Immigration, assimilation are old shoes

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 12, 2007

If my column doesn’t appear in this space next Saturday, there is a good chance the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) found me.

You see, with all that’s going on with immigration has got me thinking about my own family history.

My mom and I have this running joke between us that our relatives who came here from the Netherlands somehow got into the country illegally.

No matter how much we search for the port of entry my great-great grandfather, Abram, entered through when he immigrated, we’ve never found it.

Not that this means great pop was legal and came through some port we haven’t research.

But it still leaves a lingering doubt.

So our joke goes that since Abram was a ship hand for liners that crossed the Atlantic, he just decided to become an American his own way, quietly slipping off a ship in port, cloaked by the shadows of the night.

And with the stories we’ve been told about his persona—he very well could have just walked off the ship in broad daylight without a guilty conscience or a legal document.

Abram was a short, stocky man with a not-so-nice disposition probably because he was the oldest of 17 children, 12 of whom he paid to bring to the United States years after he immigrated.

There are a lot of immigration commentaries that say there is a difference between the immigrants that came in the early 1900s and those of today.

But I don’t see the difference.

When people think of immigration today they immediately think: “Latinos or Hispanic. They all need to learn English.”

Suddenly, immigration is transformed into a racial or cultural topic.

Nothing different from the past.

It’s almost a rite of passage for each of the large ethnic groups of immigrants that have come to live here. They’ve had to overcome either a stereotype, language or class barrier.

It was NINA (No Irish Need Apply) with the Irish, the mafia for the Italians and name changes for the Germans.

People have stripped their religions, culture and identity in the name of being an American.

Immigrants have always had to shed that former nationality in order to assimilate into the main population.

This struggle between the English speaking Americans and foreign immigrants has been around for years in the United States and it still exists today.

Near wars have broken out when panelists on news programs discuss the issue of language in this country.

Many of us have a fit over the “For English, press one” recordings we hear when calling a company.

Why is another language so threatening? Americans are not the ones that will lose their culture…in fact it’s the other way around.

A study by researchers at Princeton University and the University of California at Irvine done on Mexican Americans shows even though 100 percent of the first generation speaks Spanish, only 35 percent speak Spanish by the next generation.

As the generations go on, the numbers get even more dismal—and by the fourth generation only five percent speak Spanish.

Race and culture is not a reason to fear immigrants. Our government’s policies on immigration and illegals should be what is feared.

Whether or not our representatives and our president will come up with something other than building a really big fence is yet to be seen.

My great pop was able to assimilate despite his broken English, up in the air citizenship status and all.

My mom remembers him not speaking much at all because of his thick Dutch accent. Only among his sisters and brothers was his native tongue spoken.

The face of the American will always be an ever evolving characteristic of this country and if that fact ever ceases, this will no longer be the United States of America.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.