ASSIMILATION, AMERICAN STYLE by Peter D. Salins

ASSIMILATION, AMERICAN STYLE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A thorough and convincing examination of assimilation in America: how it worked in the past, why it is necessary for the survival of the nation, and what to do about the recent and ominous assault on it. The author (Urban Affairs/Hunter Coll.), a former editor of City Journal, is moved to defend assimilation against sustained attacks by a host of enemies: right-wing nativists; universities that have bred dogmas concerning multiculturalism; foundations like Ford and Carnegie that have funded organizations that advocate what Salins calls ethnic federalism; and proponents of bilingual education. Most of these influential groups now see the survival of ethnic cultures in America's midst as clear evidence that assimilation is a myth, and are engaged in constructing a pervasive institutional enterprise that subsidizes and mandates ethnic consciousness and focuses on ethnic grievances. These groups are making ethnicity a core part of American life, when our collective happiness, Salins argues, depends on ethnicity being insignificant. Salins worries that this could lead us down the same disastrous path as Bosnia, Rwanda, and other fragmenting multiethnic countries. The author is superb in defining what constitutes assimilation: adopting common beliefs like the Protestant work ethic, a shared spoken language, and schools that serve as crucibles for a people with a shared culture. He also deftly explodes several myths about immigration. Past waves of immigrants, for instance, never surrendered their heritage and continued to speak their native tongue in their neighborhoods. Assimilation, he argues, is a gradual process and doesn't necessitate abandoning one's ethnic identity at the door. In fact, America draws strength from these distinctions. Problems arise when ethnic identity becomes stronger than an individual's allegiance to the US. While Salins's argument is essentially a conservative one, his book is pragmatic and solid, and should convince many of the value and continuing importance of assimilation.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1997
ISBN: 0-465-09817-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996