As political Neanderthals go, I’m pretty enlightened on the subject of immigration. When America attracts smart, hard-working people who are committed to bettering themselves and raising their families’ standard of living, we all benefit. Open wide the gate and let them pass! But on the way in, please remind them to learn English.
Yesterday the mayor of Newark, New Jersey (Cory Booker, pictured at right) held a press conference to announce the arrest of a particularly vicious murderer. Good on the Newark police, kudos to the mayor, etc. but halfway through the appearance — in response to a question posed in English – His Honor responded in Spanish and it was all downhill from there.
I’m sure we were all very much impressed with the mayor’s language skills but I don’t understand Spanish – I had no idea what the man was saying and, to be frank, it pissed me off. The three victims of this horrible crime were black and their families (who are very much entitled to an explanation from city officials) speak ENGLISH. As should the mayor; as should everyone else who makes America his home either by birth or by choice.
Even though I worship at the altar of a Mexican-American, I’m sure I’ll be accused of racism but I’ll take that risk. For the moment, I’ll skip the language as unifier spiel and cut to the results of a new diversity study:
IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.
But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.
Putnam claims the US has experienced a pronounced decline in “social capital,” a term he helped popularize. Social capital refers to the social networks — whether friendships or religious congregations or neighborhood associations — that he says are key indicators of civic well-being. When social capital is high, says Putnam, communities are better places to live. Neighborhoods are safer; people are healthier; and more citizens vote.
The results of his new study come from a survey Putnam directed among residents in 41 US communities, including Boston. Residents were sorted into the four principal categories used by the US Census: black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. They were asked how much they trusted their neighbors and those of each racial category, and questioned about a long list of civic attitudes and practices, including their views on local government, their involvement in community projects, and their friendships. What emerged in more diverse communities was a bleak picture of civic desolation, affecting everything from political engagement to the state of social ties.
And it goes on from there…
I’m actually a big fan of ethnic diversity. I grew up with Lebanese-Americans and by the time I was ten I was familiar with a few common Arabic expressions. The Christmas celebrations of my childhood were enriched by exposure to Swedish customs and during young adulthood I supped with the Poles on December 24th. Ethnic diversity, properly understood, is a wonderful thing. The problem arises with the imposition of an exclusive (read: excluding) alien sub-culture that fails to engage the dominant culture by means of that great unifying force: a common language.
If the first generation of immigrants has a problem with the lingua franca, I can sympathize. The fact that Grandma speaks Russian, or French, or Spanish at home won’t toll the death knell of the Republic. But when the second — and even third and fourth — generations still need an interpreter to buy a loaf of bread then we run the risk of a devastating social fragmentation that could eventually destroy this country.