by Jonathan Decker
Amid ongoing discussions between the Trump administration and Congress on reaching an immigration deal, former NBC host Tom Brokaw offered some remarks this week on ‘Meet the Press’ that were met with significant blowback from the media and Twitter-sphere.
During a discussion on immigration, Brokaw stated:
I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. … That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time. You know, that they ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities. And that’s going to take outreach on both sides, frankly.
The comments made by Brokaw — for which he has since profusely and sincerely apologized for — warrant a greater discussion. I say this not for the sake of piling on to the attacks made against Brokaw, whose career at NBC Nightly News was always something of an inspiration to me, but because the sentiments expressed in his remarks is shared by many others. Removing Brokaw entirely from the picture, there remains a perception among some that Hispanic Americans “refuse” to assimilate, and this opinion clouds the immigration debate in the U.S.
The idea that Hispanic immigrants are not assimilating is wholly mistaken. As Ellen McGirt pointed out in Fortune:
Data from Pew Research shows that the share of Hispanic people speaking Spanish at home has been dropping steadily. Now, some 62% are bilingual. This report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that Hispanics are learning English faster than other immigrant cohorts. Other research shows that Hispanic high school dropout rates have hit a new low, college enrollment is at a new high, and they’re starting businesses in greater numbers—more on that below.
More anecdotally, a recent drive through Plainfield, N.J., (a city with a large Hispanic immigrant population) turned up numerous signs advertising English classes. It seems to fly in the face of common sense that one would reside in a country where the overwhelming majority speak English and not have any desire to learn the language.
So why don’t all Hispanic Americans speak fluent English? Put succinctly, it’s a process. One doesn’t learn a new language with the snap of one’s fingers. Despite my years of Spanish classes in middle school and high school, as well as additional practice outside of school, my comprehension remains only decent. Pivoting back to Hispanic Americans, even if a first-generation immigrant’s mastery of the English language is similar to mine of Spanish, their children and grandchildren will most certainly learn the language through greater immersion.
But for a thought experiment, and to reveal how overblown the fears of Hispanic immigrants “not assimilating” are, let’s say a hypothetical Hispanic immigrant doesn’t have any desire to learn English whatsoever. Perhaps he or she opens up a store where all of the products and labels are written in Spanish. What shouldn’t need to be said — though it does — is that having the freedom to own one’s own business and run it the way one wants to is not only within one’s right but also both highly American and capitalist. Of course you, the consumer, have the freedom to choose whether or not you patronize the store.
So why would one fear the possibility of a greater number of Spanish-speaking businesses in the U.S.? Does one also walk through the Chinatown sections of cities like New York, Washington, and Los Angeles lamenting that stores and restaurants would have the audacity to craft signs in Chinese? In short, the problem of Hispanic Americans ‘not assimilating’ is a boogeyman that doesn’t exist, and even if it did, it still wouldn’t be scary. Our country and our economy benefit enormously from having the entrepreneurship and labor of Hispanic Americans — and they are our fellow consumers too.
Ignore the worries over Hispanics ‘not assimilating’; the U.S. should be saying ‘Bienvenido’ to more Hispanic immigrants.