I am a middle-school social studies teacher writing in response to the letter about immigration and American culture from reader Robert Miler in the Feb. 14 edition (“Immigrants must adapt”). Mr. Miller is certainly entitled to his opinion but simply wrong about the facts that he cites.
Mr. Miller states that multiculturalism dilutes the national sovereignty and national identity of America. He states that immigrants should adapt to “our language” and “our Christian religion” and “our culture.” He admonishes immigrants to “accept the country you chose or go back to your own.”
Mr. Miller’s ill-conceived ideas could come straight out of the anti-immigrant political party of the 1850s called the “Know Nothings.” First of all, he should not assume that every American born here shares his idea of what “our” country is or isn’t. What is more American than a hot dog? Maybe pizza or a taco? All three entered American culture as foods from different immigrant groups but are now enjoyed by millions of Americans of different ancestral backgrounds.
While many nations have official languages, America chose not to, precisely because we are a nation of immigrants. Whether it is an immigrant from Germany in 1840, China in 1880, Italy in 1910 or Korea in 1990, the pattern of language assimilation is remarkably similar. While the first generation may have varying levels of trouble learning English, succeeding generations always do learn.
As far as religion is concerned I would like to remind Mr. Miller that the Pilgrims came to America as a Christian group that was persecuted by other Christian groups. In fact, as Europe suffered from Christian-on-Christian violence, many of those victims came to America to practice their own religion without fear. Religious freedom is so ingrained in our national beliefs that it is enshrined in the First Amendment, which states the U.S. does not and will not have an official religion and people may worship according to their beliefs.
One of the central threads of our shared history is that we are all immigrants. Even native Americans, the original human inhabitants, emigrated from other continents. And all immigrant groups have made contributions to American culture. African Americans, many of whom today are the descendants of unwilling immigrants, have helped make our nation a more vibrant and better society. Each immigrant group adds to American culture and assimilates into American culture and thus retains the cultural heritage of their past and embraces America as their future.
I am a proud resident of Queens, which has the most diverse population in the nation. I teach the history of the United States and of immigration to students at the Joseph Pulitzer Intermediate School. The students are immigrants themselves or the sons and daughters of immigrants. I am the grandson of immigrants. There is no such thing as an illegal person.
Maybe not all Americans share the sentiments of Emma Lazarus, but I know that millions of my fellow Americans will join me in echoing those words engraved into the Statue of Liberty and say welcome to the new immigrants of America:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”