranks and demagogues. To help foster a more serious and careful national conversation on these issues, the Center for Immigration Studies hosted a conference in April 1997, using as its title Creveceour’s famous question, “What, Then, Is the American, This New Man?” The conference sought insight into this question by posing three other, admittedly provocative, questions surrounding the issue of immigration and American identity: 1) Is There an American People? 2) Is America Too White? and 3) Do We Really Want Immigrants to Assimilate?
Renowned scholar Nathan Glazer tackles the first question by tracing the “double vision” that has marked historical views of American nationhood; namely the combination of a purely ideological conception of American-ness with an ethno-cultural one. As Glazer describes this double vision: “Everyone can be an American; but some people, it seems, can be better Americans than others, and they have been defined through most of our history by race, or religion, or ethnicity.” Though he concludes that we have finally agreed upon an idea-based definition of American-ness, he also examines today’s controversies relating to citizenship, driven, in his view, by public concern that the millions of immigrants seeking naturalization are doing so for the wrong (i.e., instrumental as opposed to ideological) reasons. Orlando Patterson and Noah Pickus respond with their own meditations on the nature of American citizenship.
John Isbister, Canadian-born author of the most thoroughgoing liberal defense of high immigration, The Immigration Debate: Remaking America, answers the second question, the most provocative of the three, with a provocative answer: Yes. His answer is based on his ideal of a truly multi-cultural society; in Isbister’s words, “[T]he decline in the white proportion is a healthy development for the country, since it will gradually replace a majority-minority confrontation with interactions between groups of more equal size and influence.” America has insufficient ethnic diversity, he assserts, and immigration is one way to remedy that situation. Peter Brimelow and Linda Chavez disagree, each in their own way
Political scientist Peter Skerry tells us that assimilation is not what we think it is. Rather than a seamless whole, assimilation has many facets; rather than one-directional, it is dialectical; rather than tranquil, it gives rise to conflict. “Indeed,” he writes, “if Americans better understood the process of assimilation, they might well ask for something else.” His point is not that assimilation should be avoided, since it cannot and should not, but that we must be more realistic in our expectations of it. Lawrence Fuchs and John Fonte respond by reflecting on the meaning and implications of assimilation.
The papers have just scratched the surface of this broad issue. Questions for future research and discussion might include: What are the implications for the United States of the spread of dual citizenship legislation among immigrantsending countries? Does a purely ideological definition of American peoplehood leave any room for a strong cultural component (other than knowledge of English)? If so, should prospective citizens be examined on that basis? Does the phenomenon of segmented assimilation, in which some children of immigrants join the middle class while other join the underclass, have any immigration policy implications? As intermarriage becomes increasingly prevalent, is there any validity to the concept of an emerging American ethnos? The Center for Immigration Studies hopes to participate in the exploration of these and other related questions as America goes through a period of re-examination of the nature of our nationhood.
We would like to thank all the contributors for their efforts, especially Peter Skerry, who helped conceive the idea of the conference. Special thanks go to the John M. Olin Foundation, whose generous grant made this project possible.
Is There an American People?
By Nathan Glazer
In one sense, the answer to the question, “What then is the American, This New Man?” — Crevecoeur’s question, one which “has probably been quoted more than any other in the history of immigration”1 — is simple and direct. One can resort to the laws and regulations that define who is an American, how to become an American, in the sense of being or becoming a citizen of the United States. (I take it for granted that is what we are talking about when we ask these questions, despite the multiple meanings of the term “American”.) One becomes an American by being born on the soil of the United States, or by being naturalized. As the Fourteenth Amendment has it, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the state wherein they reside.” Admittedly there are thousands of pages of laws, regulations, and judicial interpretations required to settle every specific case, but we have legal and administrative mechanisms for doing so.
But that is not quite what we are talking about when we raise these questions: The questions’ subtext is really, Can we continue to be one American people when we are from so many diverse sources? If so, what kind of people does that make us? We can sharpen the question to get closer to what we are really after when we raise such questions as, are we still the same American people, as it has existed for the past 225 years or so (though one can date the American people in formation to well before the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution), when the racial and ethnic composition of our new immigrants is so markedly different from the racial and ethnic composition of the American people, as it has existed, and as it has changed, over these past 225 years?
Why should the changing ethnic and racial composition matter in answering the question, Is there an American people? Does not the legal answer referred to at the beginning suffice? It does not because there is an argument running throughout American history as to just what makes an American. Is the American, as so many statesmen and scholars have asserted, defined only by a certain set of ideas and commitments, a political ideology, the ideas set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and developed through American history? Now anyone can adopt ideas, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, or culture. Anyone thus can be an American. The American people does not change as persons of the most diverse race, religion, culture, become Americans by law. That is one answer. But alternately, do we not deceive ourselves in asserting that the American, properly understood, is divorced, should be divorced, from any distinctive ethnicity, race, religion, culture? That he (and she) is universal man (woman), to whom any issue of ethnicity, race, culture, in defining his or her Americanness is irrelevant ?
So there is an alternative answer, in conflict with the answer that the American is defined by ideas and commitments available universally to anyone. It is that there is something else that properly makes an American, and that is incorporation into an America that indeed includes the Declaration and the Constitution but is much wider than that. The American is not so different from what makes the Englishman or the Frenchman, and that is a culture, both in its grander and more humble senses, formed over a long period of time, shaping a people subject to its influences, and that cannot be summed up by a few political principles. We are a nation too that has been made up through most of its history almost entirely of one race, with a small minority of another, bound up with the first from our origins, all observing the variants of one religion, speaking one language. If we now add to that an increasing number of Asians and Latin Americans, of different races, coming from different political systems, speaking different languages, espousing in many cases different religions never before present in any significant way on our soil, what does that do to the meaning of being American?
That is our problem. These questions are for the most part today only discussed sub rosa. They are very different questions from the kinds that are being debated in the rising tide of discussion and argument and new legislation, implemented and proposed, over immigration and illegal immigrants and the naturalization process of recent years. That discussion we know will only become more intense in future years, as immigration remains at a high level, higher than public opinion thinks is tolerable, and one that the prevailing laws, even after recent modifications, make it impossible to reduce.
Concerning immigration, the current discussion centers overwhelmingly on economic issues, and they are not unimportant. Is immigration increasing inequality in wages and income in the United States by adding to the supply of workers willing to take low-paying jobs? Is it worsening the condition of minorities by this process? Is immigration worsening the conditions of earlier immigrants who still work disproportionately at low-paid jobs? Even when immigrants are well-trained in a profession, are they not having an adverse impact on our own (that is, native American) doctors and engineers and mathematicians?
But there are other than economic issues that concern us, and they are in some ways more difficult. We now see a lively discussion, not as yet much noticed by the public, on the question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment should be interpreted to give citizenship on the basis of birth in the United States to children born to illegal immigrants.2 We have had hearings in Congress on the naturalization process, activated by the huge rise in those applying for, and getting, citizenship. We are now making more than a million new citizens a year — a few years ago it was 200,000. These hearings were clearly motivated in part by partisan fears and concerns that naturalization was being made too easy in order to increase the number of Democratic voters for the 1996 election, and by scandals over some number of not-yet citizens who voted in a closely contested Congressional election in California, pitting a Democratic Hispanic contender against a Republican incumbent opponent. The issues raised in these hearings gets closer to heart of our present topic — is there an American people? — but still does not speak, I believe, to the worries and concerns of many Americans learning about this enormous increase in those applying for citizenship, and getting citizenship, and of the numbers of voters who may not be citizens.
The hearings in Congress focused on such matters as whether the administration was improperly involved in pressing the Immigration and Naturalization Service to make the process of naturalization easier, and whether this pressure meant that many not checked for criminal records were becoming citizens. They asked whether the law on how one becomes a citizen was being properly administered. But underlying these concerns — reasonable enough, since we all believe that on the whole the laws should be observed and enforced — is a larger uneasiness. Who are all these people becoming citizens, what are their motives in becoming citizens, do they really have a “right” — without at this point trying to specify what this may mean — to become American citizens, are they the citizens we want?
It returns us to the question, what is the American? Or, in the formulation of Michael Walzer, what does it mean to be an American?3 The underlying issue, as I have indicated above, is whether the American is defined in some important measure by a distinctive ethnicity, religion, culture, or alternatively by political principles alone, to which anyone can adhere, regardless of race, religion, or culture.
To this question we have had two large and contrasting answers in our history. The first is that principles alone define the American — anyone, of any nation, race, religion, can become an American by adhering to these principles. But there has been another answer, raised again and again in the course of American history, that is quite different. The American, according to this second answer, is formed by a distinctive culture. He comes initially from England, Scotland or Wales, or from a northern European Protestant country, one which has experience of free political institutions. With proper socialization into American culture and values, we can possibly add some others to this central core, and the common understanding of who can so be added (reflected in the laws) has expanded over time. Europeans from Catholic countries, Jews, Asians have aroused anxiety and resistance among those who give this answer. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some American scholars believed that the origins of these free institutions were to be found in the German tribes of antiquity, and there was some essential link between these early origins and the people who made the best Americans. Henry Adams and Henry James, among other classic observers of a changing America, were greatly disturbed by the kind of people they saw entering the United States and becoming Americans early in the century, during the period of the greatest wave of immigration in American history.
Undermining the noble position that adherence to principles alone define the American, there is the fact that there were racial restrictions on who could become a citizen through most of our history. In our first law of naturalization, in 1790, only the white man was declared eligible to become a citizen. After the Civil War, we added the Africans, but continued to exclude those who were neither. It was not until 1952 that all racial restrictions on naturalization were lifted.
That, it is true, was 45 years ago, and should have settled the question, at least as to the eligibility of all races to become Americans, and yet the question does not die. It is raised in Pat Buchanan’s famous comment, to the effect that a million Englishmen would undoubtedly become better Americans than a million Zulus. It is raised in Peter Brimelow’s book, Alien Nation.4 I do not expect we will ever have racial restrictions on citizenship again. I believe our culture has changed too radically to make that possible. But it would be naive to believe that racial and ethnic and religious and cultural considerations, while they are openly voiced only by such outrageously contentious persons as Buchanan and Brimelow, do not play a role in how we modify or administer our laws of naturalization. This is certainly a fear among many recent nonwhite Americans.
In our origins as a nation, in revolution against England and the English king and parliament, we clearly emphasized universal principles, in theory available to all men (and women), and adherence to these principles made the American. Indeed, any resort to ethnicity as the basis of Americanness was not easily available, be cause a large number of those settled in these colonies at the time did not accept these principles, and continued their loyalty to the British King. They suffered because of this loss of property, persecution, and exile. There was no difference in ethnic background or religion between those who claimed the new status of Americans, as citizens of an independent nation, and those who rejected it, though our energetic colonial historians may have found some subtle distinction, not yet noted, between the loyalists and the revolutionaries who became the Americans.
So in the beginning, we cannot find a basis in ethnicity or religion on which we can define the American. Two authorities write: “After the Revolutionary war, U. S. citizenship was offered to those in the liberated colonies who sided with the revolutionaries. In 1783, the Paris Peace Treaty established an adherence test, requiring that ‘those who adhered to England remained British subjects, and those who adhered to the cause of separation, liberty, and independence were to be considered citizens of the United States.”’5 That would seem to be excellent evidence for the importance of the principles in the making of Americans, at least at the beginning.
One could quote chapter and verse from the founding fathers emphasizing this theme of adherence to the principles of liberty and republicanism and free government as being decisive, exclusive even, in the definition of the American. Our key founding document, the Constitution, excludes racial and ethnic categories and considerations (except for the Indians). Twice I have had occasion, in previous writing, to rehearse the various declarations and sentiments that make this the clear orientation of the founding fathers and the leading Americans of later times. So, in Affirmative Discrimination, in 1975,6 I recorded the agreement of three scholars exploring the character and significance of American identity and nationality that in its essence it was independent of any specific ethnic group or culture or religion: Seymour Martin Lipset, in The First New Nation, Hans Kohn in American Nationalism: An Interpretive Essay, Yehoshua Arieli in Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology, all made this point. While there were contrary views, even among the founding fathers, they all seemed to come to agreement that the American nation was a new kind of formation, not based on a primordial group, not dependant on long-established customs and habits reaching into the distant past. It was a community based on principles. To give just one of these quotations, from Hans Kohn:
“Thomas Jefferson, who as a young man had opposed immigration, wished in 1817 to keep the doors of America open, ‘to consecrate a sanctuary for those whom the misrule of Europe may compel to seek happiness in our climes.’... This...was in keeping with Jefferson’s faith in America’s national mission as mankind’s vanguard in the fight for individual liberty, the embodiment of the rational and humanitarian ideals of eighteenth century man.”
“The American nation was to be a universal nation — not only in the sense that the idea which it pursued was believed to be universal and valid for the whole of mankind, but also in the sense that it was a nation composed of many ethnic strains. Such a nation, held together by liberty and diversity, had to be firmly integrated around allegiance to the American idea, an idea to which everyone could be assimilated for the very reason that it was a universal idea.”7
In these latter days, when we are scarcely left unaware for a moment of the negative side of the founding fathers, and every new publication on them searches for their flaws, we will not fail to notice (as Kohn did not, in 1957, quoting this passage) that Jefferson refers to the “misrule of Europe.” Many would seize on that limitation with suspicion. Now it is true that was the place from which the immigrants of Jefferson’s time, as in Hans Kohn’s, were coming. I doubt that there was any conscious effort on Jefferson’s part to exclude the rest of the world, or on Kohn’s part to ignore this limitation. But today we would inevitably note that there was then also, from Jefferson’s point of view, or indeed from any point of view, misrule in Asia and Latin America and Africa, and we would ask whether Jefferson would have been as welcoming to persons escaping from such misrule. And of course we would be much more actively aware than Kohn was in 1957 or I was in 1975 of Jefferson as a slave-owner whose ringing declarations contrasted oddly with holding men and women in perpetual bondage.
Kohn had no reason to mark the reference to Europe — that was the place from which he and other refugees were escaping. He did not note that despite his repeated reference to American ideas as “universal” one would have to question whether the people of the whole universe were welcome in the America of Jefferson’s day. They were not even equally welcome in the America of Kohn’s day. (The very restrictive immigration laws of the 1920’s, sharply discriminating against Southern and Eastern Europeans, and banning all Asians, were still in force.) It is true in Jefferson’s time (and for many decades later) there was no exclusion of any immigrant, but as I have pointed out naturalization was indeed limited to white persons.
Twenty years after I reviewed these views on what it is that makes an American, and applauded them as having become the common wisdom and discourse of the day, I had reason to review the writing on Americanism of a later period, the period of Americanization during and after the First World War, the last period of mass naturalization before the present one.8 I could not help but notice that during this period of intense efforts to assimilate immigrants, to teach them the English language and American ideals, and to make them citizens, a period in which leading Americans praised our nation as a “universal” nation, welcoming all, there was oddly no note taken of what a large part of the universe was precisely not included in the universal nation. By then, Chinese and Japanese were excluded as immigrants and denied the right to become citizens, soon a good part of Europe was also to be excluded too. Whites and blacks could become naturalized citizens, but the black population was excluded from benefits that were extended to white Americans, native and immigrant.
For example, Woodrow Wilson, addressing a huge throng of 5,000 newly naturalized citizens in Philadelphia, along with 8,000 previously naturalized, and many thousands of others, in 1915, said: “This is the only country which experiences this constant and repeated rebirth. Other countries depend on the multiplication of their own native people. This country is constantly drinking out of new sources by the voluntary association with it of great bodies of strong men and forward-looking women out of other lands.... It is as if humanity had determined to see to it that this great Nation, founded for the benefit of humankind, would not lack for the allegiance of the people of the world.”
Mark the phrase, “the people of the world.” I have indicated what a large part of the people of the world were excluded, as immigrants and citizens. At the same time, through the action of the same president, a good part of the people of the United States, blacks, were being excluded from public jobs and being segregated in workplaces. (But I note the he presciently did refer to women, and not long after this speech the right to vote was extended to women, so in some respects access to the full benefits of being an American was being extended in Wilson’s day.)
There was a similar naturalization ceremony shortly after this huge gathering addressed by Wilson, on Independence Day 1915 in Faneuil Hall in Boston, addressed by Justice Louis Brandeis. He said that what was distinctly American was “universal brotherhood” and that America, as against other nations, “has always declared herself for equality of nationalities as an essential of full human liberty and true brotherhood.... It has, therefore, given like welcome to all the peoples of Europe.”9
Today, one cannot help noticing, again, the reference to Europe.
So we have had this double vision. Everyone can be an American; but some people, it seems, can be better Americans than others, and they have been defined through most of our history by race, religion, or ethnicity. And even among those who were most expansive in their vision of this universal nation, there were some reservations based on race, religion, or distant origin.
Today the great majority of our new citizens are not white, not English-speaking, and many are of religions new to us. These characteristics have been irrelevant to becoming a citizen since 1952, irrelevant to becoming an immigrant since 1965. The result is that the population of the United States is changing, and the United States Census and the media report regularly on the change, and try to project a time in the not-sodistant future when less than half the population will be white, and by that token less than half of European origin. That is a cause of concern to only a few. Or if a cause of concern, is not much heard. But as the recent Congressional hearings suggested, another and related concern is voiced. Are these great numbers becoming Americans for the right reasons? And what are the right reasons?
Many people believe these questions are not raised in good faith but are raised because of the racial and ethnic and religious composition of the new immigrants. I think there is a connection, that there is some discomfort among many at this change which they cannot easily voice. Overtly, the concern is that in the process of becoming naturalized, the guarantees that one will become a good American citizen are being short-changed. The Congressional hearings made the most of the fact that FBI checks were not completed on many new American citizens. I think this is not what most troubles us. Few Americans were aware that the prospective citizen is checked by the FBI — I know I was not. I assume this check is conducted because the prospective citizens must be of good character, and whether he has been convicted of crimes is one way, perhaps the only easily available way, to find out. But I think what causes the most uneasiness to Americans as they see this huge throng flocking to naturalization is the larger question, do new citizens know what they should about America, do they come with the right attitude of mind in renouncing previous loyalties and accepting American loyalty? The prospective American citizen by law is expected to know something about the Constitution, to know something of American history and politics, to know English, to be a law-abiding citizen.
The statutory process of becoming a citizen, now fully divorced from any ethnic or racial qualification, formally aligns itself with the understanding that American citizenship is a matter of adherence to principles. Indeed, the very first law governing naturalization, as far back as 1790, already made this clear, particularly with its requirement that the prospective citizen take an oath to defend and support the Constitution of the United States. The oath prescribed today, some of whose elements go back more than 200 years, reads: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure any allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear arms in behalf of the United States when required by law...” The oath goes on to list alternative service required if one has conscientious objections to the bearing of arms. The oath is taken at an impressive ceremony, in properly dignified surroundings, administered by a judge.
I would emphasize how long we have been committed to roughly the same assumptions and the same process in the making of a new American citizen.
The ceremony says nothing, obviously, about welfare benefits. Through the greater part of our history, there were no welfare benefits or any other kind of practical benefit that could come into play in encouraging a person to become a citizen. Today, as we have become all too aware, with the flood of articles on immigrants rushing to naturalization, and to speedier naturalization through marriage, that the possible withdrawal of such benefits as a result of recent legislation is pretty clearly a central reason for the great increase in naturalization. However, as a leading scholar of immigration has put it, we want naturalization to have an “expressive” character, not an “instrumental” one. We want people to become Americans, in other words, out of love, not calculation. We are all aware that there are mixed motives in any decision, and none of us are so purist or idealistic as to insist that the only legitimate reason for becoming an American citizen is because of the desire to uphold the principles of the Declaration and the Constitution, to participate fully in the political life of this universal nation. Yet anyone attending a naturalization ceremony, listening to the speech of the judge (who almost always refers to his own immigrant background, since it is a rare judge whose parents or grandparents were not immigrants), and noting that many taking the oath must be refugees, will easily believe that deep affection is also playing a role in the process of becoming an American. The whole history of immigrant writing on America attests to it. And one will be saddened that so many must be becoming Americans to save the food stamps, or SSI, or other benefits they have received as noncitizen immigrants. Possibly positive affection plays a larger role in characterizing the connection of new Americans to this country than it does for natives – many do not find America so lovable today. Yet overall, as we examine the present process, the present rush, there is considerable uneasiness that the instrumental motives for citizenship too much outweigh the expressive.
As Americans, that troubles us, and should trouble us. But we also question ourselves and ask if is this a legitimate concern. Is it a cover for racism? If we are legitimately concerned, and adhere to the position that principles alone define the American, how can we explicate the basis of our concern? What process for becoming a citizen would truly satisfy those critical of the INS and its role in the present increase in naturalization? Today the INS is being criticized because in its effort to reduce the backlog of those applying for citizenship, it has contracted out part of the process to check on whether prospective citizens know enough about America and enough English to become citizens. The contractors are themselves organizations representative of the new immigrants, eager to protect their interests, and in doing so they place less effort on the substance of the basic ideological assumptions that define the American, than on what is enough to get through a test. The process becomes not very different from taking a test to get a drivers license. As in any test-driven process, what the test is “really” after is short-changed. Most Americans, new and old, take citizenship very seriously. They are upset when they see a rush to citizenship that seems motivated primarily by the desire to retain monetary benefits.
But there is also today a very different attack on the present processes, one which emphasizes its antiquity, its outmodedness, its unreality in confronting the immediacy of the welfare state that encompasses all of us. This attack points to the hardships the withdrawal of benefits will undoubtedly impose on many immigrants. It points to the restriction of present-day legal rights in fighting deportation for illegal entry. But motivating this attack is not only compassion, and there are many good grounds for compassion, as we see in the many stories in the media on the impact of the new welfare and immigration laws, particularly on aged immigrants. It also reflects distaste at the unquestioned assumption of the superiority of American ways of government, American principles, to be found in the requirement that new citizens know American history and government, swear to uphold the Constitution against all its enemies, foreign and domestic. Indeed, there is some contradiction between the process and the oath and the liberal principles dominant today among progressive Americans. Where are our obligations to the world in this process, why is it so exclusive in a transnational age? The word “transnational”, increasingly popular in discussions of migration, is a vague one with a large sweep. It refers to the ease of movement between countries, the growing numbers with connections and interests in two or more countries, to the “globalization” of the world economy, to the increasing number of transnational organizations with varied powers. It challenges the idea of the strongly bounded community, delivering rights and benefits to its citizens, and denying them to all others, demanding full allegiance and loyalty from its citizens, and refusing to recognize they have legitimate ties to other countries.
We do soften in practice the apparent rigor of the oath. A legal authority writes, “It is generally agreed that sentimental fondness for his or her homeland is not inconsistent with ...attachment to the United States [required for naturalization]. Nor does a person lack attachment to the principles of the Constitution if he or she believes it can be improved.”10 It is a reality that more and more of the new citizens become dual citizens, maintaining not only “sentimental fondness” but legal status as citizens of their homelands. The United States apparently has no legal bar to dual citizenship (which seems to contradict the oath), and many new citizens retain their former passports out of convenience or attachment or because of certain benefits it may offer, as in acquiring or inheriting property. Recent changes in the Mexican constitution allow Mexicans becoming American citizens to retain Mexican citizenship, with what rights is apparently unclear, even among MexicanAmerican scholars.11
In countries that maintain the principle of jus sanguinis — citizenship by blood connection to the community of citizens — even those born in the United States, and thus citizens by birth, may have certain rights of citizenship in the country of their parents, or grandparents, or even more distant forebears who come from that country. (Note the rights of the descendants of Germans who left German lands centuries ago to live in Russia or Transylvania to resettle in Germany, with the full rights of German citizens.) This may apparently be the case with the children of Mexicans resident in this country, whether they are citizens of the United States or not. We have recently become acquainted with the oddity of Dominican candidates for President campaigning among the large and growing community of Dominicans in New York City, though I do not know whether Dominicans who become American citizens — who may not yet be very numerous in this recently established but rapidly growing immigrant group — can vote in Dominican elections. These developments — and many others — all muddy the bright clear line that ideally, and in our naturalization process, separates the American from all others, cuts him off, as a “new man”, from his past.
There are also deeper criticisms, as yet to be found only among academics, which challenge on liberal principles (principles which most of us accept) the exclusive character of the naturalization process — its ideological qualifications, the English language requirement, the renunciation of former allegiance.12 But both in the call for more compassion and in the critique of the ideological character of the present requirements for naturalization, critics underrate the significance of the principled character of American citizenship, its commitment to adherence to the Constitution as the bedrock contract of the American people, and the hold this has among most Americans. I suspect the only consensus available at the moment, in the light of the present mood of the American people as expressed by their representatives, is rather a tightening of the present process. We are in the midst of a reaction to the liberal loosening of the distinctions among citizens, non-citizen immigrants, and undocumented immigrants that took place in the 1960s and 1970s.
During the first half of the 20th century, we tightened requirements for American citizenship, by imposing in effect stricter loyalty tests. “The 1906 Naturalization Act disqualified believers in anarchism or polygamy or advocates of political assassination. In 1940, these grounds were expanded to include those who were affiliated with organizations advocating these proscribed ideals. The internal Security Act of 1950 added the even more specific designation of support for the Communist Party and the ‘...doctrines of world communism’.... [T]hese provisions were included in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.” Recently, and particularly in the Immigration Act of 1990, we have cut back sharply on ideological grounds for exclusion and deportations from the United States. In effect, our close examination of the politics of persons desiring to become American immigrants or citizens, at least as required by law, has been steadily losing its urgency over the past thirty years or so. Our patriotism, or if you wish chauvinism, has declined since the Vietnam War, and with the end of the Cold War the need for such ideological defenses of the naturalization process — assuming they were ever justified — has lost its urgency. Further, during the 1960s and 1970s, a period in which American culture and politics were transformed, the meaning of citizenship also changed. The benefits of citizenship declined as liberal courts struck down limitations on non-citizens. As Schuck and Smith wrote:
“A line of judicial decisions significantly lowered the political and economic value of citizenship by prohibiting government, particularly the states, from allocating certain legal rights and economic advantages on the basis of that status. In the most important of these decisions, Graham v. Richardson, the Supreme Court invalidated statutes that restricted welfare benefits to United States citizens and legal resident aliens who had resided in the United States for 15 years.... Generally speaking, [this decision] has been extended to invalidate citizenship requirements for some, but not all, professions and occupations.”13
Clearly this is no longer the way things are going. A period of loosening is being replaced by a period of tightening. It has been motivated in part by the changing ethnic and racial character of the new citizens, but in larger part, I believe, by the feeling of many Americans that new Americans are choosing that status for the wrong reasons. It was inevitable that the reasons for naturalization would change as the benefits were redefined as dependant on the status of citizenship. Ironically, the recent changes in the welfare and immigration laws promote the rush to citizenship and thus increase the number of persons becoming citizens for the wrong reasons. Consequences quite unexpected by those who promoted these changes follow — for example, the increase not only in the number of new citizens, but in the number of new Democratic voters.
These developments should also lead us to examine more closely the proposals to deny citizenship to the children of the illegal and undocumented immigrants. The numbers of these children is very large, since we undoubtedly now have as many illegals as we had when we passed the Immigration Restriction and Control Act in 1986, which was supposed to eliminate the backlog of illegals, and which resulted in the legalization of the status of three million undocumented immigrants — many of whom are now contributing to the huge increase in the numbers seeking naturalization. While there might be good grounds, in constitutional law, in denying such children citizenship, the consequences of increasing the numbers denied full status as American citizens would not be good. Germany, tied to its jus sanguinis principle for citizenship, now struggles with the problems caused by its huge noncitizen population, and by the further problems portended by the fact that one-fifth of the children being born in Germany today are without citizenship rights.14
We have succeeded in establishing the principle that the American is defined by commitment to ideas, principles, not by race or ethnicity or religion. I believe that is firm. We are simultaneously shaken by the huge increase in those seeking to become citizens, and troubled by the fact that so many our new fellow-citizens may know little of these principles that ideally define the American, may be merely mouthing an oath, are simply driven by the need or desire to maintain benefits to which they were entitled by previous law. There is an ideal solution to these concerns: Better education of the prospective citizens who now crowd classes on the American constitution, American history, and English. That is something we can all agree on. How to do it is, of course, a problem.
Even with our best efforts, the ideal candidate for naturalization will always be something of a rarity (as is the ideal native-born American). We live in a complicated world, made more complicated by the presence of poor countries to our south. It is also made more complicated by the fact that in the advanced and developed part of the world, including the United States, we see a sharp decline in the sense of exclusiveness and superiority of one’s nation or nationality. That is on the whole a good thing. The process of becoming American is assaulted now from many sides, from conservatives who decry this change to liberals and cosmopolitans who see no function to the attachment to a distinctive country, defined by a distinctive history, culture, and political system. We will have to maneuver between both these criticisms of our naturalization process and requirements. For the moment, the best we can do is to maintain this process which has served us well for so long, and to debate the issues while we hold in abeyance any radical change. We have become truly a universal people, as defined by the rules that enable people to become Americans. Now new developments push us to consider what the further implications of being a universal people are.
1 Philip Gleason, “American Identity and Americanization,” Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Harvard University Press, 1980, p. 33.
2 The key document on this issue is Peter Schuck and Rogers M. Smith, Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity, Yale University Press,1985, but see Douglas B. Klusmeyer, Between Consent and Descent: Conceptions of Democratic Citizenship, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: International Migration Policy Program, Washington, D.C., Brookings, 1996, and Dan Stein and John Bauer, “Interpreting the 14th Amendment: Automatic Citizenship for Children of Illegal Immigrants?,” Stanford Law and Policy Review, 7:2, Summer 1996, pp. 127-131.
3 What it Means to be an American, Michael Walzer, New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1992.
4 Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, Random House, 1995.
5 Stein and Bauer, op. cit., p. 128. They are quoting from John Cable, Decisive Decisions of United States Citizenship, 1967, p. 6. I do not know whose language this is, but from its tone it seems to be the language of the period.
6 Affirmative Discrimination, Basic Books, 1975; Harvard University Press, 1987.
7 Hans Kohn, American Nationalism: An Interpretive Essay, Macmillan, 1957 (Collier Books edition, 1961, p. 144), quoted in Affirmative Discrimination, op. cit., p. 11.
8 We Are All Multiculturalists Now, Harvard University Press, 1997, Chapter 6.
9 Quotations, and sources, in Nathan Glazer, We Are All Multiculturalists Now, Harvard, 1997, p. 104.
10 From a standard treatise on naturalization law; the specific reference has been misplaced.
11 So I noted to Mexican and Mexican American scholars at a conference at Harvard, April 12-13, 1997.
12 See Gerald L. Neuman, “Justifying U.S. Naturalization Policies,” Virginia Journal of International Law 35:1, Fall 1994, pp. 237-278, and comments on it in the same issue by Stephen H. Legomsky, David A. Martin, Peter H. Schuck.
13 Schuck and Smith, op. cit. p. 107.
14 “Redefining German Citizenship,” Editorial, The New York Times, p. A32 (New England edition).
Response to Is There an American People?
By Orlando Patterson
As I listened to Professor Glazer, it struck me that, after being colleagues for 27 years together, this is the first time I’m commenting on his work. I guess one’s definition of what it is to be an American is the pleasure of commenting on one’s colleague’s work several hundred miles away in another city over breakfast of lox and bagels whatever one’s religion. But I’ll get back to that later on.
To the question “Is there an American people?” Professor Glazer responds that there is a narrow answer given by the Constitution, namely, a group of persons who are born or naturalized American citizens and who abide by its laws and political Constitution.
He rightly contends that this political/legal answer is too narrow and then examines alternate responses. He raises the issues of “race,” ethnicity and culture — Are Americans people of a certain race and ethnic cultural heritage? And he claims, oddly I think, that these questions are now only discussed sub rosa.
More broadly, the question essentially becomes whether Americans have a distinct culture and, further, whether immigrants wanting to be naturalized should be required to assimilate into this culture. He suggests that traditionally it has been assumed that this culture was derived from Europe and that European immigrants had special access to it. All this generates what he calls a “double vision.” Anyone can become an American, especially when one uses the narrow conception of what that is, but it is felt by many that some people – those who are of European ancestry— make better Americans. The problem today, for people holding this view, is that the vast majority of newcomers are not from Europe.
Professor Glazer is clearly uneasy with this line of questioning. He notes America’s ageold rejection of the principle of citizenship by blood, as in Germany — jus sanguinis — and he applauds, as I do, this traditional view that becoming an American is a matter of political commitment and culture. However, he is bothered by the fact that recent developments have muddied the line, as he puts it, that defines and separates the American as a “new person.”
There are two muddyings of the line, so to speak. First, transnationalism, the problem of dual citizenship, would suggest the possible weakening of loyalties to whatever it is that we define as an American. And secondly, there’s the fact that new Americans are believed to be choosing their status for the wrong reasons, emphasizing instrumental, economic, reasons rather than the more expressive, cultural ones.
Now I agree with much of what Professor Glazer has to say up to this point. These two recent developments are where we part company. I do not believe that transnationalism and dual citizenship necessarily undermine loyalties or undermine commitment to whatever it is that an American is, and for purely historical reasons. Contrary to what Professor Glazer seems to imply, it has always been the case that a substantial majority of persons who came here and became citizens did so for primarily instrumental reasons — and indeed had dual citizenship — most notably those from England. The great majority of persons who came here before the Revolution were indentured servants from England, who hardly came for anything but instrumental reasons. The vast majority of the Irish who came here in the post-famine period clearly came for instrumental reasons — they had no choice.
But this does not mean that one cannot stay, once having come, for non-instrumental reasons. It should be noted, too, that the majority of the British who came here, not just people from Mexico and so on, enjoy dual citizenship — always have, still do. Coming for instrumental reasons does not mean that one cannot stay for non-instrumental ones. Indeed, this is precisely what happened in the past and what continues to happen now.
I want to suggest in the few minutes I have left, a broader perspective from which one might answer the question, “What, then, is the American, this new man?”
The first point I want to note for discussion is the fact that the question of what constitutes an American, and American culture, has always been a contested one, from the very earliest times. Thus, during the Colonial period it was really a hotly debated matter, whether the real or true “New Man” was that of the New Jerusalem of the Puritans, the theocratic, rather authoritarian Puritan North, based on small, independent farming with its highly introspective, angst-ridden individualism, constantly preoccupied with sin; or the more politically democratic, religiously plural, more tolerant Middle Colonies, with their essentially Anglo-Germanic Pietistic traditions and more equalitarian gender relations; or, thirdly, the autocratic slave systems of the South, with their cavalier conception of an honorific man recreating not a new, theocratic, Jerusalem but a new feudal order.
These are three well-defined notions of what constituted a true American, all contested, coming from the Colonial period.
In more recent times, this cultural contestation of what it is that defines the American — as Professor Glazer himself has well documented in an earlier work, along with Senator Moynihan — revolved around the issue of whether American-ness meant conformity with its melting-pot hegemonic myth, if you like; or a hyphenated ethnic potpourri, held together by a common political Constitution, a commitment to a common political culture.
The contestation continues, of what it is that defines an American, in true American fashion, but has become more complex; instead of two contested visions, there are now three. There’s a conservative conception of what it is that defines this “New Man,” new person, and new culture. And essentially it’s the idea of America as a traditional Protestant society, with English as its base, of course. We associate it with middle-American individualism, with an open society, a competitive order, but one which limits the free-wheeling market economy with notions of religious piety.
The second version of what constitutes this new person, and culture, we may call the traditional liberal idea, the pluralistic vision. This is a vision, which Professor Glazer himself well-articulated in his earlier work, of an America in which there is a solid core of constitutional principles and political culture which is unique, and within the framework of which people are allowed to live by traditional ethnic norms — essentially, an American kind of hyphenated ethnicity, in which people have been here so long that their whole way of being ethnic in itself is American. That’s the second conception of what constitutes an American, the pluralist, liberal vision.
What has emerged recently is a third conception — something new has been thrown into the contested terrain. And this is the multicultural vision, which differs from the second in the sense that it encompasses the idea of transnationalism, the notion that people continue not only to maintain political loyalties, in the sense of dual citizenship — which is really not new, as I pointed out earlier — but, because of modern transportation and communication, continue literally to live in their former cultures in a manner which they were not able to in the old days. So that a new kind of ethnicity emerges, in which the new American continues, as do the Columbians, as do the Mexicans, as do many West Indians, to live in both cultures and feel equally at home. That is new: transnational communities, going along with a strong commitment to the American political system.
Now, let me say finally, that overarching these contested, and essentially ideological visions of America, is a slow but relentless and certain emergence of something else and it is this something else that, I think, defines genuine American culture, expressed through a universalizing process which draws from all the available cultures but does more than that. It reinterprets and recasts them into something new.
This American culture is alive and well, at both the popular and elite levels. On the popular levels, it is the America of baseball and basketball, hot dogs, hamburgers and McDonald’s and American-style pop music, TV shows, the Oprah Winfrey show, talk shows. At the elite levels, it is the America of our great institutions of learning, our great museums, our great think tanks, this one not excluded, our great artistic and literary traditions which are all quite unique, and very, very American. This, I submit, is the culture that really seduces nearly all who migrate here at whatever level and for whatever reason. This is what makes those who come here for Professor Glazer’s instrumental reasons want to stay. People love this culture. Whether it’s the explicit vulgarity of our TV talk shows or radio shows, the throbbing vitality of our popular music and sports systems, or the triumphant spectacle of our architecture or great symphonies, the unrivaled quality of our institutions of science and learning. This is America. This is what defines the “New Man,” the person who really believes, whether assimilating at the mass level or at the elite level.
The only danger I see here is that of too great a success of this triumphant American culture. For the culture is so desired, so seductive, that it is rapidly becoming the culture of the world. It is becoming the core of an emerging global culture. So in addition to those who come for instrumental reasons, and stay for the expressive one of committed to this overarching culture, there’s the fact that many are being seduced to this culture by institutions of communications, CNN and so on, and the global reach of our economy, consumer culture, and other institutions.
So, to the question, “Is there an American culture?”, the answer is a resounding yes. Is it alive and well? Yes. Is there any danger which it faces? The answer, too, is yes — the only one is the danger of too great a success.
Response to Is There an American People?
By Noah M.J. Pickus
Nathan Glazer’s paper is a rich and balanced account of how arguments over what it means to be an American inform current controversies over immigration and naturalization. He demonstrates that American identity has always been more complex than simply allegiance to a universal set of political principles. The rules governing our immigration and naturalization laws, in particular, have reflected a contest between a commitment to those principles and cultural definitions of nationhood. Glazer also strikes a balanced pose by contrasting conservative concerns over citizenship and naturalization with liberal, cosmopolitan ones. Conservatives, he argues, worry that our naturalization process no longer stresses a sense of exclusiveness and superiority over other nations. Liberal cosmopolitans, by contrast, regard the naturalization process as outdated in an increasingly transnational and multicultural world.
Where does Glazer stand in these debates? He doesn’t quite say. While acknowledging the role cultural conceptions of identity have played in American immigration and citizenship law, Glazer contends that those conceptions are far less prevalent today. Americans’ concern over immigrants’ rush to naturalization, he posits, is driven by doubts over whether newcomers actually are committed to sharing American political values. He concludes that we are witnessing a tightening of the naturalization process and requirements, but he offers few guidelines for revising how we make new citizens.
This absence of guidance seems odd given Glazer’s extensive analysis of what it means to be, and hence to become, an American. Let me ask a few questions about his conception of American identity and then suggest that our naturalization process should reflect an ideological, emotional and interpretive conception of citizenship.
I begin with two questions about culture. Glazer is a principal in two different debates today: controversies over immigration and naturalization and conflicts over multicultural education. In the first debate, he urges us to reemphasize adherence to the political principles of liberal democracy as the core of what it means to be an American. At the heart of this definition is an understanding of political identity as individual membership in a single nation-state. The nation represents a people whose shared identity serves as the basis for the legitimate authority of the state.
In the second debate, Glazer suggests that multiculturalism is now a reality and that it is therefore appropriate for educators to emphasize the importance of sub-national ethnic and racial identity. Some advocates of multiculturalism challenge the notion that the way one belongs to a political community is solely as an individual. They suggest that members of minority groups must possess special group representation amd cultural rights. This understanding of multiculturalism severs the link between the nation and the state because it depends on the state to protect rights and provide benefits, but is dubious about the notion of a common national identity.
Whatever might be said about Glazer’s views in each debate, the question here is whether he can coherently hold both of them. Is it conceptually possible, or politically desirable, to emphasize individual identity and attachment to political principles to one group while stressing ethnic and racial identity to a second?
A second question about culture relates not to sub-group racial or ethnic identity but to the link between political principles and national culture. Glazer suggests that we have, finally and belatedly, come to truly emphasize attachment to political principles as the proper definition of American identity. But doesn’t national identity require more than just a commitment to abstract and general principles? Doesn’t it also require some felt sense of communal obligation, some feeling of responsibility derived in part from a perception of shared history and fate? If so, then national identity includes a reverential element. A commitment to abstract principles must be supplemented by emotional attachment to the polity.
That noise you hear in the background is the sound of traditional patriots cheering my comments about reverence and emotional attachment. Yet even they should be made nervous by my invocation of national culture. Our commitment to the principles of liberal democracy can be lost under the weight of a cultural definition of identity. Indeed, Glazer’s paper is replete with evidence of how cultural definitions of identity undermined America’s capacity to make any claims to be a truly universal nation. Racial restrictions on who could become a citizen, for instance, characterized American laws from 1790 until 1952.
Political ideology and emotional attachment must both be supplemented by an interpretive conception of citizenship, by an emphasis on deliberating over the nature and purpose of a people’s commitments. This notion of American identity as more than an amalgam of political ideology and emotional attachment is reflected in the oath of allegiance taken by new citizens. The applicant who swears “true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution does not become the subject of a government, an ideology, a nation or a flag. Rather, the applicant becomes, as the constitutional scholar William F. Harris II said at a naturalization ceremony in Independence Hall, “a citizen of the text.” New citizens who try to understand what “true faith and allegiance” means explore fundamental questions about what binds a people. The oath of allegiance thus commits new citizens to a continual process of constructing a political community, or, as Federalist No. 1 puts it, to maintaining a vital sense of self-government through “reflection and choice.”
I don’t mean that new citizens will suddenly all become constitutional theorists. The difficulty of that enterprise is precisely why inculcating an emotional attachment to a shared political identity is important. But a constitutional conception of citizenship must also emphasize the importance of offering public justifications. After all, the membership problems raised by immigration are a subset of a larger problem: a polity dominated by a fragile sense of public commitment and a weakened set of political institutions. American citizens themselves often act as if they were “alienated residents” who have lost confidence in the political arena. A shared identity worthy of respect needs a lively deliberation over the nature of its political principles and their relation to culture if that identity is to remain vital.
There are obvious tensions among ideology, emotion and interpretation as components of American citizenship. But they are tensions that appropriately reflect the delicate balance between creating a shared sensibility, sustaining democratic principles, preserving self-governance, and protecting rights. By contrast, some advocates of expanded rights for all persons, whether citizens or not, as well as some proponents of greater restrictions on immigration, would do away with this balance. Many restrictionists stress an unchanging cultural or political homogeneity, while the advocates of personhood emphasize a pre-existing set of universal rights. The latter insists that a culture of rights is sufficient to undergird democracy; the former believes that a democratic polity can only be sustained by a relatively homogeneous community. Neither perspective addresses the need to create a sense of affinity and mutual responsibility among newcomers and native-born citizens that is appropriate to changing circumstances.
This emphasis on creating citizens brings us back to Glazer’s analysis of American identity and its implications for the naturalization process. Until Doris Meissner became Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1992 and immediately began to emphasize citizenship, the “N” in INS was woefully neglected; the INS was far more concerned with keeping immigrants out than with welcoming those already here.
Yet if naturalization was once largely ignored, all that has now changed. Some commentators have criticized welfare legislation that strips legal immigrants of benefits, for instance, suggesting that it contributes to the devaluation of citizenship by inducing newcomers to naturalize for purely material reasons. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House immigration subcommittee, has charged that Vice President Al Gore pressured the INS to lower its standards for naturalization, enabling more new citizens to participate in the recent elections. “This is the first time . . . to my knowledge that politics has ever been mixed with this sort of sacrosanct procedure that we call naturalization or becoming a citizen,” he asserted.
Smith’s historical claim is wrong. Politics has often been part of the naturalization process. When my grandfather arrived in Kansas City in the 1920s, the local political boss took him off the train, into the voting booth, and through the naturalization process, in that order. The administration of naturalization exams has been neither uniform nor sacrosanct. In some cases, educated native-born citizens might have failed the exams; in other cases, applicants who simply showed up became citizens.
Smith’s concern that naturalization should not be cheapened does, however, offer the right framework for building a citizenship process worthy of the name. The fact that citizenship and naturalization haven’t always been treated as sacrosanct doesn’t mean that many immigrants and Americans haven’t regarded them as such. Indeed, the ambivalence of becoming American that many immigrants have felt is testimony to their sense that such a change should have significance, one that entails a transformation in their sense of self and membership. The naturalization process should offer an approach that emphasizes that transformation, one that stresses the new and complex identity of being an American, not one that strips legal immigrants of benefits or simply makes it easier to naturalize.
This process should emphasize that citizenship demands reverence and reason, it requires an habitual sense of belonging and a willingness to actively re-consider what it means to belong. It requires an understanding of concepts fundamental to American political life, a sense of commitment to the broader community, and a willingness to deliberate with fellow citizens about the public good. By telling a complex tale of the relation between American identity and U.S. citizenship and immigration laws, Glazer makes an important contribution to building a naturalization process worthy of the name. But a truly robust effort to “make citizens” must do more than “maneuver between both [liberal and conservative] criticisms of our naturalization process and requirements.” It must actively explore the full complexity of American identity, especially the possibility that what makes America distinct is not an identity based on adherence to political principles, but, rather, a complex combination of ideological, emotional and interpretive elements.
Glazer’s conclusion that “new developments push us to consider what the further implications of being a universal people are” is exactly right. American Citizenship in the 21st century is not likely to look just like citizenship in the 20th century, which, after all, is significantly different from citizenship in the 19th century. We need new ways of weaving together our multiple identities, ways that draw on central traditions in American life even as they re-interpret those traditions for a new age.
Is America Too White?
By John Isbister
Is America too white? Well, yes. Not everyone agrees, though. Peter Brimelow, for example, thinks the country is not white enough:
“The onus is on those who favor the major change in the ethnic balance entailed by current immigration levels to explain exactly what they have against the American nation as it had evolved by 1965 (90 percent white, primarily from Italy, Germany, Ireland and Britain). While they’re at it, they can explain just what makes them think that multi-racial societies work.”1
As one of “those who favor the major change in the ethnic balance,” I will try to answer Brimelow’s questions. First, whites are declining as a proportion of the American population, inevitably and independently of the country’s immigration policy. The Immigration Act of 1965 is a less important cause of this change than are the underlying demographic and sociological factors. The “golden age” of 1965 cannot be restored. Second, while it is correct that the United States population was (almost) 90 percent white in the middle of the 20th century, this high proportion was an anomaly in American history. America has always been a multi-racial society, since the first English settlers and the first African slaves encountered the first natives on the eastern shores. Third, the decline in the white proportion is a healthy development for the country, since it will gradually replace a majority-minority confrontation with interactions between groups of more equal size and influence. And fourth, America in the late 20th century is doing a pretty good job of showing how a collection of people representing the variety of world cultures can live peacefully and profitably with each other. Those, at least, are my contentions.
First, the basic demography. The racial composition of the United States population, both historical and projected, as compiled by the Census Bureau, is shown in Table 1. In keeping with normal Census Bureau practice, Table 1 does not show Hispanics as a separate race.
The first American census in 1790 counted four fifths of the population as white. The proportion rose steadily over the next century and a half, mostly because of a preponderance of whites among the country’s immigrants, reaching a peak between 1920 and 1950 when roughly nine of every ten enumerated residents were white. By 1965, the year of the major change in the immigration law, the white proportion had begun to fall. It was down to 83 percent in 1995, and will doubtless be lower by the end of the current decade.
Jennifer Cheeseman Day of the Census Bureau has projected the U.S. population to the year 2050. The figures shown in Table 1 are based on her “medium” assumptions about future fertility and mortality, and four different assumptions about annual net immigration (that is, immigrants minus emigrants): (1) zero net immigrants, (2) Low immigration: 300,000, (3) medium immigration: 820,000, and (4) high immigration: 1,370,000.4 The racial composition of the immigrant flow is assumed, in the projections, to be roughly the same as in the early 1990s. The projections show that the white proportion of the population will continue to decline in the first half of the 21st century. Moreover, no magic attaches to the date 2050; the demographic dynamics leading to a decline in the white proportion will likely continue well after that date.
The most striking feature of Table 1 is that the white proportion would continue to fall even if net immigration into the country were zero. It would do so principally because of differential fertility; the birth rates of the non-white groups in the United States exceed that of whites. The difference is so marked that, in the absence of any net immigration, the white population would eventually begin to decline in absolute numbers, not just proportionately, while the other groups would grow.5
Immigration, coming as it does predominantly from non-white source countries, will hasten the decline in the white proportion. Note, however, that the effect of immigration is not expected to be overwhelming. The most relevant comparison is between the “low immigration” and the “medium immigration” lines. The line labeled “zero immigration” is perhaps interesting, but it is completely unattainable, even should Americans favor it; illegal immigration would surely push the numbers up to at least the “low” figures.6 And the “high” line envisions net immigration more than 65 percent above its current level, a future which is imaginable but not likely. The immigration debate in which the country is currently engaged is concerned, realistically, with numbers between the “low” and the “medium” lines, that is, between 300,000 and 820,000 net immigrants annually. And here we learn that the alternative estimates for the white proportion in 2050 are 75.8 versus 74.8 percent, not much of a difference.
The figures in Table 1 are misleading, however, in ways that are understandable but not entirely correctable. The problem is that “white” is an ambiguous term, as are all racial labels. Biologists and anthropologists have no fixed definition of race. Certainly American history provides ample evidence that whiteness is a social construct, not a fixed point. A remarkable passage written by Benjamin Franklin in 1775 is illustrative
“[T]he number of purely white people in the world is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the newcomers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call swarthy complexion, as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth. I could wish their numbers were increased.”7
In the mid-nineteenth century, the poor Irish immigrants were initially regarded by their betters as, if not exactly black, then certainly not white — and their eventual success in their adopted country was marked by their assimilation into the white race.8 The same has been true of the Italians, the Greeks, the Armenians and many other national groups.9 One of the factors hindering Americans’ ability to respond to the Holocaust of the Second World War was their unwillingness to think of Jews as white; the objects of the refugee program established at the end of that conflict were called “displaced persons,” with no mention of the Jewishness of many of them, out of regard for the racial sensibilities of most Americans (and Canadians).
On the other hand, one sometimes hears today that Asian Americans, or certain groups of them, are “honorary whites.”
One could be forgiven for concluding, therefore, that whiteness, as the term is actually used, has only a tangential relationship to skin pigmentation, and is instead a synonym for “us.” There is no way that the official data can be adequately adjusted to take account of these complexities. At the very least, however, one should acknowledge that the early American censuses did not even attempt to count the native population and that, as a consequence, we do not know how large that population was. A great deal of inventive scholarship has been devoted to the question. Perhaps the pre-1492 population of the eastern coastal plain, from Massachusetts to Florida, was about 2,000,000,10 falling to 500,000 in 1790.11 If so, natives would have constituted 12 percent of the population at the time of the first census, and the other two groups in Table 1 would have fallen proportionately, whites to 71 percent and blacks to 17. In the century following the first arrival of the Irish in large numbers in the 1840s, if we were able to separate out in our figures those regarded as genuinely white from the others, the white figures would be much lower than shown in Table 1. The figure of almost 90 percent in the middle of the twentieth century, therefore, is overstated on the one hand, and atypical of the American experience, not a norm, on the other.
Among the current problems in presenting a clear statistical picture are how to represent the growing number of people of mixed races and of Latin American descent. On the first issue, the Census Bureau is attempting to move away from the historical American position that any degree of non-white ancestry places one in a non-white category, but it has not yet arrived at an alternative solution — and may never be able to, in view of the difficulty of the problem.
On the second issue, the Census Bureau takes the position that “Hispanic” is not a race, and that Hispanics may be of any race, that is, according to the Bureau’s current categories, white, black, native or Asian. While the Census Bureau is doubtless correct in this assertion, most Americans in fact regard “Hispanic” (or “Latino”) as a race. In view of this, the Census Bureau offers compilations in which the Hispanic and non-Hispanic populations are separated. Table 2 shows how the bottom part of Table 1 looks, when this division is made.
With this adjustment, Table 2 shows that nonHispanic whites (a group for whom I hesitantly advance the term “Anglo”) are currently less than three quarters of the American population, while Hispanics are almost as numerous as blacks. With no immigration at all, these proportions will change considerably in the 21st century, again because of fertility differences. Anglos will decline as a proportion of the population, while all the other groups will grow. With higher and higher levels of immigration, the Anglo, black, and native proportions will fall, while the Hispanic and Asian proportions will grow.
Several things impress one about Table 2. First, even without immigration, Hispanics are likely to displace blacks as the country’s largest minority group in the 21st century; immigration will hasten this trend. Second, Anglos themselves are heading toward minority status: faster or slower depending upon the rate of immigration, but inexorably. And third, any realistic variation in the rate of immigration will have some effect upon the Anglo proportion — a greater effect than was indicated in Table 1— but not a huge effect. The difference between the low and medium immigration lines in 2050, for non-Hispanic whites, is 3.1 percentage points, noticeable but not enormous.
Could the decline in the white proportion be attenuated by changes in the immigration law, restoring something like the pre-1965 regime that discriminated in favor of Europeans? No doubt such a change would have some effect, but it would not fundamentally alter the picture shown in Table 2. Few western Europeans want to immigrate to the United States these days; they are happy to visit in increasing numbers, because of the favorable exchange rate, but they would not want to live here. The principal potential immigrants among white people are residents of the former Soviet bloc — and they are massively outnumbered by Latin Americans and Asians who want to immigrate. None but the most draconian measures, highly unlikely in a free, democratic country such as the United States, could reverse the sources of the current immigrant flows.
One should not make the mistake of thinking that the 1965 immigration act is the principal cause of the changing ethnic composition of the United States. Similar racial changes are occurring throughout western Europe and the other predominantly white countries of British settlement. It is a global phenomenon; the races are getting mixed up.
The big question about the projections in Table 2 is not how precisely accurate the estimates are — they are fuzzy, but about the best we can come up with. Rather it is whether the racial categories that seem so important to us at the end of the 20th century will have anything like the same relevance several generations from now. Will anyone care what the numbers are in those particular columns? Perhaps not. Perhaps intermarriage will blur the racial boundaries so much that they become indistinguishable. Perhaps Latinos will “become white,” just as the Irish, Armenians and Jews did before them. Perhaps Asians’ success in this country, and Asian economic preeminence in the world, will remove any sociological reason for thinking of that group as “other.” Perhaps Americans of African and non-African descent really will overcome their poisonous history. Perhaps the differences within the groups will become much more compelling than the differences among them. Were I a betting person, I would put a little money on all these propositions, at least in the long run.
7f. "What Is the American?"
KTCA-TVAdventurous men of diverse ethnic backgrounds who pushed the western boundaries of the colonies, created uniquely American roles. One such role is the Frontiersman, exemplified by Daniel Boone.
Michel-Guillaume de Crèvecoeur was a French settler in the American colonies in the 1770s. Coming from France he could not believe the incredible diversity in the American colonies. Living in one area, he encountered people of English, Welsh, Scots-Irish, German, French, Irish, Swedish, Native American, and African descent. "What then is the American, this new man?" He could not be sure, but he knew it to be different from anything that could be found on the European side of the Atlantic.
At the time of the American Revolution, English citizens made up less than two thirds of the colonial population, excluding Native Americans. Nearly one fifth of the population was of African descent. Of the white population, there was still tremendous diversity, particularly in Pennsylvania, America's first melting pot. Most numerous of the non-English settler population were the Germans and the Scots-Irish.
Germans came to Pennsylvania at the turn of the 18th century in answer to advertisements in Germany placed by William Penn. The promise of religious freedom, economic opportunity and freedom from war accelerated the arrival of Germans in the 1700s. English-speaking Americans misinterpreted the word Deutsch — the German word for German — and the settlers became consequently known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Along with linguistic and cultural diversity, the Germans brought new religions to America, the most prominent of which was Lutheranism.
The Scots-Irish were twice displaced. They originated in the Scottish Lowlands, but fled to Ireland to escape poverty. They found little prosperity there, as well. In addition, the Catholic Irish had little desire to share their island with the Presbyterian Scots, so they migrated to America. Much of the best farmland had already been claimed, so many Scots-Irish moved into Appalachia. Here they frequently fought with the Indians and resented being controlled by wealthy planters and politicians — reminding them of what they had left behind.
Soon these cultures began to blend. Americans became culturally distinct from the English. Their language, culture, and religions differed greatly from those of Mother England. Most Americans were born here and never even visited England during their lives. The Germans were never loyal to England. The Scots-Irish had great resentment toward Great Britain. The ties that bound them to the British Crown were weakening fast.
Historical events leave their imprint on family history, and genealogists are left to sort it out as they look for their roots. This family website looks at Scottish migration to the frontier and their westward movement.
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In America, "individuals of all races are melted into a new race of man, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims." — Hector St. John De Crevecoeur
Letters from an American Farmer (from "Letter III," 1782)
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