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Shattering Myths About Immigrants

Some surprising results from a new study on how fast newcomers assimilate.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

July 29, 2009 - 12:59 am
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In fact, in a finding that some consider counterintuitive, the researchers discovered that adults born in the United States to immigrant parents were more likely to have a college degree than adults who are already in the third generation.

What’s that about? Simple. While the conventional wisdom is that the longer an immigrant family stays in the United States, the better off it will be, that’s not always the case. On the one hand, no matter what some nativists believe, assimilation happens. And when it does, immigrants are usually better off. But sometimes, what we consider progress can come at a steep price. For every new opportunity, something is lost. There are bad habits that people can pick up living in the United States for a few generations, such as a weaker work ethic, a thirst for immediate gratification, an entitlement mentality, and the tendency to take for granted the value of a college education.

So overall, immigrants are still assimilating on schedule. Some Americans think that because they see a Spanish-language billboard on the way to work, or because an ATM asks them is they’d like to proceed in Spanish, that somehow this must mean that immigrants aren’t assimilating.

No, it just means that corporations are trying to sell stuff. Hungry for a slice of an $800 billion a year market of Latino consumers, companies will use Spanish –- or French, Russian, or Martian — to help close the deal. But the important point is that these bilingual marketing efforts notwithstanding, English always finds a way to come out on top. Just as immigrants always wind up assimilating -– whether they want to or not.

That’s why studies like this are important, even if many Americans aren’t ready to accept their conclusions because the findings run contrary to what they think they know. The immigration debate already has plenty of fear, division, racism, suspicion, and animosity. What it could use more of are facts.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune, a nationally syndicated columnist, a frequent lecturer, and a regular contributor to CNN.com.
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