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Column: Integration, not assimilation, goal for today’s immigrants

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As a retired professor, I get great satisfaction when I hear good news about one of my former students, whether it be a promotion, new job, marriage or having a child.

The other day, I received a Facebook message from a former student who attended law school at Indiana University and is currently practicing law in Indianapolis. Here is what she wrote:

“I will be speaking at an immigration and naturalization ceremony later this summer. In going over ideas for the speech, I am reminded of a letter you wrote after your naturalization. I remember you talking about taking issue with the phrase ‘great American melting pot’ and preferring a comparison to a salad where the Constitution, like dressing, covers everyone equally. May I reference that description?” Beth (Bailey) Cox.

To be invited to give a speech in such an important event is certainly great news. Plus, she remembered one of my lectures that I gave many years ago and wants to use some of the ideas in her profession. This, of course, made me feel extremely pleased.

Immigration is a never ending issue which our great country faces. After all, the United States is an immigration destination. Unfortunately, many Americans do not really understand the complexity of this issue, particularly those who question how new immigrants will fit in as well as how previous immigrants deal with new immigrants.

I would like to share my personal experience and perspective on this issue.

After several years of studying and teaching, I was invited to participate in an international conference in Europe titled “European Integration and Europe and American Relations.” There were 14 scholars from Indiana, Ohio

and Illinois. I was the only non-American in the group and carried a passport from the Republic of China (or more commonly known as Taiwan).

As you may know, at that time, many countries had no diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Each time we arrived in a European country, we had to go through an immigration checkpoint. Americans do not need a visa to visit Europe. As I did not have a U.S. passport, I had to go through the whole immigration checkpoint process.

After I returned home from this trip, I decided that the United States was the country that I wanted to live in and contribute to. Soon thereafter, my wife and I decided to apply for American citizenship.

After successfully passing all the applicable requirements, during the swearing-in process, the federal judge welcomed all of us to the American melting pot. At that time (1970s), “melting pot” was the popular slogan that was consistently used until being replaced recently with diverse or multicultural.

To me, “melting pot” simply means assimilation. Once you are here you should become “Americanized.” As a first-generation immigrant, I was already set in my ways and raised by my parents under Confucian values.

To show my appreciation for becoming an American citizen, I wrote to the judge. Not only did I thank him, I also made a small suggestion. Rather than calling American a melting pot, I shared with him my salad bowl theory.

The basis of the salad bowl theory is the American Constitution. Everyone is entitled to the same constitutional protection and guarantees. In the past, minorities, women and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered citizens were not afforded all of these guarantees and protections of the Constitution.

A lot has changed in the 30 years since I first came up with the salad bowl theory. As such, I think this issue needs further explanation.

“Melting pot” was a great theory used to describe the issue of immigration in 18th and 19th centuries. During that time, more than 18 million immigrants from Europe poured into America. European immigrants not only shared some common culture, they also shared common appearance. Because of this, melting pot made a lot of sense. Once immigrants accept the idea of democracy, liberty and civic responsibility, they were assimilated into this melting pot.

Generally, melting pot was used to describe the process of Americanization.

Most immigrants today are not from Europe but from Asia and Central and South America. These immigrants not only come from longstanding and unique cultures, but they are also racially and

ethnically different. Fear of strangers is part of nature and nothing new to this country. However, this fear has caused a huge backlash against many of these new immigrants.

Because of the changing climate and conditions of immigration today, the use of melting pot is no longer suitable. Immigrants no longer completely assimilate to American culture. They retain much of their homeland culture and language. While melting pot refers to assimilation, salad bowl suggests that being American does not require the abandonment your own culture.

Rather than assimilate, immigrants can integrate. You don’t have to eat a hot dog if you want an egg roll.

Now that we have the salad, what is the dressing? As a retired constitutional law professor, please let me remind you that under our constitution, all citizens (whether born in America or naturalized through the immigration process) are covered by the equal protection clause. In other words, to share the common spirit of our constitution including liberty, equality and rule of law, our Founding Fathers actually created the best salad dressing imaginable -– the American dressing.

The key is to spread the dressing evenly so all are covered without discrimination. When that happens, we will have a more perfect union.

I am always happy to hear from my former students, but even happier when they inspire me to write.

Professor Yu-long Ling, a Franklin resident, is an expert in foreign policy. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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