One Teacher`s Classroom Conclusion: Immigrants Just Don`t Want To Assimilate


My

English as a Second Language
class at California`s

Lodi Adult School
ended for the year in late May.

And as is my

custom
, I`m looking back and evaluating my effort to
teach English and to instill enthusiasm for the American
way in my students.

Is it just my imagination or does
my task grow more difficult every year?

As

usual
, the

class attendance was sparse
. During the two
semesters, only 350 pupils signed up—a tiny fraction of
the total number of Lodi residents who need English
language training—even though we accept students at any
time of the year.

The average daily attendance was
about 35 students. In other words, for every 10 who sign
up, only one stays in class.

The 10-1 ratio is disappointing,
but consistent with the pattern that has evolved over
the last few years.

The more non-English speakers who
arrive in Lodi, the easier it is to get by without
speaking English.

This is particularly true among the
Spanish speakers from

Mexico
and

Central America
.

Nevertheless, I start each new
school year with optimism. But I have over time adjusted
my game plan.

On the first day of class, when I
look out at my students, I ask myself two questions:

  • Will I be able to instill in
    you an appreciation for what it means to live in
    America?

  • Will I be able to help you
    understand the difference between getting along in
    America and thriving in America?

These two concerns, more than the
technical task of teaching English, is the focus of my
effort.

Indirectly, through lessons and
conversations about life in America, the students will
improve their verbal skills.

But in 2003, my revised strategy
hit a bump in the road.

Current events in our
history—specifically the

Iraq War
and the presidency of

George W. Bush
—have made it more difficult to wax
poetic about America.

No matter what the country of
origin is for my students—Mexico,

Pakistan
,

Guatemala
,

Russia
,

China
and

Spain
—they vehemently oppose the war and distrust
President Bush.

One young woman, visiting from
Spain on a

tourist visa,
told me in her above average English
that everyone she knows back home "hates" the U.S. for
its arrogance.

Still, she is trying to figure out
how to become a permanent U.S. resident.

When I asked her why, feeling the
way she does about America, she would want to live here
permanently, she admitted being enamored of life in the
U.S.

"Can I love America but hate its
politics?"
she asked.

Like my student from Spain, my two

Russian fiancée
brides also speak nearly fluent
English.

They`re passionate about politics
too, having no use for either Bush or Russian President
Vladimir Putin.

When

Super Bowl
weekend rolled around, I asked them if
they planned to watch.

"We
don`t like

football
and we don`t eat

hot dogs
,"
they said.

I encouraged them anyway.

"You
don`t have to do either to enjoy the

Super Bowl.
Remember: watching the Super Bowl is the
most American thing you can do, "
I told them.

The class talked about California

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
. They all knew him as
a

Hollywood star
. But surprisingly few were aware of
his history as a poor but legal immigrant from

Austria
who made a multimillion-dollar fortune in
movies and real estate.

And almost no one knew that
Schwarzenegger is married to a

prominent television journalist
related to one of
the

wealthiest and most influential American families.

I told the students that if they
learned how to spell S-C-H-W-A-R-Z-E-N-E-G-G-E-R, they
would be among a very small percentage of people
nationwide, even including college graduates, who could
write the governor`s name correctly.

For reasons best known to the
students—perhaps being able to do something that college
graduates cannot—they took to that task with enthusiasm.

But there remained, this year as
every year, the nagging sense that my students weren`t
getting all they could out of the American experience.

Every Friday, with the weekend
edition of the Lodi News-Sentinel in front of
them, I pointed out what was going around town—much of
it free—with the hope that the students would get
involved.

But, more often than not, when
Monday rolled around, disappointingly few students had
browsed at the

Street Faire
, shopped at the

local farmers market
or signed up at the

library
for computer lessons.

For all of the eighteen years I
have been

teaching at the Lodi Adult School,
getting immigrant
students involved in the community has been a
frustrating problem.

A May 2005 Public Policy Institute
of California report,

"Second-Generation Immigrants in California"
,

reveals that, despite my experiences, I have even
underrated how serious the failure to assimilate is
among first, second and even third generation
immigrants.

Categorizing immigrants as
"Asian/Pacific"
, "Latino" or "White",
the P.P.I.C. found that, regardless of generation,
Latinos lag across the board in

voting
, petition signing,

attending local meetings,
writing to elected
officials, contributing to political campaigns and

volunteering.


First
and

second-generation immigrants
(including illegal
aliens) account for 27% and 20% respectively of
California`s population—nearly half the Golden State`s
population.

To think that the nearly 17 million
people those percentages represent will be

disengaged
from the communities they live in is
disheartening.

This is the point at which my
students—those studied in the P.P.I.C. report—have to
make their choices. Will they assimilate or not?

Since most of them will spend many
more years in the U.S. than they ever lived in

their home country,
their decision should be
obvious.

These immigrants came to the U.S.
of their own free will and volition. And I always urge
them to become part of the Great American Way.  

But the plain fact is that they
don`t want to.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English at the Lodi
Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column
since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.