It is because of immigration that we will survive immigration

July 18, 2010

Ten years ago in a downtown Oslo hotel, it was hard to sleep on a Friday night because of all the loud partying coming from a bar across the street. This was curious, since Norwegians are not known for loud anything.

The next day, it was difficult to get to the heart of the matter. In Norway, unlike America, they still have these little things that I like to call "manners" and they believe it's in poor taste to speak ill of others.

Finally, it came out, however, that the rabble rousers were immigrants from Middle Eastern nations who, despite the strict moral code of the Quran (or maybe because of it) had a penchant for kicking up their heels on the weekends.

Norway, as described at the time by a mountain guide named Bjorn, wanted to be an entirely friendly, entirely open nation, a welcoming haven to all comers.


The problem is self-evident. What if your policy of openness attracts people who aren't as polite as you, and begins to change your cherished culture of, well, openness and politeness? At the same time, if you move to shut out the undesirables, you are sacrificing one of your core beliefs.

This isn't precisely the same struggle America is going through, but it's close. As an American, my reaction to Norway's plight was, "For the love of God, keep these obnoxious, quarrelsome idiots out of your country (and don't you get mixed up in theirs) and protect this wonderful, gentle culture that you have."

Norway didn't listen to me, of course, and last week, it faced up to the consequences, as it was revealed to be the target of an al-Qaida bomb plot. The problem with letting in the rest of the world is that the rest of the world often makes a poor houseguest.

Needless to say, I'm sympathetic to people who see the value of protecting our way of life here at home. I don't want to be forced into watching soccer and celebrating some Himalayan festival of the dragons.

I'm getting old and cranky enough that I can see some value in taking a snapshot of our culture as it now exists and freezing it in time until the sun burns itself out. But that is old and cranky thinking.

It is precisely because of immigration that we will, with luck, survive immigration. We're good at it. It's what we do. Look at history and you will see the pattern repeated over and over.

First, we hate immigrants. Then, we reluctantly accept immigrants when we discover they have some particular talent that we find useful. Finally, they work their way into our communities and we no longer think of them as immigrants, but as Americans.

Some might be shocked to learn that nearly 30 percent of the people in New Mexico today speak Spanish in their homes. They might be more shocked to learn that this number is way, way down. At the time of the Civil War, it was hard to find anyone in the territory who spoke English.

At that exact same time, German-language newspapers still were being printed here in Western Maryland. It's probably not much of a leap to suspect that some of the subscribers' descendants are today passionately arguing to make English our official language.

It's curious that we all but faint when we overhear one person speaking Spanish in the grocery store and take it as a sign of the end to our way of life as we know it. Indeed, it wasn't so very long ago that public works projects often stalled because no two foremen on the job spoke the same language.

And of course, we've always turned to non-English speakers when there was serious work to be done. We dragged African immigrants here against their will. We invited the Chinese, but only when we learned they were - unlike the Irish - capable of laying rail without getting drunk.

At the moment, it feels as if the bigger risk isn't the immigrants - it's how we react to the immigrants. Foreigners always have been subjected to a period of hazing, you could call it, before we stop seeing their color or facial features and start seeing them only as Americans.

They know this. But overall, they still cross our borders because we are a free land of opportunity. There is no reason to think that they will try to change our values or our way of life - because those are the very same values they themselves treasure.

The only reason immigrants might want to change our way of life is if our way of life becomes so bitter and hateful that it is no longer seen as a benefit. For example, what are we teaching immigrants in Arizona? That it's "American" to harass people based on their looks.

If we embrace immigrants, if we welcome them in, they will want to learn English and they will want to partake in and perpetuate our culture. But if we turn them away and sequester them, if we beat them down at every turn, what part of American culture will they view worthy of saving?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at"> Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at, on or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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