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A Young Illinois Reader Wonders Why People Romanticize Immigrants Coming Here For More Money
James Fulford’s article Thanksgiving Is An American Holiday—It Is Not Immigration Day!
A Young Illinois Reader [Email him]
The paean to immigration by Mrs. Alcestis Oberg in James Fulford’s piece is typical of our peculiar tendency to make immigrants into heroes:
"Frankly, their dreams are no different from my [Greek immigrant] grandparents': to find work, more opportunity and a better life for their families...And that's what immigration always comes down to: opportunity and hope."[ Column: Thankful for immigrant roots, By Alcestis ‘Cooky’ Oberg, USA Today, November 20. 2012]
Allow me to translate into less florid prose:
"Frankly their dreams are no different from my grandparents': to make money, more opportunity to make money, and a more expensive life for their families...And that's what immigration always comes down to: opportunity to have more stuff and hope of acquiring more stuff."
Like most conservatives, I don't think there's anything ignoble about pursuing one's self-interest. I'm sure Mrs. Oberg's grandparents were fine people. I'm sure my Irish forefathers were as well. But really, what else were they going to do? Turn down a higher standard of living?
It's important for us to recognize that economic migration is not magical, nor is it grounds for filial mythologizing. As long as we think that it is, our culture will continue to define America in deracinated, materialistic terms: we're great because people can move here and afford xBoxes!
Perhaps if we stopped lionizing immigrants' pursuit of self-interest, we would see the essential hollowness of a national identity built around the American Dream. It would no longer suffice to see America as a kind of giant hotel where people from all over stay to do business. American identity would have to be defined by those organic phenomena that define nationality elsewhere, including language, culture, kinship, and land.
As always, we lose control of the narrative, and ultimately the policy debate as well, when we yield on first principles. American-ness is not about economic gain--it's about the American nation.