America has always been a melting pot. We are a nation founded by people from all over the world who came here seeking a better life for themselves and their families. So why is immigration such a hot-button issue?
To be sure, it has often been steeped in bitter controversy at certain points throughout our history. Various ethnic groups have bravely borne the brunt of suspicion and hostility -- and proven their ability to become good, patriotic Americans. But today, the issue seems to have taken on a harder edge. Why?
I think it's because something fundamental has changed at the heart of what it means to be an immigrant. For the first two centuries or so of our history, individuals found success in the United States through assimilation, while simultaneously maintaining their heritage. Today, however, that is less and less the case.
And this is no accident. As Mike Gonzalez documents in his book, "A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans," for at least the last four decades, the federal government has been inflaming the balkanization of our country by encouraging immigrants to view themselves more as aggrieved ethnic groups than as aspiring Americans.
This flies in the face of what our nation's founders said was crucial for the success of the American experiment: for us to become one people dedicated to the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Gonzalez writes: "E Pluribus Unum, the official motto in the Great Seal of the United States, demonstrated this urge for unity. In Latin it means 'Out of Many, One,' and it has been through the centuries a reminder of the imperative of uniting different groups."
Today, though, a victim mentality prevails -- one that affects even those who have been American all their lives. Ask yourself: Are there many Americans nowadays who love their country so much that they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for it?
Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan thinks there are, and I agree. But she also fears that their numbers are steadily diminishing. As she once observed in a speech to The Heritage Foundation: "We are living in the beginning of what I believe is post-patriotic America. The ties that bind still exist, but they are growing frayed and tired and attenuated."
She went on to indict our educational system for no longer fostering a sense of patriotism:
"Nobody is really teaching our children to love their country. They still pick it up from their parents, from here and there, but in general, we have dropped the ball. The schools, most of them, do not encourage patriotic feeling. Small things -- so many of them do not teach the Pledge of Allegiance. Bigger things -- they do not celebrate Washington's Birthday and draw pictures of him and hear stories about him as they did when we were kids.
"There is no Washington's Birthday; there is Presidents' Day, which my 11-year-old son was once under the impression was a celebration of Bill Clinton's birthday. Beyond that the teaching of history has changed and has been altered all out of shape. My son is instructed far more in the sins of racism than in the virtues of an Abe Lincoln.
"There is a school in Washington -- and I almost moved there so my son could attend -- that actually had pictures of Washington or Lincoln on the wall. On the walls of my son's classroom they had a big portrait of [Mexican artist] Frida Kahlo."
We sometimes hear it said that our diversity is our strength. Actually, our strength lies in our historical excellence at forging one nation out of such a wide array of people. We're different, but we're united in the essentials.
At least we used to be. The question that lies before us is how to regain the wisdom of our founders on the nagging question of immigration, and find a way to restore the ideal of "E Pluribus Unum."
Ed Feulner is founder of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).