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Marlene H. Phillips

Marlene H. Phillips

Posted: September 23, 2009 05:52 PM

Report on The Economist: Immigrant Assimilation Isn't Possible

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The Economist website is currently running excerpts from a report concerning immigration. The report, written by a member of the Royal Belgian Geographical Society, claims that full assimilation of many immigrants is impossible, because: "we know little about their religion, their customs are different than ours, and there is too great a social gap between the majority of these migrants and (the) population." The writer of the report, R. Dons, concludes, "The differences between them and us are so considerable that I really can't see how integration could work."

The date of the report: 1933. The subject: Polish Jews.

Reading the report you can't help but notice striking similarities between language employed then and now. "In this period of very harsh economic crisis...work is being taken away from the indigenous population," says the report (similar to the cries of Pat's sister Bay Buchanan: "Now they're bringing immigrants here to take our jobs. Who takes care of us?"). "The way they live is also very different than ours...the deplorable hygienic conditions in which they live mean the houses are left in an abominable condition when they leave," says the report.

The report is a 1933 version of there-goes-the-neighborhood: 'When there are sufficiently numerous in their neighborhood, their fellow countrymen open hairdressing salons, grocery shops, bakeries..., butcher shops, where they sell meat from ritually-slaughtered animals."

In his piece for The Economist, the blogger known as Charlemagne published the report as a postscript to an earlier article about immigration and multiculturalism in Brussels. He points out that the neighborhoods discussed in the 1933 report include the Schaerbeek area of Brussels, where many Jews from Eastern Europe fled from the German invasion. Charlemagne notes that that very same neighborhood, Schaerbeek, is still heavily populated with immigrants, now primarily Moroccan, and the complaints of insurmountable diferences are still the same (ritual slaughtering of animals, foreign foods and customs, overcrowded conditions). He finds a bit of comfort in the thought that "we have, at least, been here before."

Charlemagne concluded his post with a brief musing concerning what happened to the immigrants profiled in the 1933 report, the Jews who fled Poland. If they survived the Holocaust, he guessed, "they are living in suburban comfort, along with the successive waves of Italian, Spanish, Greek or Portuguese immigrants...who have now integrated and moved to greener districts."

I can attest to that, because the Polish Jews dismissed in this report could very well have been my relatives. Both my parents immigrated to the United States as small children, fleeing Poland in advance of the Germans. No one spoke English and our culture was indeed quite different from mainstream America. And while we never forgot our cultural history we did indeed become a suburban-dwelling, hot dog-eating, baseball-loving family.

Kudos to Charlemagne, and The Economist, for publishing this forgotten report and for reminding us that while the specifics may change, "the arrival of 'alien' faiths is something intrinsic to the European experience." And to the American one.

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