Assimilation and Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate

This morning, I woke to a sore throat, a broken boiler, and an outside temperature of negative two degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, I immediately went for the Advil, but hot chocolate has the benefit of making my whole body feel better, not just my throat. I slithered to the kitchen.

I do not have a consistent favorite type of hot chocolate. Oftentimes, I use a base of Hershey’s powdered mix to which I add some Valrhona or perhaps some Trader Joe’s Peppermint. This morning? Sick equals peppermint, right?

With my dairy sink pipes frozen, I was still able to use the boiling water from the Sabbath hot water pot left over from the day before. Thank God.

I used a small spoon to mix the steaming hot water with the various mixes. The hot water did a good job of breaking down the powder, but I had a hard time with some small peppermint balls that floated on top. I spun the spoon clockwise. Counter-clockwise. I pushed the stubborn balls down towards the bottom of the mug. Yet still a few minty clumps remained.

Determined, I took the bottom side of my spoon and mashed the remaining puffs onto the side of the mug. They spread there like a bug on a speedy windshield. I scraped the sides into the rest of my drink.

Fortunately, the water had not yet gone cold in my minute battle, and I was able to enjoy my warm cocoa. However, as it was not quite so hot anymore, I downed the mug rather quickly. It was delicious.

As I finished, I looked at the bottom of the mug to find peppermint sediment peppered on the surface. They survived my early onslaught. I grabbed the spoon to scoop them up, and enjoyed the burst of peppermint to cap my morning drink.

hot chocolate

Assimilation

The western world is deeply engaged in discussions about immigrants and refugees. Part of those conversations are about security, but another is related to society’s ability to absorb the thousands of new arrivals. Will they fit in? Will they blend in? What does their arrival mean for the nature of society going forward?

There are some people that are purists and believe that a culture stays fixed forever. They would prefer that their country, say Hungary, remains the same year-in and year-out. The only foreign languages they would hear would be tourists who come for a few days, spend some money, and then leave. No signs would ever be in a language other than Hungarian.  The people will all “look” Hungarian and “act” Hungarian.

The approach in France may be different. There, people may welcome immigrants with different backgrounds, but on the proposition that all of these foreigners will melt into French society. It is permissible to be Algerian upon arrival, but the expectation is to become French over time.

The United States has yet a different approach. It very much supports the idea of a melting pot, and has created an educational system that requires that different parts of society must interact with all others. Yet the country is also fine with the patchwork of distinct cultural identities. Chinatowns and Little Italy’s dot America, even while most Chinese and Italians blend into society at large.


I understand that some people want to have the exact same chocolate without any variety every single day. I think it’s a bit boring, but I’m not mixing your mug.

I also appreciate that some people are happy to incorporate a few flavors into their routines. They diligently try to make sure that everything is mixed so completely that all that is left is a singular blended society. No outliers. As I chase the foreign floaties in my hot chocolate, I sometimes think of myself as one of those people.

But there are times when I am reminded about those stubborn clumps that refuse to blend in. It may not have been part of the initial overall plan, but I am happy that some have remained distinct, as they were, when they folded into the mix.

A famous dim-witted philosopher once said that “life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”  Maybe the corollary is that societies are like cups of hot chocolate; some are more blended than others.

I’m happy with mine.


Related First.One.Through Article:

The End of Together

A Native American, An African American and a Hispanic American walk into Israel…

Crises at the Borders

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A Logical Approach to Immigration from Personal History

President Barack Obama and various religious groups stated their strong support for bringing fleeing Syrian refugees into the United States in the fall of 2015. In their effort to convince other Americans of the justice of bringing in those fleeing wars in the Middle East, they drew an analogy to the Holocaust and the ship the MS St. Louis which was turned away from Cuba, the United States and Canada and sent back to Europe, where the Jewish passengers perished in concentration camps.

For their part, various Republicans stated their opposition to admitting so many refugees at this time due to security concerns. They dismissed the analogy to the Holocaust for multiple reasons including the principal facts that in the past there was no terrorism going on in the United States, and the Jews in Europe were ordinary civilians not bearing any arms or involved in any fights.

europe-migrants-greece
Syrian refugees arrive on the Greek island of Kos
August 2015 (photo: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

There is room for an honest conversation and approach. Here, I lay out my family’s path to America and lessons that could be applied to refugees today.

Coming Alone

My paternal great-grandfather came to the USA from Russia in 1904.  He fled the various pogroms that were going on in Russia over many years, including the significant Kishinev Pogrom in 1903.  He set out for America alone via Great Britain.  Once he established himself in New York City, he sent for his wife and two children to join him in their new home nine months later.

Many other Jews were leaving Russia during those years for the United States.  The USA was also admitting many Irish, British, Scandinavians, Italians, Hungarians, Germans and Austrians at the same time.  Each group spoke a different language and they all needed to adopt to the common language and culture of America.

And they did.

Fleeing en Masse

My maternal grandmother fled Austria with her immediate family after Kristallnacht in December 1938.  They were part of an enormous wave of Jews fleeing Europe in those months before the start of World War II.

The whole family fled at one time.  Before coming to the US, they were sent to Cuba where they were vetted and processed.  My grandmother and her two children were allowed to travel to New York three months after their arrival, however, her husband was not permitted to join them right away.  My grandfather waited in Cuba for over a year while the US vetted his background, and protected the jobs and security of Americans by slowly introducing thousands of men.

He waited in Cuba with hundreds of other men in the same predicament.

Lessons for Today

When my paternal great-grandfather came to America in 1904, he was part of a wave of immigrants coming to the US for a variety of reasons from a variety of countries.  Over five decades (1880-1930), the US more than doubled its population (from 50 million to 123 million), while the percent of foreign-born people in the country grew to a high of 15 percent.

The situation today is different:

  • Many foreign-born Americans today. Today, the United States is already at a 15% foreign-born population, the highest level in 200 years. Will such a huge and growing percentage hurt the US economy as they migrate into the workforce? Consider that 100 years ago the country was expanding and there were many jobs for manual labor; today the job market requires more skills and technical expertise.
  • Concentration of New Immigrants’ Culture. The immigrants that are coming today do not speak dozens of different languages (Hungarian; Russian; Italian; Swedish; English; German; etc.), but predominantly, just one: Spanish.  Such a large concentration has hurt Spanish integration into American society where many communities remain Spanish-speaking only or bilingual, at best.  The US instituted affirmative action programs uniquely for these Spanish-speakers, while no other immigrant group is afforded such assistance.  Will a large concentration of new Arabic speakers create another permanent sub-group in the US?
  • Current Battlefield.  The United States has been targeted by various radical Islamic groups.  When the MS St. Louis was turned away in 1939, America was not attacked and not at war.  The battlefield is now here.  Therefore, it is more time-sensitive and important to sort those fleeing harm in the Middle East, from those that intend to harm the United States.

The US should indeed consider the history of Jews fleeing Europe before WWII, but appreciate the differences when it is now considering the admittance of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The current refugees are using the methodology of my paternal great-grandfather and sending men before the rest of the families.  According to the UNHCR, 62% of current immigrants in the Mediterranean area are men. They are fleeing into Turkey and then quickly spreading throughout Europe.  That is a bad and potentially dangerous situation and the US should pivot to a more logical approach:

  • Processing: When refugees come en masse, it is important to have a place to process the people. Displaced Person camps are not a new phenomenon. The various Islamic countries which are allies with the US such as Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states should not only permanently settle many of their fellow Arabs and Muslims, but should establish DP camps so there is time for other countries to appropriately vet those fleeing harm, while keeping the refugees out of harm’s way.
  • Woman and children first. While not all men are terrorists, the vast majority of terrorists are men. As in the 1930s, women and children should be admitted first while extra vetting is done on the men.  Canada has taken such approach.  In addition to giving time for more extensive background checks, it allows the country to more gradually introduce a large number of adult men into society.

Most men are not terrorists and most Muslims are not terrorists.  But the majority of people attacking the US and its allies are Muslim men.  Proper time and attention is needed to protect people.

Jews from Europe in the 1930s went through a long process of coming to America.  The lesson of WWII is not simply to not turn back refugees to the place where they are fleeing like America did with the MS St. Louis. It is also to use a system to effectively admit refugees.

All governments must take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of its citizens as it welcomes new immigrants.  It is shameful that there is finger-pointing and name-calling from both Democratic and Republican parties as the country attempts to welcome those fleeing war and prosecute those seeking war.

We should incorporate the best suggestions of both parties to help the refugees while placing priority on protecting Americans.


Related First.One.Through articles

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The Explosion of Immigrants in the United States

Immigration has become a significant topic in the United States and Europe due to comments made by US presidential hopefuls about illegal immigrants and the flight of people from the Middle East due to turmoil in that region. Here is a review of some statistics from past decades and the recent unusual dramatic increase in immigrants while the general population has slowed down.

United States 1880-1930s

The population of the United States grew dramatically over a 50 year-period from 1880 to about 1924 (a period of mass migration, “MM”), at which time the US passed the Immigration Act capping the number of people from any country. From 1880 until 1930, the population of the country grew from 50 million to over 123 million. In each decade over that time, the population grew between 15% and 26%.

Immigrants accounted for a large percentage of the growth. Over that MM time period, foreign born-residents accounted for anywhere from 12% to 15% of the US population. Almost all of these immigrants came from Europe (over 83% in each decade) and a smaller portion from Latin America (from 1 to 6%) and Asia (1 to 2%). While the 1880s had immigrants principally from Germany, United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Ireland, the following decades had immigrants principally from Italy, Russia and the Austria-Hungarian Empire.

Security: The 1880s and the 1900-1909 decade witnessed particularly large number of immigrants. In those decades, immigrants accounted for 20% of the growth in the country’s population (with natural growth accounting for 80%). However, with the outbreak of World War I and enactment of the Immigration Act, the number of immigrants was curtailed, with only 3% and 2% of the population growth stemming from immigrants in the 1910s and 1920s, respectively. Interestingly, while the war raged in Europe, the percentage of immigrants from Europe declined over this period by 4% while the percentage from Latin America grew by 4%.

One would imagine that the number of people trying to emigrate from Europe to the US would have increased during WWI, and the percentage of immigrants would have spiked above the historic 87% European figure. Instead, there was a drop-off. Were Americans concerned about the safety and security of the US? Was it fearful of importing a conflict to its shores? The severe drop-off in immigration and coinciding change of place of origin suggest that may be a factor. Another was the economy.

Economy: The decades of the 1910s and 1920s saw relatively weak average GDP per capita growth rates compared to prior decades: 1.28% and 1.27% for 1910s and 1920s, respectively. These anemic figures compared to prior decades of 1.65%, 2.04% and 2.13% in the 1880s, 1890s and 1900s, respectively. The subsequent stock market crash of 1929 and depression of the 1930s severely hurt the economy. This was probably the principle factor in the US population only growing at 7% compared to prior decades of 15% to 26% growth. Fewer jobs and a weaker economy led to fewer births and a stricter immigration policy set in place in 1924.

Decade Total Population Growth Immigrants % of Growth % Foreign-Born Americans
1880s 26% 20% 15%
1890s 21 8 14
1900s 21 20 15
1910s 15 3 13
1920s 16 2 12
1930s 7%
     
 
 
 

 

 United States 1960 – 2010

The 50 years from 1960 to 2010 saw an inversion of some of the immigration and population trends from the 1880-1930 period.

With the exception of the 1950s, every decade had a population growth that was less than from the MM period (10%-14% growth versus 15-26% in MM). Foreign-born people in the US became a rarity from the 1950s through the 1970s when they accounted for only 5-6% of the population (compared to 12-15% during the MM period).

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 removed the former quota system that capped immigration from each country.  As such the 1970s and 1980s started to see a dramatic change in the make-up of the US population. While very few immigrants came to the US in the 1960s, the 1970s and 1980s had 17% and 26% of the total population growth come from immigrants, respectively.  The 1965 Act also resulted in a dramatic change in the ethnic origins of new immigrants: they were no longer coming from Europe, but from Latin America and Asia.

Source of US Immigrants (from US Census Bureau)

Decade Europe Asia Latin America
1950s 75% 5% 9%
1960s 62 9 19
1970s 39 19 33
1980s 23 26 44

Economy: The economy in the 1960s and 1980s were the best in US history. The average per capita GDP grew 2.88% and 2.26% each year, on average, during the 1960s and 1980s, respectively. As such, the growth in the immigrant population and the changing origin of those people did not generate considerable debate or concern from Americans or politicians.

That situation changed dramatically in the 2000-2009 decade.

Security and Economy: The US population growth in the 2000-2009 decade was the slowest in American history, growing by only 6% (even lower than the 1930s). That decade witnessed the attacks of September 11, 2001, stock market internet bubble collapse of 2000, and a large scale economic meltdown and financial crisis in 2008.

Decade Total Population Growth Immigrants % of Growth % Foreign-Born Americans
1950s 19% 5%
1960s 13 5
1970s 11 17% 6
1980s 10 26 8
1990s 13 37 11
2000s 6 41 13
     
 
   

Yet, against this backdrop, the foreign-born population in the United States in 2010 grew to 13% – the same percentage as existed during the peaceful growth mode of the mass migration.  This percentage is over twice the level that existed in the country just 30 years earlier, in 1980. Astonishingly, almost half of the growth in the US is now from immigrants – a rate not realized since the founding of the country hundreds of years ago.

Consider further, that most of the new immigrants are coming from Latin America that principally speaks a single language (Spanish) in comparison to immigration from Europe or Asia that brought a diverse number of languages. Such an enormous influx of a single language could create a bilingual country.

Conclusion

In the 50 years of the mass migration 1880-1930, the country took steps to curtail immigration as the economy slowed and from World War I. Today, the US has an aggressive immigration policy during a weak economy and has significant security concerns.

It is natural for a country that focuses on its quality-of-life and feels insecure about its safety and economy to see the population have fewer children and urge for curtailing immigration.

While the US economy improved from the 2008 financial meltdown to 2015, consumer sentiment remained weak, as many Americans remained unemployed and under-employed. In addition to the weak economy, Americans watched the collapse of the Middle East through videos of the horror on their smartphones. The fear of terror coming back to the US is real.

One could argue that America had the “benefit” of slowing GDP growth in the 1910s and 1920s which pushed the country to accept many fewer immigrants. By the time the depression of the 1930s hit, there was already a 1924 immigration law in place and the reality of a slowdown in accepting new “foreigners” for a couple of decades. However, in the US today, the number of foreigners are growing at an accelerated rate for the last few decades, just as the country experienced incredible turmoil.


When a person sees the plight of refugees in the Middle East, the human and moral reaction is to extend a hand. Indeed, President Obama decided to increase the quota of Syrian immigrants from that region to 10,000 in 2016. On top of humanitarian concerns, the Democratic president scored big with Hispanics (71% to 27% in the 2012 presidential election). These facts make Obama look very in favor of accelerating immigration.

However, it is unfair to paint all people who argue for a limit on refugees and immigrants at this time as xenophobic and racist. There is a natural ebb-and-flow to immigration, which often follows the status of the economy and perceived safety concerns. Considering the current double-impact of the economy and security, and the dramatic increase in immigration over the past three decades, a review of immigration policy would appear warranted.

The USA, a Country of Immigrants

The United States has always been a country of immigrants. During the late 1800s through the market crash of 1929, ten percent of the country moved to the country every decade. After the Great Depression, immigration slowed to a trickle. It has grown to about 3.5% of the population per decade today.

Consider that the US grants more citizenship each decade than the entire populations of most countries.

The main changes to the immigrant population have been the source countries (now Asia and Latin America rather than Europe and Russia) and the greater number of illegal immigrants that are also coming to the US. Over 80% of today’s illegal immigrants come from Mexico and Latin America.

The loss of Jews in Europe continues

The recent fatal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels may increase the probability of more Jews leaving Belgium.  Belgium is already one of the countries with the highest rates of aliyah to Israel.

In 1948, there were 34 countries with over 25,000 Jews.  Today, there are HALF -17 countries.  Belgium (30,400) and Italy (28,000) are the next countries that are likely to see their Jewish populations drop below 25,000.

Over 82% of the Jews in the world are concentrated in only two countries – Israel and the US – the greatest concentration of Jews in 2000 years.