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The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again Paperback – July 1, 2006
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Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report is one of the smartest political writers in the country. In addition to his journalism, Barone is the coauthor of the biannual Almanac of American Politics--an essential tome for inside-the-Beltway pundits and other political junkies--as well as the curiously underappreciated Our Country, an excellent history of the United States from FDR to Reagan. In The New Americans, Barone brings his vast knowledge and sharp talents to the ever-present dilemmas of race and ethnicity.
As millions of immigrants stream into the United States from around the globe--including many countries that traditionally have not served as sources of immigration--Barone helpfully calms jittery nerves about cultural transformation: "We are not in a wholly new place in American history. We've been here before." In fact, we were here at the last turn of the century, when newcomers from Ireland, southern Europe, and elsewhere flocked through Ellis Island. "Many learned savants predicted a hundred years ago that the immigrants of their day could never be assimilated, that they would never undertake the civic obligations and adapt to the civic culture of the United States. History has proven them wrong," writes Barone. "We need to learn from America's success in assimilating these earlier immigrants, as well as from the mistakes that were made along the way." The bulk of the book is a set of comparative studies outlining the surprising similarities as well as the differences between Irish immigrants and today's African Americans, between Italians and Hispanics, and between Jews and Asians. In each instance, Barone believes the experiences of the former reveal something about the latter as its members struggle to adapt to their new home. The approach is like the one Thomas Sowell took many years ago in his landmark book Ethnic America; in many ways, The New Americans is a much-needed update of that pioneering work.
What's most compelling about The New Americans, however, is how Barone's own politics, which lean to the right, find a welcoming place for this new wave of immigrants, contra Pat Buchanan and a certain type of conservative. "What is important now is to discard the notion that we are at a totally new place in American history, that we are about to change from a white-bread nation to a collection of peoples of color," concludes Barone. "The descendents of the new Americans of today can be as much an integral part of their country, and as capable of working their way into its highest levels, as the descendents of the new Americans of a hundred years ago." --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Barone, a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report and co-author of the Almanac of American Politics, argues that minority groups of today resemble the immigrant groups of the previous century in important ways. Black migrants who left the rural South for the industrial cities of the North resemble today's Irish immigrants; coming from places where they were second-caste citizens, both have eschewed entrepreneurship and suffered high crime rates. Italian immigrants, like today's Latinos (especially Mexicans), came from countries where the government and culture discouraged trust in institutions; both have prized work over politics. Both Jews and East Asians have relied on strong families and educational attainment to move into the American mainstream. The lesson of past assimilation, according to Barone, is that to succeed, groups must "transform dysfunctional habits of mind" and adopt others "that are functional in this new country." Yet while his historical analogies can be convincing, their policy implications are unclear. Barone believes that the main obstacles facing blacks are the policies of the American elite racial quotas and preferences that sustain a sense of racial grievance but strangely, he downplays job and education policy. Sometimes he seems to minimize the present-day challenges of assimilation, quoting sociologist Orlando Patterson's sanguine assertion that America's racial divide is "fading fast" ignoring the fact that intermarriage statistics for blacks are much lower than those of any of the other groups he discusses in the book, suggesting something enduring about the aftermath of American slavery. Still, despite its flaws, this is a provocative read. (June)Forecast: This book seems almost certain to attract review attention, especially given the prominence of the author, a McLaughlin Group regular.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I can easily believe that the groups he mentions have as much in common as he says. Long before he wrote this book, we Jews knew perfectly well that the Asians were very much like us, and I'm told the Asians knew it too, so the notion that the blacks and Irish, or the Latinos and Italians, share the same parallels seems quite natural. Mr. Barone makes good use of statistics to point up these parallels, showing that intermarriage rates climb over the generations, school dropout rates tend to fall, and a number of other factors similarly indicate that immigrant groups gradually join the American melting pot. On the other hand, he points up the vast contributions that immigrants make to American culture and progress, even when they are subject to bigotry and inconvenience; I was not aware, for instance, that a lot of what we now consider to be old-style American ways are actually Irish.
The point of all this, according to Mr. Barone, is that American policy of the early 1900's gave immigrant groups the incentive and means to work their way up the social ladder by teaching English to those who did not know it, forcing immigrant groups to follow the law when their native folkways did not require it, and things of that nature. If we believe that assertion, it follows (says Mr. Barone) that the current emphasis on respect for native culture only keeps immigrant groups separate. So away with bilingual education and affirmative action, and the sooner the better.
Sounds familiar, this argument. It's classic Republican conservative doctrine. Which doesn't mean it's wrong, of course. In a book like this, though, I'd prefer an author who didn't simply assume it was right.
That is, "The New Americans" begins with the assumption that bilingual education, affirmative action, and overcautiousness regarding racism are ineffective, without bothering to provide any evidence that that assumption is true. The book also begins with the assumption that what worked in the 1920's will automatically work in this decade, similarly without providing any evidence. We've come a long way in that 80 years, conquering a good portion of the racism that plagued this country and realizing that our government doesn't always know what's best, but Mr. Barone seems to want to import the old doctrine of "Americanization" without any further inquiry. A little naive, if nothing else.
What's more, Mr. Barone has an unpleasant habit of attributing the worst of motives to those he disagrees with. In his discussion of the Latino immigration numbers, for instance, he notes the huge upsurge in Latino citizenship in about 1995 due to President Clinton's amnesty for illegal aliens, and dutifully reports that Clinton implemented the amnesty so that all those new Latino citizens could vote for him in the next election. It doesn't seem to occur to him that Clinton might have been motivated by an impulse to do the right thing, or even by a combination of motives.
Most annoying to me personally, I might as well admit, is his explanation of Jewish voting habits. Jews are frequently business owners and professionals, and if they voted strictly according to their own self-interest might be expected to support tax cuts and libertarian policies. Why do they remain overwhelmingly liberal? Not because their consciences call them to do so, says Mr. Barone. It's because they remember down the generations the injustices of Imperial Russia, whence many of their ancestors came, and vote Democratic because they are "still voting against the Tsar." See the implication? No one in his right mind would be a liberal; those Jews retain "dysfunctional habits of mind" or they'd go Republican. Bunch of neurotics.
And this is not Mr. Barone's attitude just toward the Jews. Everyone comes in for that sort of analysis. He uses his own political opinions as a sort of litmus test, and demonizes those who fail. Conservatives have pure motives, liberals impure, and never the twain shall meet. At least not if Michael Barone has anything to say about it.
Finally, for all his declarations of historical perspective, Mr. Barone doesn't bother to make any suggestions as to exactly how the black, Latino and Asian populations might be mainstreamed, based on the lessons learned from history or on anything else. His introduction seems to promise some fresh, or at any rate good, ideas about immigrant policy, but when it's all said and done he's content to grind up his anecdotes and statistics into conservative hamburger and let it go at that. He pretends to provide a work of popular political advocacy that turns out to be nothing more than a Republican political pamphlet. He even starts off his discussion with a jab at Al Gore. And if you think that's a coincidence, you haven't been reading the news from Washington lately.
"The New Americans" is an interesting read with a number of intriguing notions about culture and politics. In its certainty that America can absorb and provide for everyone who makes a home here, it's reassuring, even heartwarming. Maybe someday some political leader will take these ideas and design a new "Americanization" program that works in a just and fair manner for all. On the evidence of this book, that leader will not be Michael Barone.
Benshlomo says, The really dangerous propagandists are the reasonable ones.
This book shows us that immigration has caused national concern in the past, that the concept of race, always useless and harmful, was once extended to the Irish and Italians, and that the integration of these groups into our national identity took many decades. Our present perspective on the mix of "nationalities" does not represent how it appeared to our ancestors any more than our present views will be held by our descendants.
That isn't to say that there aren't cultural differences. Some help the immigrating people to do well in the American culture, and others slow integration and hold back economic progress. Barone is not shy in letting us know what the facts are about the actual history of these groups as they made their migrations. However, much of what he says will surprise you because the facts do not agree with popular media representations or the popular myths many of us have accepted all our lives because we were told them as children.
Barone points out how similar our immigration issues today are to those on 1900. He compares how the African-American migration from the south over the past 50 years is quite similar to what the Irish experiences more than a century ago and why. He compares the Italian experience with Latinos today (while admitting that the number of Latinos coming into our nation is unprecedented by any previous migration), and that the Jewish experience in becoming part of the American mainstream has interesting parallels with the Asian progress of the past several decades.
This book will inform you and affirm your comfort with the idea of immigration in America. Barone does NOT address the issues about controlling our borders. Nor does he focus on the economic costs of our welfare society and uncontrolled immigration. His focus is on the realities of past immigrations, that it was not all easy and simple in the past so we can't expect it to be easy and simple today, but that America has a great power to mainstream the second and third generation of immigrants. Let's home his positive attitude is correct. I found the actual history of American immigration to be fascinating and quite different than my notions of it were. For this alone, you should read this book.
Given the importance of immigration in our current national debate, if you want to be sure that you have the right information to understand the issues you need to read this book. I urge you to get a copy and read it from cover to cover. It is not hard to read. In fact, I found it to be a page turner and full of great information.
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