60 Others, and the WASP World They Aspired To
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60 Others, and the WASP World They Aspired To RICHARD BROOKHISER In its brief history, America has experienced the greatest population transfer the Western world has known since the fall of Rome, with happier results. This human tsunami has been seen as a simple transfer, not an amalgamation: a shift of bodies, not souls. Michael Novak called ethnics unmeltable. Father Andrew Greeley, the novelist and pollster, pops up every few years with a study showing how different Catholic and Protestant Americans continue to be (and justifying, incidentally, the existence of priestly pollsters). Many WASPs have made similar assumptions about the tenacity of immigrant behavior and have brooded about the effects it would have on their way. lilt is an axiom," Captain John B. Trevor, a lobbyist for restricted immigration, warned Congress in 1924, "that government not imposed by external force is the visible expression of the ideals, standards, and social viewpoint of the people over which it rules. II Trevor got his rank in military intelligence , for which he had monitored the activities of radical groups in New York after World War I, an experience that made him suspicious of the people America had recently been getting. liThe races [sic] from southern and eastern Europe ... cannot point during a period of seven centuries since Magna Charta to any conception of successful government other than a paternal autocracy. II Trevor's first sentence was no fallacy, it was pure Tocqueville ; and though one could quarrel with "paternal autocracyII in the second, one could not challenge the larger point: that, whatever form government took in the old countries of Southern and Eastern Europe, from city state to shtetl, it did not have a lot to do with the Magna Carta. II If, therefore," Trevor concluded, lithe principle of individual liberty guarded by constitutional government"-the way of the WASP-"is to endure, the basic strain of our population must be maintained. III So sell the Statue of Liberty for scrap. But Trevor's conclusion does not necessarily follow from his premises. The trouble with his fears, and with ethnic pride, is that they both underestimate the psychological rupture of immigration. The leap from an old country that any immigrant makes is sundering. The new country confronts him with new ideals, standards, and social viewpoints. Under any circumstances, the pressure of the new ideals and standards will be compelling. If they happen to be, in crucial respects, superior to the immigrants' old ones, the attraction will be doubly powerful. Immigrants have brought thousands of things here, in their baggage or in their minds, Reprinted with the permission of The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, from THE WAY OF THE WASP by Richard Brookhiser. Copyright © 1991 by Richard Brookhiser. Copyrighted Material Others, and the WASP World They Aspired To 361 from snacks to religions. What none of them has successfully established is a rival way of life. For most of the history of American immigration, the dock or the tarmac was the first step in becoming WASPs. The others-who are by now the vast majority of Americans-came in four great swells, each composed of smaller distinct currents. Germans and Irish-Irish-Irish, in addition to Scotch-Irish-began arriving in colonial times, hit a peak with the famines and revolutions of the 1840s, and continued at that level for some decades. In the last third of the century they were joined, then surpassed, by people from every other country of Europe, from Portugal to Finland. This wave, interrupted by World War I, was virtually halted by the immigration laws of the 1920s that Captain Trevor was so keen to pass. The West Coast experienced its own influx of Chinese and Japanese earlier, beginning with the Gold Rush and ending with earlier restrictive acts. In 1965, after a forty-year lull, the gates opened again. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, testifying before Congress in 1964, expected five thousand immigrants from the II AsiaPacific triangleII in the first year of the proposed law, "after which immigration from that source would virtually disappear."2 The attorney general was mistaken. The last twentyfive years have seen a rush of newcomers, legal and illegal, from the triangle, as well as from Latin America and the Caribbean, from West Africa, and from some oldtime spots of Europe-Ireland, Russia-that were getting a second wind. A New Yorker buys his fruit from Koreans, his newspapers from Indians, and his umbrellas, when he is caught on Fifth Avenue...