I got an email from a relative the other day quoting Theodore Roosevelt on immigrants. It had been sent to about 20 cousins and other family members, and basically discussed how even ol’ Teddy knew that immigrants were such a disruptive force that they should be made to learn the language of the land, assimilate completely into the culture, and renounce all other loyalties they may have other than the great nation of America. One eyebrow went up as I sat and wondered why this had been sent to me. I mean, haven’t these people met me?
So I hit “Reply all”…
The thing is, I hate getting this kind of thing from family members. I don’t mind discussing anything with (most) friends or strangers, but family often seems to feel that they have something invested in you personally, and that it is important that you believe the same way they do. They therefore get much hotter under the collar when you don’t believe the same things. I have tried many approaches to stave off this reaction, and I finally found one that has thus far worked every time. (No, not putting all of my family on my “Junk” list. That’s only for dad.)
Whenever I get one of these politically or religiously charged emails, I write back to everyone on the list, declaring myself to be the worst kind of heathen imaginable, and making certain they understand that I am completely entrenched in my views. (I’m not actually, but they don’t need to know that.) It’s more or less the equivalent of smearing yourself with mud and rolling naked all over the living room furniture. Instead of yelling or wanting to argue about my position on gay marriage, people are much more apt to stand by the open door with a forced smile, hoping I’ll wander back outside for more mud so they can slam the door behind me.
(Now just to be clear, I love my family. They are all full of wonderful qualities and I enjoy them and hold the time I have spent with them as a special treasure in my heart. But we don’t discuss politics or religion. There are a few exceptions, but by and large they are traditional southern Republicans, and we simply don’t see eye to eye. 95% of the time it doesn’t matter a bit and we’re all just family. 5% of the time I’m getting emails…)
So getting back to the letter… the thing is, while Teddy had some solid ideas, most of what he thought about immigrants was both unworkable and rubbish logic to begin with. Logistically, it is of significant benefit for everyone to speak the same language. This does make sense, and it’s a really good idea for the individual as well as the society. Can you imagine how it would cripple your ability to earn and socialize if you moved to say, China and refused to learn how to speak to anyone? But Roosevelt wanted these people to give over their culture in favor of American homogeneity. Whether you think this is a good idea or not, it’s practically unworkable. It ain’t never gonna happen. 5th generation Italian Americans still get pissed whenever someone discusses abandoning Columbus Day even in the face of his having been a genocidal maniac, just because Columbus was Italian. I perceive a loyalty other than America here.
And why not? We all have loyalties other than our country, and for most of us those loyalties come first. Which would you rather do, betray a national secret or go to hell for eternity? Jump in front of a bullet for your president, or for your wife? There are lots of things more important to me than “this great nation.” And if you think that there aren’t for you too, I’d say that you’re not being honest with yourself.
A final word about the immigrant language issue, for those of you who feel (as I do) that immigrants to this country should learn to speak the tongue of the land, I thought I’d provide a handy guide to the languages you need to start learning. (These are the language families for the Native American peoples living in the territory of the United States before European colonization. Each one represents several individual languages — in case you were looking for something specific here and didn’t see it.)
Adai, Algic, Alsean, Atakapa, Beothuk, Caddoan, Cayuse, Chimakuan, Chimariko, Chinookan, Chitimacha, Chumashan, Coahuilteco, Comecrudan (United States & Mexico), Coosan, Cotoname, Eskimo-Aleut, Esselen, Haida, Iroquoian, Kalapuyan, Karankawa, Karuk, Keresan, Kiowa-Tanoan, Kutenai, Maiduan, Muskogean, Na-Dené (United States, Canada & Mexico), Natchez, Palaihnihan, Plateau Penutian (also known as Shahapwailutan), Pomoan, Salinan, Salishan, Shastan, Siouan-Catawban, Siuslaw, Solano, Takelma, Timucua, Tonkawa, Tsimshianic, Tunica, Utian (also known as Miwok-Costanoan), Uto-Aztecan, Wakashan, Washo, Wintuan, Yana, Yokutsan, Yuchi, Yuki-Wappo (disputed), Yuman-Cochimí, and Zuni.
Ready to hit the books?