Patriotic Assimilation

Patriotic Assimilation

We have talked a little bit about assimilation. What I believe is important for strengthening our democracy is what I call “patriotic assimilation. I’m going to sketch this out a little.

What is “patriotic assimilation”? First, it does not mean giving up all ethnic traditions, customs, cuisine, and birth languages. It has nothing to do with the food one eats, the religion one practices, the affection that one feels for the land of one’s birth, and the second languages that one speaks. Multiethnicity and ethnic subcultures have always been part of our past.

Patriotic assimilation occurs when a newcomer essentially adopts American civic values and the American heritage as his or her own. It occurs, for example, when newcomers and their children begin to think of American history as “our” history not “their” history. To give a hypothetical example, imagine an eight-grade Korean-American female student studying the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Does she think of those events in terms of “they” or “we”? Does she envision the creation of the Constitution in Philadelphia as something that “they” (white males of European descent) were involved in 200 years before her ancestors came to America, or does she imagine the Constitutional Convention as something that “we” Americans did as part of “our” history? Does she think in terms of “we” or “they”? “We” implies patriotic assimilation. If she thinks in terms of “we” she has done what millions of immigrants and immigrant children have done in the past. She has adopted America’s story as her story, and she has adopted America’s Founders—Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Washington—as her ancestors. (This does not mean that she, like other Americans, will not continue to argue about our history and our heritage, nor ignore the times that America has acted ignobly).

Patriotic assimilation does, however, mean exclusive citizenship. One nation’s interests (and values) are the same as another’s. This is true even among democratic nation-states that are very close such as the US and Canada (the World Values Survey shows differences). So, yes, dual allegiance does constitute a major problem for the strength of American democracy. Interestingly I have seen survey data by a major polling company (it will be released in June, I will send it to Peter then) that reveals that 75% of all registered voters believe that newly naturalized American citizens should be required to “give up all allegiance” to their previous nation.

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Benjamin Davis
Benjamin Davis

I recognize the idea being expressed here. Might I say that it is not unpatriotic to note that there were in fact a few white guys who were property owners who wrote the Constitution, to come to terms with the incredible role of slavery in that document. If we want someone to be a patriot, let us have them be a patriot who knows and accepts that whole history. And it is not unpatriotic for an immigrant to recognize that history and become a social justice activist in the United States. I worry about “patriotic assimilation” when it may mask what amounts to one of the powerful aspects of the immigrant waves of incorporation of anti-black sentiments as a way to show one was a “true American” and appeal to the prejudices of the American white elite for advancement. I have seen that in my lifetime – I am not speaking of some remote past. I hope patriotic assimilation does not mean we are to all look like we are in Ralph Lauren ads and think like Eastern Establishment types – like the Brahmin who used to play the Irish, Italian and Blacks against each other in Boston. Fundamental understandings… Read more »