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Many Americans feel swamped by immigrants with alien cultures, languages, and customs apparently flooding into our country.
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Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report is one of the smartest political writers in the country. In addition to his journalism, Barone is the coauthor of the biannual Almanac of American Politics--an essential tome for inside-the-Beltway pundits and other political junkies--as well as the curiously underappreciated Our Country, an excellent history of the United States from FDR to Reagan. In The New Americans, Barone brings his vast knowledge and sharp talents to the ever-present dilemmas of race and ethnicity.
As millions of immigrants stream into the United States from around the globe--including many countries that traditionally have not served as sources of immigration--Barone helpfully calms jittery nerves about cultural transformation: "We are not in a wholly new place in American history. We've been here before." In fact, we were here at the last turn of the century, when newcomers from Ireland, southern Europe, and elsewhere flocked through Ellis Island. "Many learned savants predicted a hundred years ago that the immigrants of their day could never be assimilated, that they would never undertake the civic obligations and adapt to the civic culture of the United States. History has proven them wrong," writes Barone. "We need to learn from America's success in assimilating these earlier immigrants, as well as from the mistakes that were made along the way." The bulk of the book is a set of comparative studies outlining the surprising similarities as well as the differences between Irish immigrants and today's African Americans, between Italians and Hispanics, and between Jews and Asians. In each instance, Barone believes the experiences of the former reveal something about the latter as its members struggle to adapt to their new home. The approach is like the one Thomas Sowell took many years ago in his landmark book Ethnic America; in many ways, The New Americans is a much-needed update of that pioneering work.
What's most compelling about The New Americans, however, is how Barone's own politics, which lean to the right, find a welcoming place for this new wave of immigrants, contra Pat Buchanan and a certain type of conservative. "What is important now is to discard the notion that we are at a totally new place in American history, that we are about to change from a white-bread nation to a collection of peoples of color," concludes Barone. "The descendents of the new Americans of today can be as much an integral part of their country, and as capable of working their way into its highest levels, as the descendents of the new Americans of a hundred years ago." --John MillerFrom Publishers Weekly:
Barone, a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report and co-author of the Almanac of American Politics, argues that minority groups of today resemble the immigrant groups of the previous century in important ways. Black migrants who left the rural South for the industrial cities of the North resemble today's Irish immigrants; coming from places where they were second-caste citizens, both have eschewed entrepreneurship and suffered high crime rates. Italian immigrants, like today's Latinos (especially Mexicans), came from countries where the government and culture discouraged trust in institutions; both have prized work over politics. Both Jews and East Asians have relied on strong families and educational attainment to move into the American mainstream. The lesson of past assimilation, according to Barone, is that to succeed, groups must "transform dysfunctional habits of mind" and adopt others "that are functional in this new country." Yet while his historical analogies can be convincing, their policy implications are unclear. Barone believes that the main obstacles facing blacks are the policies of the American elite racial quotas and preferences that sustain a sense of racial grievance but strangely, he downplays job and education policy. Sometimes he seems to minimize the present-day challenges of assimilation, quoting sociologist Orlando Patterson's sanguine assertion that America's racial divide is "fading fast" ignoring the fact that intermarriage statistics for blacks are much lower than those of any of the other groups he discusses in the book, suggesting something enduring about the aftermath of American slavery. Still, despite its flaws, this is a provocative read. (June)Forecast: This book seems almost certain to attract review attention, especially given the prominence of the author, a McLaughlin Group regular.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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