Notwithstanding the difficulties Congress is having with immigration reform, the fact remains that the United States is becoming increasingly diverse, with the designation of Caucasian as the racial identity about to account (if it doesn’t already) for less than 50 percent of the entire population. And while certain parts of the country still regard racial and ethnic diversity with concern, if not outright disdain, for most Americans the question of what race or ethnicity a person identifies with is becoming less and less significant.
In fact, it could well be that the politicians are the last to get the news that whatever a person’s immigrant status may be no longer matters to most of us. Yes, there are still some who fear that English will one day not be the principal language in the country and others who fret that Christianity will no longer be the dominant religion. The loss of racial purity may even be an anxiety that a small percentage of the country’s population feels, but for most Americans, who you are as a person is what matters, not what faith you have or don’t have or what the color of your skin is or isn’t.
I was struck by this thought last weekend when I attended a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The current buzz in L.A. concerns the Dodgers, who are the hottest team in baseball right now and perhaps the hottest ticket in the sports and entertainment industries. On the night I attended, the stadium was packed to capacity (a daily occurrence of late, a local told me), which meant over 50,000 fans were cheering for their team.
As I viewed the scene, I observed, within three or four rows of my seat, the following racial and ethnic identities: whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. And they were all sharing in the excitement of the game, exchanging high-fives when a Dodger rally took place and even hugs when the team pulled out a come-from-behind victory in the bottom of the ninth.
Now we do need to remember that Los Angeles is probably the epitome of the great American melting pot, at least in the third century of the country’s existence. The number of languages spoken in the city is said to be over 200, and the various ethnic groups with sizeable populations in the region include Hispanics, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Armenians, Iranians, Indians, and Russians.
So to see the kind of diversity I saw at that Dodger game should hardly have been a surprise, and it really wasn’t. But seeing that many people of diverse backgrounds and identities all cheering for the same cause (albeit the rather prosaic one of a win for their team) was impressive, far more impressive, I might add, than the inability of Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform.
At the McGeorge School of Law, where I hold down my day job, I serve on the school’s admissions committee. Diversity is a major goal of our efforts to attract quality students. We adhere to the view that a more diverse student body (and faculty) provides a better environment for the future lawyers we seek to train. That view is a reflection of the reality of the society that exists in the country today. It is also a reflection of the strength that diversity brings to any organization.
And hasn’t it always been so? Isn’t the “great melting pot” dependent on diverse ethnic identities? In the early years of the country’s existence, the diversity was represented by the African-Americans who were enslaved in the South and largely denied full access in the North. Later, Asians (primarily Chinese) were added to the mix in the West, and Central and Eastern Europeans in the East. Still later, other Asians (Koreans, Japanese) settled in the West. The influx of Hispanics began in the second half of the last century and reached its peak at the turn of the century. Other groups continued a steady influx of diverse nationalities and ethnicities.
Each group was initially met with resistance, if not disdain, by the entrenched residents. Thus, the Irish and the Italians, and later the Germans, the Chinese, and the Armenians (my ancestors) all experienced rejection if not outright prejudice in the first generations of their immigration. But in time, as they all assimilated into the society they had joined, they gained complete acceptance, with the result that their subsequent generations were viewed as being just as American as everyone else.
I’m a second generation American, my parents having been born in the U.S. My sons are third generation, but I doubt very much that they even think about that fact, since they consider themselves American without regard to their ancestors’ ethnicity (Korean and Armenian) let alone from how far back their ancestors’ immigration dates.
What resistance there is to immigration reform seems to rest primarily on the idea that “illegal immigrants” are a drain on the nation’s economic vitality. Arguments are made to the effect that those here without legal visas are taking jobs from citizens and depleting government resources by drawing government benefits without paying taxes or otherwise benefitting the country.
The empirical evidence in support of that line of reasoning is virtually non-existent. Instead, the argument appears to be a cover for xenophobia, and it is currently aimed primarily at immigrants from Mexico. Why this prejudice exists is hard to explain. Most of the Mexicans who are the subject of it are hard-working folk who are working in jobs that might go unfilled if they weren’t available to do them. And, to the extent that they earn American dollars for their labor, they then spend it on the necessities of life, thereby increasing the economic vitality of the country.
It really isn’t all that complicated, as my experience last weekend at Dodger Stadium verified. You let people into the country, they become part of the society, they join in the same activities as the rest of us, and, ultimately, they become as American as the rest of us, cheering for the home team, as it were.