Nearly a half-century ago, Bob Dylan wrote a mixed ode to the immigrant, in a way that no doubt might earn him charges of racism, nativism, and xenophobia in today’s politically-correct age. Yet Dylan was trying to express the paradoxes of leaving one’s homeland for an entirely new political and cultural landscape that often overwhelms the newcomer. “I pity the poor immigrant,” he sang, “Who wishes he would’ve stayed home.”
Never has the immigrant to the West been more confused. In the twenty-first century, immigration almost always moves in a single direction—poor and desperate non-Western people abandon their homes in Latin America, Africa, and Asia seemingly to join quite different cultures in Europe and the United States. The West has neither the population growth nor the poverty any more to send huddled masses to the new lands. And yet, today, these immigrants arrive in Western countries that are strange fantasylands compared to what they were expecting. The newcomer is rarely reminded of why he left home, or why, after doing so, he chose the West, and not Russia, China, Bolivia, or the Sudan for his destination.
Western governments and the larger culture could easily instruct the immigrant that the Western tradition is far more likely to embrace constitutional government, personal freedom, free-market economics, the importance of private property, religious tolerance, free expression, due process, an independent judiciary, and a larger culture of self-criticism and introspection. But to do so would put the lie to multiculturalism and the belief in different but equal cultures.
These precise Western values allow the immigrant to enjoy a security, affluence, and freedom unknown in his abandoned homeland. Yet, we, the host, prefer not to “judge” those other places, and thus do not fully embrace the immigrant’s ostensible wish to become one of us. We dare not ethnocentrically elevate our culture over others. Instead, we rebrand the human sins of slavery, sexism, and racism as uniquely Western depravities rather than age-old pathologies that predated the West and still exist unchecked outside it. The immigrant immediately senses that his troubled Western host is not so much privileged as unsure and unhappy—and ripe for psychological exploitation. Hyphenation and tribalism, not the melting pot, are often seen as the natural, expected and more “authentic” path for the recently arrived.
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