View From Lodi, CA: Assimilation?–¿Qué necesidad?

When I was very young, I overheard
my Sicilian grandmother say that the four happiest days
of her life were the days her three children were born
and the day she became an American citizen.

My grandmother was an American
through and through. She loved Teddy Roosevelt, soap
operas and the

Brooklyn Dodgers.

Nona was a perfect example of what
is known today as “patriotic assimilation.”

in the National Review John Fonte, a
senior fellow at the

Hudson Institute
, defined patriotic assimilation as
occurring when newcomers leave a previous people,

join the American people
and “adopt” America`s civic

Fonte used Abraham Lincoln`s words
to describe what the assimilation process should
include. In

Lincoln`s words,
newcomers should be “as though they
were the blood of the blood and the flesh of the flesh
of the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence.”

While Fonte views patriotic
assimilation as crucial to the nation`s future, not
everyone agrees.

According to some political
scientists, America needs to
forget about traditional assimilation.
The 21st
Century, they argue, has created a “transnational” or
“postnational” era wherein migrants move back and forth
between nations, retain old loyalties and cultures and
vote in the U.S. and their native countries. Modern
transportation and communication has made it easier for
today`s migrants to keep old ties.

Yet a third school of thought
insists that immigrants have always blended into
American society and will do so again.

Michael Barone
, columnist for U.S. News,
concludes that assimilation is an on-going process and
that only

are worried about the fate of today`s

Who is right and who is wrong in
this simmering assimilation is important. Among the
things that are clear is that Barone is wrong.

No driving force toward
assimilation is occurring among today`s immigrants.

If you believe that

learning English
is the first and most logical step
toward assimilation, then ample evidence exists that

not headed
in that direction..

According to statistics from the
2000 U.S. Census, a clear trend toward not learning
English has developed over the last decade.

Among the Census findings are: 

  • 18% of Americans do not speak
    English in their own home. In California, 40% of
    households don`t speak English.

  • 17 million Americans do not
    speak English very well; 7 million speak little or no
    English. This represents a 60% increase in the
    non-English speaking population since 1990.

  • Several states, including
    Colorado, Nevada and Georgia, saw their English
    deficient population triple.

To an English as a second language
instructor, this data is amazing. Taken as a whole, it
should mean boom times in the classroom.

Unfortunately that isn`t the case.
Let`s look specifically at the Lodi census figures to
analyze what should be (but isn`t) happening to ESL

In his April 10th column

"Number of whites in Lodi declines — or has it?"
publisher Marty Weybret compared the

ethnic changes
in Lodi`s population over the last
decade based on Census 2000.

During the last 10 years, Lodi`s
Hispanic population increased 76%; and the Asian/Pacific
Islander population increased 38%.

If you factor in large increases in
the Hispanic and Asian populations in neighboring Galt
and Lockeford, it is clear that

demand for seats
in ESL classes should be up—if

to learn English.

But attendance at Lodi Adult School
classes remains, at best, flat. With an increase of
nearly 12,000 Hispanic residents in the Lodi/Galt/Lockeford
area, one might anticipate a larger turnout for English

Scheduling certainly isn`t the
problem. Fourteen different sections of ESL classes are
offered throughout Lodi and North Stockton during
morning, afternoon and evening hours.

English has become so unimportant
in some segments that American citizenship is readily
attainable to non-English speakers.


citizenship test
, which in my grandmother`s era
required an understanding of American civics, history
and language, has been watered down to 20 simple

multiple-choice questions
like “What are the colors
of the flag?” Applicants need score only 60% to qualify
for citizenship.

Most could tell you that George
Washington is the first president. That fact is printed
on the

widely distributed practice tests.

But if you ask the same question a
different way, “Who is the father of our country?”
you`re met with blank stares.

As each day passes, incentives to
learn English decrease. Federal, state and local
governments advertise

services in multiple languages
. Radio, television
and print media reach out to non-English speaking

As of today, the postnationalists
are carrying the day. Patriotic assimilation, to my
personal regret, looks like a fading dream.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the

Lodi News-Sentinel