At any point in time and in any part of the world, if you’re deliberating over immigration and its implications for a country, the topics of cultural differences and assimilation come up.
One one side, you have people calling for immigrants to assimilate as quickly as possible. Learn the language. Follow the laws. Ditch soccer and watch the Superbowl.
On the other side, there are multiculturalists defending the virtues of a diverse nation. People have the right to retain their native culture. In fact, diversity makes our country a lot more interesting.
I’m a big fan of diversity. Maybe it’s part of because I grew up in Southern California and South Florida. I have the melting pot in my veins. I love seeing different kinds of people and learning about them. And I believe diversity strengthens our democratic republic; the presence of lots of different ideas and ways of living obliges you to be more tolerant and respectful of minority rights.
However, I wouldn’t call myself a complete multiculturalist. I think a lot of times in our public discourse people who like diversity jump to slander you as a bigot for calling upon immigrants to adopt American culture.
Because we’ve gotten so used to multiculturalism, the phrase “American culture” sounds almost like an oxymoron. It really isn’t. It’s there, and it’s more than just baseball and hot dogs.
More than anything, I want to focus on the philosophies, principles, and values that are distinctly American. And why it matters to know what they are.
In my experience living abroad, a lot of people look at the United States and its great successes–its democratic government, its economy, the beauty of its cities, the safety of its neighborhoods, the stability of the American way of life–and think it all came about spontaneously. They look around at the disorder in their home countries and don’t question what causes it.
When people with this mindset move to the US, they end up following the same philosophies and enacting the same kind of policies that made their country of origin not such a great place to live. They saw the differences between the two nations but never got the lesson.
The United States of America is more than a nice-looking place with good schools, clean parks, and air conditioning. The luxuries Americans enjoy are merely the product of a culture that’s superior to most others on the face of the earth.
The Political Correctness Police might get offended, but the truth is that cultures can be better than others. I’m not talking about the foods we eat or the music we listen to. I’m talking about the underlying values that inform our way of life.
People often don’t want to accept that because they tie culture to race. The PC logic: because all people are equal regardless of race, all cultures are also equal. We end up with a moral relativism when it comes to comparing cultural values.
Of course there’s no such thing as a superior race. Race is something biological. You’re born with it. You can’t change it. But culture is very different from race. You’re born into it, but you also adopt it. You can make it your own or reject it. People pass it on, but they add to it with their own knowledge and experiences. Culture is remolded with every generation.
A culture can encompass virtues like respect, altruism, industry. It can also encompass vices like xenophobia, war-mongering, sexism.
What are the elements of American culture? What makes us different from everyone else?
The answer isn’t short. There are a lot of defining elements of American culture.
One of the big ones is the notions of liberty and independence. We really believe in being our own people. We don’t bow down to others. We can only see our fellow human beings as equals, not masters. That’s been ingrained in us since the time of the colonists, who preferred to take their chances in the wilderness of the new world to get away from religious oppression and burdensome social structures in England.
The tradition goes back even further. Think about the revolutionary concept of Britain’s Parliament. Even before the American Revolution, our forefathers in Britain were sticking it to authority by gradually taking power away from the monarchy and giving it to the representative Parliament.
That tradition is what’s made American democracy a success. The lack of it in other places is why so many countries try to replicate our government but get drastically worse results. They can have the exact same structure, but the culture to make it work isn’t there.
Along with the ideas of independence and freedom comes the principle of self-sufficiency. We don’t like to depend on others. We like to provide for ourselves. We like to make our own stuff. Even if it takes more work.
That ethic is what fueled the frontiersmen and pioneers who settled the west. Whereas others would have preferred the comforts of an already established civilization, they wanted to create something of their own. Something 100% of their making.
We like to be our own bosses. That’s why we’ve produced the world’s finest economy. People want to make their own fortune. Then they compete against each other and the best business wins (as do consumers).
Americans like discovery and innovation. We seek knowledge for its own sake. We develop new systems and technologies because we can. Others would say “why fix it if it ain’t broken?” We say “why leave it the same if it could be better?”
That’s why time after time, the technologies that reshape the world begin in the US. It isn’t that we just have smart people. Every country has smart people. It’s our cultural psyche that continually drives us to explore, to create, and–perhaps most of all–to WIN.
I think a lot of people who come to the US get this. Part of why they’re drawn to this country is because they share these values themselves, even if they can’t articulate them.
Unfortunately, others fail to recognize this. They come for the perks, but don’t care for what makes those perks possible.
The old saying goes “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I say the same thing about being in America.
I’m not saying people should throw out their roots. Honor and cherish where you came from. But also honor and cherish the place that you’re choosing to live in. If you crossed thousands of miles to be here, it’s probably because it’s better than where you came from. Try to understand what makes it better. Learn the language. Study the history. Ponder the Constitution and the writings of our great statesmen.
Let’s stop being apologetic about our culture. Let’s be proud to be American and teach our kids to be proud of it. Our country is nothing more than a big piece of land unless we give it life through our honorable actions.
Keeping America like we know and love it requires first internalizing America–and its culture–in our hearts.