Access: The Washington Post (Part 1 - Part 4)
Summary: At a post office, I recently overheard a Ghanaian child translate the prices for his parents. This was all happening while the Chinese cashier repeatedly yelled out that they needed to pay extra for something or other. The little kid struggled to string together phrases in English, and both the parents and employees seemed relieved when the whole ordeal was over, somehow vaguely proud of the child’s budding communication skills. I see so much of my childhood in that Ghanaian family. Doing the language limbo hits close to home for me, having grown up first generation Latino in California. Translating menu options for my parents and answering the phone when they didn’t recognize the number on our caller ID became standard protocol. Weaving in and out of English and maneuvering through this dizzying dialectical maze is something I still encounter today; and I know I am not alone. In June of this year the US Senate passed an immigration reform bill that promises to provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. The bill's passage also brings up questions of assimilation, which refers to the process of immigrants adapting to their new society. Contrary to an opinion held by many, it is possible to quantify how well immigrants make the transition to their new homes. For instance, sociologists sometimes measure spatial concentration, or the degree to which immigrants live apart from the native-born population. Sociologists also look at the degree to which immigrants socially integrate with native-born folks, irrespective of geographic distance. One way to do this is by examining rates of intermarriage between immigrants and natives. Another way is to examine the degree to which immigrants have access to natives or naturalized citizens. Drawing from The New Immigrant Survey (2003), sociologist Guillermina Jasso and her colleagues recently reported that 72% of immigrants in the United States with legal permanent resident status have ready access to natives or naturalized citizens of the United States. Thinking again about the Ghanian child, one of course can also look at language as a measure of assimilation, but it's important to keep in mind that language is a two-way street. To foster a sense of community, some have argued we must press for assimilation by demanding that new immigrants speak English. What is often lost in these discussions is that native English-speaking Americans can also foster a strong sense of community by embracing the rich immigrant history of the United States and learning a second or third language. It is useful to consider assimilation and the ability of Americans to build community in light of the turbulent history of formal immigration policy. This four-part series from The Washington Post provides a nice discussion of the past 30 years of policy changes.
Submitted By: Sal Ramirez