Friday, September 15, 2006

Study proves Pat Buchanan full of crap: Immigrants do assimilate.

Maybe it was all those years he spent writing the lies that came out of Nixon's mouth, or perhaps he learned to vocalize out of an orifice other than his mouth while sugarcoating Reagan's policies for mass consumption, or maybe he just has a "genetic pre-disposition" to sling blarney. But no matter what the reason for his inability to tell the truth, a new study has unequivocally proven that Pat Buchanan is simply full of crap when it comes to the "death of the west … third world invasion" philosophy in his new book, State of Emergency.

Buchanan has made a career recently out of telling the American people that their "White-European" nation is under attack from an invading horde of "Hispanics and Asians … from continents and countries whose peoples have never been assimilated fully into any Western country," that these new immigrants "are not interested in linguistic or cultural assimilation" and many are here only to engage in the re-conquest the Southwest. But a newly released report proves Mr. Buchanan wrong; today's new immigrants assimilate at the same rate as previous generations.

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A new report published by the non-profit Population Council found that, just like all previous immigrant groups, today's new immigrants lose their ability to speak their mother tongue over the course of a few generations and their children end up fully assimilate into American culture.

The report, "Linguistic Life Expectancies: Immigrant Language Retention in Southern California" by Frank D. Bean and Rubén G. Rumbaut of University of California, Irvine and Douglas S. Massey of Princeton, looks at data from two recent surveys—the Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles survey, and the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study in San Diego, to determine the average number of generations an immigrants mother tongue can be expected to survive in the United States after arrival.

The report looked at not only Hispanic immigrants, but also those from Asia and those classified as "white European" using two different criteria; those who "speak a foreign language at home" and those "who speak it well" and found that for all immigrant groups studied, the ability to speak in the mother tongue generally disappears by the third generation (those with American-born parents, but with three or four foreign-born grandparents).

Although the life expectancy of Spanish is found to be greater among Mexicans in Southern California compared to other groups, its ultimate demise nonetheless seems assured by the third generation. English has never been seriously threatened as the dominant language of the United States, and it is not threatened today—not even in Southern California. What is endangered instead is the survivability of the non-English languages that immigrants bring with them to the United States.

PDR abstract

The report takes aim in particular at Buchanan's more erudite doppelganger, Samuel Huntington and his book, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity. The researchers vehemently attack Huntington's thesis that "the arrival of Latin American Immigrants in large numbers during the last three decades of the twentieth century threatens the core of American identity and culture… (that) Latin American immigrants are much less likely to speak English than earlier generations of European immigrants because they speak a common language; they are regionally concentrated and residentially segregated within Spanish-speaking enclaves; they are less interested in linguistic and cultural assimilation; and they are encouraged in this lack of interest by activists who foment identity politics."

The authors argue back that their study proves that "Spanish in no way constitutes a threat to the continued predominance of English within the United States." and that "those who worry about linguistic balkanization because of heavy immigration from Spanish-speaking countries have nothing to fear."

They point out that using data from the Southern California surveys allows them to analyze the most extreme case scenario in the nation, noting that no other area has been as greatly effected by immigration.

The surveys used were conducted in Southern California, a region adjacent to the Mexican border that was not only the country's largest net receiver of immigrants during the period 1970-2005, but one that also contained more Spanish-speakers and persons of Mexican origin than any other megalopolitan area…one in every five immigrants in the United States reside in the regions six contiguous counties (San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino), including the largest communities of Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Koreans, Iranians, and Cambodians outside the countries of origin.
Linguistic Life Expectancies: Immigrant Language Retention in Southern California(PDF)

Even under these extreme circumstances, their findings directly contradict Huntington's assertions. As is the case with the economic studies on immigration done by those like David Card, the United States has an uncanny ability to absorb large numbers of new immigrants and not only incorporate them economically but also culturally.

The United States has aptly been described as a "graveyard" for languages because of its historical ability to absorb immigrants by the millions and extinguish their mother tongues within a few generations, and Spanish appears to offer no threat to this reputation …Like taxes and biological death, linguistic death seems to be a sure thing in the United States even for Mexicans living in Los Angeles, a city with one of the largest Spanish-speaking urban populations in the world"

Link (PDF)

Certainly these findings differ greatly from the rhetoric spewed out regularly by Buchanan and his cohorts.

All across the U.S., hordes of immigrants – legal and illegal – are chattering away in their native language and have no intention of learning English, the all-but-official language of the United States where they now live.

Can you blame them? They are being enabled by all those diversity fanatics to defy the age-old custom of immigrants to our shores who made it one of their first priorities to learn to speak English and to teach their offspring to do likewise. It was a case of sink or swim. If you couldn’t speak English you couldn’t get by, go to school, get a job, or become a citizen and vote. Nowadays we kowtow to demands that everything from ballots to official documents be presented in many native languages as well as in English.

What holds the country together is the commonality of language. … are they learning our language, are they assimilating into our culture? … the answer is a resounding “NO.” Tragically, the answer to the question of English surviving the immigrant invasion is probably “no.” The English language is on its death bed, a victim of the enablers.

Michael Reagan writing on

But what must always be kept in mind is that Buchanan has always had a problem with the truth. He had it when he worked for Nixon, he had it when he worked for Reagan, and he certainly has it now. He has always been a master manipulator of facts and opinion…. if the facts don't back up his opinion …he just manipulates them. He's been doing it since he first started working for Nixon in 1965 and he'll continue to do it as long as he has an audience ready and willing to listen to his racist drivel and buy his books.


Anonymous said...

This is a great post.

The whole concept that previous waves of immigrants made English acquisition their first priority is a bunch of bunk. The xenophobes are revising history with absolutely no evidence to support their claims.

The sad thing is that so many gullible people are buying it.

And where is the evidence that shows being monolingual is somehow intellectually superior?!!

You are among the few bloggers who can take enormously frustrating times and discuss it intelligently -- when the rest of us are just banging our heads against the wall.

Duke Reed said...

This whole romanticized notion that past immigrant waves were somehow different from today’s really bothers me.

History shows we are a nation descended for the most part from peasant refugees. Those who came here were not the successful, best educated, upper-crust of their society, but rather poor, uneducated, tradesmen and tenant farmers. In most cases they were from the lowest rungs of the social ladder or in the case of Mr. Buchanan's Irish.. literally slaves in their own country.

Like all American mythology, the myth of noble immigrant, rapidly assimilating and being accepted into American society is just that ... a myth.

How many Americans have grandparents or great grandparents that still speak Polish, Italian, Yiddish, Russian, German, a Scandinavian Language, Greek, etc .... The answer is millions upon millions. But somehow this gets pushed to the back of the mind and forgotten when it's time to talk about today’s new immigrants.

Duke Reed said...

To expand on that thought:

As the grandson of immigrants, living in NY, who can still remember as a child going back to the “old neighborhoods” to visit, and seeing immigrant culture first hand, I think many Americans, particularly those from less populated regions, haven’t the slightest clue what their immigrant heritage was really about.

For the most part, the previous waves of immigrants did their “assimilating” in the urban centers like NY, Chicago, Boston, Philly etc. Those from other parts of the country never saw first hand the neighborhoods lined with stores whose signs were in foreign languages, selling goods totally unfamiliar to the native-born population. They are unaware that newspapers were published in hundreds of languages and rich a culture of theater and music thrived in every imaginable language. Immigration up until now has been almost exclusively an urban phenomenon… those outside the urban areas never really saw it firsthand.

This has led the third and forth generation Americans who have no real connection to their immigrant past to over romanticize the immigrant experience. The photos of Jacob Riis, taken in the early 20th century give great insight into what many of these new "close the borders now" American’s ancestors really looked like and how they really lived.

Sometimes I feel like saying to these people who spout off about how their ancestors “came the right way” and learned English as soon as they arrived…. Who the hell are you kidding.? I’ve been to the “old neighborhood” … I’ve seen “your ancestors” … they are no different from today’s immigrants… they just called their bodega a delicatessen... their barrio ...Orchard St., Little Italy or the lower east side.

Anonymous said...

These are interesting observations.

I agree that the immigration experience in the rural areas (I'm most familiar with the Mid-West) was quite different than in the urban centers. Rather than having a variety of barrios (as in Chicago -- which today remains tremendously segregated), entire towns and regions would be of a dominant ethnicity. Because of that, all the foods and traditions seemed "normal" -- because they lived in geographical isolation from other cultural groups. In heavily Scandinavian areas, annual lutefisk festivals are still held, lefse is still eaten on Holidays, polka is still danced at festivals and baby boomers fondly remember their grandmothers speaking in their native language and lament that their mothers did not pass that gift along.

So, while the experience is different, immigration definitely shaped and molded our rural communities. It also allows those communities to fear what is different, unknown and of another culture.

Duke Reed said...

and baby boomers fondly remember their grandmothers speaking in their native language and lament that their mothers did not pass that gift along.

Great observation.

Again that's one of those things we hear people say all the time, yet it doesn't register when the conversation switches to immigration.

How do Tom (second generation Italian) Tancredo's kids feel about the loss of their mother tongue? Do they wish grandma had taught them the language, customs and foods from the old country? ... my bet is like the majority of third generation immigrants the answer is ...yes.

How is it that so many Americans can on the one hand lament the passing of their ties to their own cultural past... while bitching about those who have yet to make that transition. Don't they see their grandmmother's face in that of the woman who cleans their office or watches their children with such care? Do they not recognize their grandfathers as they watch the men at work building homes or tending the fields?

Can their worldveiw be so narrow that a variation in skin tone or an accent different from their grandparents make them unable to see the similarities? ....

obviously the answer is yes.

Duke Reed said...

today, sept.16th at noon, a thousand or more people will march down fith avenue in NYC to celebarate their German heritage in the annual Steuben Day Parade dressed in traditional costumes and carrying the flag of their motherland.

One must wonder what these same people felt last spring when a different group of new immigrants and their children marched asking only for the same rights and privledges afforded those who came before them.

Anonymous said...


This study has been debunked in about 500 places by now, but it commits a very, very common fallacy-- using a past trend to predict a future one, when the relevant factors may be very different. Spanish forty years ago or so was considered to be an impediment to social advancement, so the grandparents of today's third-generation Latinos encouraged Latinos to not pass it on.

Today, it's totally, utterly different-- not only is Spanish not such an impediment, Spanish today is essential to social and career advancement. That's b/c of Latino demographics but also the rapid rise of Latino businesses and Latino media, something that really has no precedent in the US on nearly this scale. This is especially true in Fla obviously but also in the SWestern states which the US got in the Mexican War, and where there are legal provisions protecting public Spanish use.

40 years ago or so, Latino families were tripping all over themselves to lose Spanish fluency and not pass on this supposed roadblock to success. Today, it's the exact opposite-- I've worked with hundreds of Latino families, and not a single one is encouraging the loss of Spanish anymore. Spanish is at the heart of economic success today, and even fifth-generation Latinos of today and non-Latinos are becoming fluentin Spanish.

I don't see a problem with this, no Huntington-esque or Buchanan-esque crisis as a result. Frankly, I find it rather sad when defenders of Latinos respond to Buchanan by falling prey to this classic trap-- "Don't worry, we're no threat b/c we're losing our culture anyway." This is like trying to reassure a bigoted adversary by cutting off one's own nose and saying "see, I'm not a threat," it's a false dichotomy and you let the adversary define the argument. Most Latinos I know are still very patriotically American, fighting e.g. in Iraq, but also retaining Spanish quite well. I don't see a problem with that.

Anonymous said...

Also, one more thing-- I'm really getting tired of the term "assimilation" b/c frankly, nobody can define it anymore. There are so many subcultures within the US that there really isn't one dominant culture anymore. Blacks, for example, have a very distinct and fascinating culture of their own that differs from much of the rest of the country, so I find "assimilation" to be a useless concept these days. Acculturation, the salad bowl, is much more useful and accurate.