What does it mean to be an American today?
This question is more than an academic one. It goes to the heart of the immigration debate that is growing hot in the Senate this month.
The Senate is debating a reform bill that could come up for a final vote by July 1. A part of that legislation focuses on institutions that help immigrants become part of American society. I recently wrote a column about this aspect of the bill, which you can read at this link.
Tamar Jacoby of Immigration Works USA has written extensively about the concept of assimilation. As she has pointed out, what it means to be an American today is vastly different from what it meant in, say, the 1950s.
Almost a decade ago, Jacoby wrote this:
“We may need a new definition, or new understanding of assimilation — a definition that makes sense today, in an era of globalization, the Internet, identity politics, niche advertising and a TV dial that offers a choice among a hundred or more different channels.
“Even as they live out the melting pot myth, today’s immigrants and their children are searching for new ways to think and talk about it, and together, they and the rest of the nation face the challenge of updating the traditional ideal.”
(For more of her essay, see this link)
I would say we still are searching for an update for that ideal, including how immigrants become part of the mainstream without losing their ethnic identity.
This is obviously hard work. As our society becomes more diverse, America develops a broader and richer culture. At the same time, nations depend upon some common core of values, beliefs and identity to hang together. And that requires some kind of definition of what it means to be an American.
So, how would you define being an American today?
JIM DENISON, Theologian-in-Residence, Texas Baptist Convention and President, Denison Forum on Truth and Culture
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