Monday, September 20, 2010

The difference between anti-immigrant sentiment in the US and Europe

I saw the front-page story in the NY Times today about the indignation Salt Lake City's Mormon newspaper, The Deseret News, garnered by taking an unofficial pro-Hispanic immigrants position.  Then I flipped a few more pages and saw that in Sweden, anti-immigration candidates won parliamentary seats for the first time--joining anti-immigration party successes in neighboring Denmark and Norway.  Mounting anti-Muslim sentiment in both France and Germany detailed in another NY Times piece today is being used by both Sarkozy and Merkel to shore political support.

What is going on here? Is the world in a nativist explosion?

I think there are two separate waves of feeling sweeping the world, one in Europe and another in America, though they share an important commonality.

Americans emotional about "sealing our borders" are at root anxious about Mexican and Central American immigrants' steep increase in cultural visibility.  And in truth, those who note a growing Hispanic influence are reacting to fact.  At 48.4 million population in 2009, Hispanics are the largest ethnic or race minority, according to census figures, double the 22 million of just nine years earlier.  Twenty six percent of all children under age 5--and 22% of all those under 18 in our country are Hispanic. Hispanic people comprise 47% of the population of New Mexico and 37% of the populations of California and Texas--and 16 percent of the United States population generally (far more than the 12% of our nation who are African-American). Twelve percent of all US residents speak Spanish in the home (half of those also speak English "very well.")
Whether Hispanics are citizens, legal or illegal immigrants is irrelevant to my point--which is that the daily American context increasingly includes Spanish, and ever-greater media attention goes to this significant segment of the population.  This, for many people, is an uncomfortable and undesirable change in their personal world.

I do not believe the discomfort comes from bigotry or prejudice against Spanish, Mexicans or Hispanic culture (though I'm sure there is some).  My observation is that it's a result of what seems a failure to fulfill the American bargain.

The bargain is:  Immigrants are welcome; we are a land of many peoples, combined to form our special "melting pot" in which hopeful volunteers invest their energies and sensitivities in a uniquely American milieu.  But the bargain holds that the national culture uses the language of English.  Immigrants are expected to learn it as well as adapt to this amalgamated culture--rather than have the establishment and surrounding culture cater to newcomers through a public face speaking other languages.

I hear citizens with an underlying annoyance, often voiced as, "My grandmother came here and had to learn English and how to get by--why don't they?"

It's a visceral reaction to phoning a store or insurance company or doctor's office, getting the already-annoying recorded triage and hearing an extra time-consuming command, "Para espanol, oprima dos."  It's not the specific language or culture or people that causes a reaction--the same would be true if the "language invading" were by another group.  It's that the basic American cultural experience, based in English, is gradually encroached upon and ceded to something different--and yes, foreign.

The European anti-immigrant response, from what I see, shares this discomfort with encroachment.  European nations, despite being physically close by today's standards, developed separate languages, traditions and customs, all subjects of fierce pride.  Station was determined more by birth--where and to whom--in contrast to the relatively recent American combining based on egalitarian striving.  Just as Americans resist losing our two-hundred-year-old identity, Europeans hold even more tightly to their longer histories, languages and cultures.

But Americans don't fear that Hispanics seek to replace their government with another, as a tenet of being Hispanic.  Muslim immigrants, however, bring with them a set of religiously-based values--including goals they hold immutable because they are commanded by God--to ultimately unseat existing governments and replace them with sharia law.  While Europeans need the labor Muslims provide, they worry that an acceptance of growing Muslim populations actually endangers not only their cultures, but their very existence.

Here in America, we're not threatened by an influx of Hispanics, and particularly new immigrants--we embrace them.  We need their labor because for the most part, Hispanic residents adhere to the same work ethic that built this nation, a willingness to take on any job punctually and reliably to earn a living, support a family and get ahead.  Overwhelmingly we understand and even share their religious perspective, and our cultures compatibly allow a government and God's laws to coexist rather than require imposition.

Values of Christianity that include respect for women are woven into the history and basis of America, and permeate the Mexican and Central American cultures of Hispanic immigrants.  America continually demonstrates openness to all--including anyone of Hispanic background--who adheres to the bargain, masters English, achieves and becomes successful.  The appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor was a recent reminder of the broadly-supportive American attitude toward those of Hispanic backgrounds.

Bottom line--big influxes of immigrants shifting language and media cause entrenched citizens to want to shut the gates and strengthen the original culture internally--here and in Europe.  But the kind of threat posed by unassimilated Hispanic immigrants to America and Muslim immigrants to Europe are wildly divergent in that the religious thrust of Islam is not only permeating but dangerous.

1 comment:

  1. Excuse me NL for saying this but you are completely missing the issue here. Illegal immigrants in the US make several extra dollars every hour they work -- for their employers. If they were legal it would be illegal to discriminate against them and pay them less than native workers.

    The amount that goes into employers' pockets instead of into their workers' pockets is tens of billions of dollars every year. And the stoutly pro-business Deseret News knows this.

    That is why conservatives rail against illegal immigrants but never ever actually do the one thing that would get them all out of the country in a few weeks - fine employers who knowingly hire illegals.

    So far from this being an untried strategy, it is exactly why Canada is not flooded with illegals. Their southern border is longer and less patrolled than ours, yet they have few illegals. Why do you think that is.

    The Arizona law is pure demagogic show. The people in power in Arizona have no intention whatsoever of depriving themselves of their extra profits by actually getting rid of illegals.

    People in Sweden are not in the same situation at all. Their immigrants are generally legal. Their problem is not bigotry. If they were bigoted agaainst Muslims they would not have admitted them in the first place.

    The Swedish (and Danish, and British, and French, etcetera) problem is that Muslim immigrants arrive with no concept of respect for non-Muslim law and cannot visualize non-Muslims having any rights that they should respect. Which by the way is precisely Koranic.

    Muslim immigrants also have predatory attitudes toward non-Muslim welfare systems and exploit them without hesitation or limit.

    What one is seeing in Europe is not bigotry per se, but a reaction against real abuses by immigrants who are frequently the worst case in what one fears immigrants will become.