View From Lodi, CA: Immigrants Are Just Not Assimilating
Years ago, I had a conversation with one of my Muslim
students about his life in the United States.
Toward the end of our dialogue, I asked him what in
life is most important to him.
“Islam,” he replied.
“But if Islam is the most important thing to you, why
did you move to a
My friend answered that he came to America for better
economic and educational opportunities.
“In that case,” I said, “economic opportunity and
education are most
The world around us is changing faster than we could
ever have imagined. To be ready for what lies ahead, we
need to ask some tough questions and be prepared for
answers that we may not like.
The Lodi News-Sentinel special report,
“From Pakistan to Lodi,” outlined many of the
conflicts Muslims have when they come to the U.S.
Readers gained valuable insights into what life in Lodi
is like for a Pakistani immigrant.
But did the feature go deep enough? Why do immigrants
come to America? What do they expect from us when they
arrive? What sacrifices will they make to assimilate?
Let`s return to the exchange I had with my friend.
If Christianity were the most important thing in my
life, I wouldn`t move to a Muslim country. But
Muslims—and all other immigrants—who come to America
know they are free to practice their faith and carry on
with their customs—many of which are
from ours—under the protection of the U.S. Constitution.
That`s our part of the bargain and we keep it.
But what immigrants do to assimilate into the U.S. is
In his story,
“Pakistani men adjust to life in Lodi,”
Nicholas Grudin wrote that, according to Raja Khan,
about 80 percent of Lodi`s Pakistanis are not fluent in
English. Even though the Lodi Adult School is close to
their Eastside residences, most do not attend.
Speaking as an English as a second language
instructor at the Lodi Adult School, I am saddened that
more effort isn`t made. Anyone who
doesn`t learn English
will never become part
of the American fabric. And a non-English speaking
person is doomed to low paying, dead-end jobs.
Khan states that for the 20 percent who do know
English, “the transition into American culture is much
easier.” If that is the case, why isn`t the other 80
percent trying harder? Did they come to America
unwilling to learn English?
Actually, I can answer my own question. I have had
dozens—if not hundreds—of conversations over the years
wherein I encouraged non-English speaking Muslims to
attend class. Most tell me that English is too
Whenever I hear excuses, I think of Austrian refugee
and Academy Award winner
Billy Wilder. When
Wilder came to the U.S., he was penniless and spoke no
English. Every night he lay on his bed, listened to the
radio and learned 20 new English words.
“Most of the refugees had a secret hope that Hitler
would be defeated and they could go back home,” Wilder
said. “I never had that hope. This is home. I had a
clear-cut vision: This is where I am going to die.”
Equally disappointing is the insistence of Muslim men
on imposing their will on the women and female children
of the family.
Julia Priest`s story,
“Lodi`s Pakistani women struggle with clash of
cultures,” did an excellent job of highlighting this
Very few Americans can imagine the
restrictions placed on Muslim women.
And without passing judgment on which method of child
rearing is right or wrong, many certainly don`t agree
with the Muslim approach.
Young girls enrolled in our local high schools are
forbidden to partake in social activities and have
limited involvement in physical education classes. If
Lodi had segregated schools, most of these girls would
What awaits these young women is an arranged
Nasim Khan, the former president of the Lodi Mosque,
is quoted as saying that most arranged marriages “have
worked out pretty well.”
But Nasim Khan`s assessment aside, for young women
who have grown up in America, most would prefer to make
their own choices.
Adult women stay at home. Many don`t drive, and if
they did, they wouldn`t be allowed out. They are not
encouraged to develop outside interests.
In fact, women are rarely allowed to pray side by
side with their husbands. The second-class status
afforded women is diametrically opposed to how Americans
treat their partners.
I am also concerned that so many of the Pakistani men
are described as “seasonal workers” who, when not
employed, idle time away debating politics at the
so-called “White House.”
I doubt if gathering at ethnic enclaves promotes much
pro-American feeling. A more likely scenario is that old
prejudices and home country allegiances are reinforced.
Regardless of what is discussed when the men get
together, everyone who comes to America has to hit the
ground running. Each of us—including those who arrived
only yesterday—has an obligation to work together to
make Lodi a better place. If we don`t have that as our
mutual goal, our community suffers.
So with all the cultural differences between
Christians and Muslims and Pakistanis and Americans, the
question remains: “Why do they come to Lodi?”
The answer is tough to swallow. And it applies to all
immigrants from all nationalities arriving in any state
in the union.
In today`s multicultural America, an immigrant can
pick and chose. He can take what he wants and leave
alone what he doesn`t. What is taken is economic
betterment and what`s left alone is all things American.
The whole process is divisive and sad. So many yearn
to come to America. They make their homes here. Many
attain their goal of earning a better wage than they
would in impoverished Pakistan. Some will live more
years in the U.S. than they did in their native land.
But they never truly know anything about the country
they so longed to migrate to.