In 1992 I took an overnight train from Moscow to Ukraine, with an escort who knew the ropes about getting me on the train without being spotted as a chiseling American traveling as a Russian. First class tickets were sold out so we had to share our compartment with two others.
Turns out they were Palestinians (18-20 yrs, my guess) returning to Jerusalem to rejoin the Intifada after a winter’s semester at one of the Soviet technical institutes (no doubt training to make Molotov cocktails, and which probably operates in the same way today.) It was uncomfortable for awhile, until after the ticket lady had picked up the tickets, and the Arabs had ascertained, that No, I wasn’t a Jew, but Yes, I had been to New York. Often. It was a very awkward, broken conversation since my escort Viktor, from Ukraine spoke almost no English, only Russian and Ukrainian, and some French, I spoke almost no Russian, but some French, and one Arab, beside his native tongue, spoke a little Russian and the other, the youngest, spoke some English. Turns out they were also “Jack-Muslims” for they put away half of my liter bottle of vodka, but it kept the conversation at least convivial, as I kept them enthralled about life in America and New York. In truth I substituted life in Cincinnati with life in the Big Apple, but they were mesmerized…until finally we drifted off to sleep, each with one eye open.
One always comes away with new knowledge in those kinds of conversations, and mine has to do with the main title, having to do with radicalization in America today, and immigration in general.
“Oh, if only I could go to New York…I would make so much money” was how the youngest Molotov cocktail-builder put it.
That echoed a theme I heard all over Ukraine and Russia, and later in the Balkans. America is a place where a man can go to make money. Not settle down, raise a family, and not even honest money. I knew men still living in the United States who were probably involved in criminal gangs, all of whom told me that Americans were so stupid. They saw dozens of ways to fleece the system, and in America, unlike Russia and Ukraine, there were millions of dollars just laying around waiting to be stolen. Criminal, yes. Dishonorable? No.
There does seem to be the sense that much of the world today sees America first as this Big Rocky Candy Mountain where everything is just waiting to be picked from a tree. Even older-generation Russians told me that if a man was stupid enough to keep his door unlocked he deserved being robbed. It seemed to be a rigid cultural rule, while in Japan, where I lived for a few years and knew them to bend over backwards to return a lost purse (happened to my wife on the Tokyo train), the rule was diametrically opposite. I once saw a Japanese kid passed out drunk on a subway, a common late night scene, with a wad of Yen notes falling out of his jacket pocket. A man on the train bent over, took the roll of bills and rammed them more securely inside the drunk’s pocket, then returned to his seat.
Americans are predictably 50-50 on this sort of conduct, depending on the neighborhood, but in many cultures some seem 100%. A Russian would have argued that protecting a drunk’s money is insane. I’ve heard this argument made several times in various contexts. So, simple reciprocity (the Golden Rule, “do unto others”) does not necessarily exist in a few national, and several tribal, cultures.
The great waves of immigration to America from the late 1800s-thru-1920s were largely from Western Europe. By design. Europeans were expected to assimilate more or less in keeping with people from their home countries already here who had come before them. But there were few Russians here, except for their Jews, who suffered from pogrom after pogrom in Russia as if the Black Plague were still abroad in the land, and the Russian needed someone to blame. Having been raised in the anti-Semitic rural South, I can say that I have never seen the look of sheer hatred in any American bigot as when a Russian looks upon a Jew. While picking up a Russian’s wife at JKK, and people came thru the arrival tunnel, my Russian friend would curl his lower lip and mutter “feelthy Jews” and I’d look at their ordinariness and asked “How can you tell?” He told me he could smell them, much like Peter Strzok says he can identify Trump voters at a Walmart in Virginia.
Mostly what I do know about the Jews who came to America in those early days before Hitler, they came to America “to be American”. One of the most interesting books on this issue of immigration and wanting “to be American” is “The Education of Hyman Kaplan” by Leo Rosten, written in 1937, still in print, and still very popular, about how an older man from eastern Europe took night courses to learn “to be American”. He was more representative of the Jews who emigrated to America in the first half of the 20th Century by a factor of 100:1 than the non-religious Jews like Saul Alinsky, who ended up teaching Marx to Hillary Rodham, for she ended up being an average run-of-the-mill (but very rich) con-artist.
I think it has been official US policy for at least 30 years now that wanting “to be American” is not even desirable…at least to the political minds that had been designing US immigration policy since Ronald Reagan.
This was not always the case.
US immigration policy in the early 1900s was not the same as it is today. Yes, it was about cheap labor, in a new industrial nation busting at the seams with energy to grow. It was new labor, not replacement labor, as modern immigration policy has been based on. Those needs were so great the government had to expand the European quota, to include Irish and southern Europeans, all Roman Catholics, which to the dominant WASP American business community was a dice roll. But within two generations it all seemed to work out, with more Irish becoming cops and firemen than union organizers, and Italian crime families facing new competition from much more sinister Russian and Latin gangs, with “no class”, as the original Don Corleone once said.
Nor was anyone sure how Orientals (Chinese, Japanese and later Vietnamese) would turn out. Turns out they turned out splendidly…as Americans. They took to “being American” like ducks to water, just like Charlie Chan’s No 1 son, said they would in 1940.
But because of Lenin and that Revolution thing, we never got any insight into how Russians might assimilate until they began overstaying their visas after the fall of the USSR.
To be American vs To be IN America; A General Theory
I’ve discussed the desire “to be American” before, mostly with respect to immigrants from Latin America, namely my short list of Dreamers we want, and Dreamers we don’t. laying a foundation of standards of just what should be required to allow any or all of those 700,000 dreamers to remain the United States.
I still hold to my notion that the main key to coming and staying in America must be to want “to be American” (Ser Americano) and that overrides all other considerations, including education. Because of the political forces behind their being here in the first place, instilling in them a sense of entitlement to be here, they should be the first expelled, for they will always be owned by their benefactors, just like African-Americans in the inner city.
Which brings us to the recent attempt by a self-radicalized Bangladeshi to set off a pipe bomb in the NYC subway and kill as many people as possible, proves the warning my Intifada buddies on the Moscow-Karkov train spelled out in 1992, that far too many immigrants have no interest in “being American”, but only “being in” America, where “the hens lay soft-boiled eggs” but no requirement, much less incentive, to earn your keep, or build for a better tomorrow.
All the bad things arising from these kinds of insults to “being American” seem to be deliberate.
Since Bush I, there has been no desire from our government to convert new immigrants from any region of the world into a freedom-loving Americans, whether high-end immigrants in Silicon Valley or Afghan lottery winners. America is just a mailing address.
Instead they all swear allegiance to that dark group of middle-men NGO’s, agents who reap millions, including federal tax dollars, and much political power as their “official” spokesmen, from La Raza to CAIR, whose principal purpose is to kep them away from ever “becoming American.” Just like inner city black youth, if you can’t join their program they’re happy that you’re unhappy and disenchanted, and willing to get into crime.
The first rule of “being American” is work.
Just as we have managed to do for over 50 years with blacks in the inner city, immigrants are discouraged to stray outside their appointed territories. To stay inside their communities, marry inside their communities; a mosque, a church, a bodega all within walking distance. Plus free room and board, three hots and a cot, and a little walking around money. They can pick up odd jobs, loading-unloading trucks, but nothing skilled. Or even the chance at apprenticing skilled work. Today, shop skills are almost non-existence in America in part because shop training is gone from public schools, and in blue cities and union states, unions don’t particularly want inner city blacks kids joining their ranks. Today, some factory projects are importing skilled tool-and-die guys from Eastern Europe on 9 month contracts because of this shortage.
So, what does a 21-year old kid in one of America’s hundreds of protected communities do, when he doesn’t really even need to work to live?
We are admitting thousands of young men especially, covering their overhead, without providing them a higher purpose in life. Many are apt to radicalize simply because they have nothing better to do, much as young men in Chicago pick up a pistol and start shooting it by the time they are 13. They do this because there is an invisible system that encourages this if the only other alternative is to leave the system, strike out on their own, and “become American”.Just imagine how many lives have been lost, prisons filled, drive-by shootings, gang violence, trillions in public expenditures, all acceptable collateral consequences of a political party that merely wants to maintain a voting base.
Albanians, Russians and Latin American occupy themselves by running brothels and drugs, but others have nothing better to do, and a cultural disposition to martyr themselves, so decide to kill themselves alongside some filthy infidels. It is very predictable.
We need to reassess our immigration thinking from beginning to end.
There are some cultures that are simply antithetical to America. Remember “My Big Fat Greek Wedding?” Let a Muslim girl fall in love with a Christian, even if from professional class homes, and she may find her throat slit, all according to religious laws that control such things in large parts of the world.
Immigration from all countries should require minimum education about America, and what it means “to be American”, i.e., the Constitution, Bill of Rights, “inalienable rights”, and should be required, including tests passed, before application is granted. This means three-four hour courses at a minimum. Instructors should be attached at each embassy to supervise these activities, providing study materials they can keep for years..
So then, when they come to America, we can know in advance that they want to be American, and know what it means to become American.
A frisky president can cause this to happen.
Other suggested readings:
To be American (2010)