A bumper sticker recently seen in Miami, Florida reads “Will the last American to leave Miami please remember to bring the flag?”
Yes. Angst has entered America’s heartland. Old-school Americans are worried about the millions of immigrants in our midst, immigrants that will change the face of the nation as we know it.
True. America is changing, but not necessarily from its most profound values and character. The perceptible change –darker skins and ethnic food– is apparent in any supermarket. Perhaps this trivial development is distracting us from the ever-evolving nature of America’s evolution.
This is a country of changes and always has been. Originally we were a group of colonies that, without daring change, would still be flying the Imperial flag. It also dared to be the first nation in the world led by mere mortals rather than an anointed monarch. Both changes were met with great resistance from traditionalists who warned of the impending demise of the nascent nation and God’s wrath against those who espouse such revolutionary ideas.
Many decades later, the southern states fought to preserve their time-honored way of life, but Change, again, intervened. The emancipation of America’s slaves was another hard-to-swallow adjustment of the status quo. Finally, the century ended with the immigration of ten million new to-be-Americans to the country.
During the 20th Century, significant cultural and social developments further changed the fabric of the country. The large influx of then-despised southern and eastern European immigrants challenged Protestant dominance in America and science challenged Creationism. Then women entered the workforce and a civil rights movement cemented the path of African Americans towards an elusive equality.
In their time, all of these changes were strongly opposed by those clamoring that they threatened core American values. Yet today, in retrospect, these changes seem sensible and inevitable.
Today we are at the crossroads again and contemporary groups are predicting our downfall as a united people.
Because of the Arizona issue, the passage of an immigration reform now appears not only necessary, but inevitable. The resulting inclusion of millions of new Americans into the mainstream from this potential legislation has many up in arms. These doomsayers warn that bilingualism, multiculturalism and other “isms” will lead to the disintegration of time-honored national values and will drain our economy. They will be satisfied by nothing short of armed soldiers at the border and mass deportations –and that’s just for starters.
Eventually, after the dust has settled and reason has prevailed, a compromise must and will be reached. Very likely many of these people will stay, the nation will establish new rules and the United States will go on as before: in a constant state of change.
Even in the face of these events, traditionalists should not fear a next wave of social transformation. Tortillas are not going to replace donuts …yet. Newly legalized immigrants will bring some customs and oddities that could annoy us for some time, but soon enough they will be absorbed into the culture of credit cards and parking lots. Hopefully, some old world values such as family cohesion, respect for elders and drive to succeed against all odds will stick and may benefit our own individualistic culture. And for those worried about saving the English language from disappearing …English will survive. It may borrow more Spanish terms, but it will prevail.
In the end, things will be neither better nor worse. Most of us will just continue doing the same, adapting to a reality that was already present for some time …unless something changes again.