The American elections: the end of the old world

The rise of immigrants who no longer yearn to be absorbed

Several notable commentators have concluded that the American presidential election results indicate a rise of minorities, following changes in American demography due to waves of immigration. These conclusions are all too simplistic and fail to take into account longer term trends felt both in America and around the Western world.

Indeed, the very essence of American culture has always been the concept of immigration and the hopes of building a new society based on freedom and equality of opportunity. The American melting pot was traditionally based on the concept that immigrants would safeguard their traditions, while taking part in a unified new project – the construction of an American society for all. Specifically American holidays, which have a religious flavor, such as Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Presidents’ Day, and Remembrance Day, assisted in forging a new culture that would dominate the world for the 20th century. Thus, immigration itself is not a new phenomenon changing the face of America.

(Statue of Liberty image via Shutterstock)

Immigration has always had a great impact on various societies and cultures. Following the fall of the colonial system after World War II, numerous residents of regions that had been colonized – from Africa, Asia, and other areas, chose to immigrate to the European countries that had colonized them, as well as to the United States. Indeed, these people had tasted advanced cultures through the act of colonization and imperialism. These waves of immigration during the 1940s and 1950s were characterized by the immigrants’ desire to join Western societies and assimilate their customs, dress, language and culture. These immigrants wanted to embrace a new future, and sought a release from a difficult and strenuous past.

More recent waves of immigration, both in Europe and in the United States, have been characterized by groups who do not want to be absorbed by their host society, but want to exert their influence and change the nature of this society. Rather than embracing Western society, they prefer to adapt the West to their traditions. Thus, we have recently seen a conflict between various generations of immigrants.

While this phenomenon has been highly pronounced in Europe, it has been a slower process in the United States. The American concept of a melting pot functioned to a large extent for several generations, as immigrants embraced the American Dream, while safeguarding their traditions and folklore. However, a new generation of immigrants to the United States from Central and South America has abandoned this principle, and instead view the United States as part of the Americas, which is dominated by Latino culture. Rather than being absorbed by the United States, these immigrants are changing the face of the United States. These immigrants want to establish a new agenda in their host country, and a disconnect between various generations of immigrants has developed.

Indeed, there are certain areas in the United States, where not a word of English is spoken. The running joke – that the second language of the United States is English – has become a new reality.

Many among the new generation of Latino immigrants do not respect the American value system, and speak of a new America, which owes something to the weaker sectors of society. This is a new type of “social democrat” who does not respect the American values of individualism.

Thus, we see a conflict between two Americas – between an older, more conservative America, and an America based on the values of new immigrants. While there are sectors within new immigrant groups who wish to take part in building an America, based on consideration for the past, there are those who demonstrate no desire to connect with a tradition that enabled the greatest power of the twentieth century.

America is undergoing an upheaval. It must define a common basis for participation in American culture and the American Dream.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center