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(re)New America

A few years ago, I found myself on Payne Avenue in St Paul after an absence of many years. It had changed, noticeably, and for the better. Shops were clean and bright, people filled the sidewalks, and traffic was impressively bad.

More interestingly, many of the signs on the newly refurbished shops were in Spanish and Hmong.

This process is hardly anything new in American history. A new generation of immigrants often arrives with little more than what they can carry but soon saves and scrapes enough to put a stake down. The first places they invest the rewards of restless work meeting boundless opportunity are neighborhoods like St Paul’s East Side. For those short on cash but long on vision Da Hood is not a problem but an opportunity.

This and many other examples show the real stakes in the immigration ban – the heart and soul of the relentless ability of our nation to renew itself.

Payne Ave is looking pretty good these days.

Payne Ave is looking pretty good these days.

The revitalization of America’s cities is critically important for many reasons, not the least of which is cost. Suburban “white flight” in the latter Twentieth Century was incredibly expensive at both ends, running up big tabs for policing and jailing at one and infrastructure at the other. The total waste certainly ran into the trillions of dollars and makes up a lot of the infrastructure deficit we have today. More importantly, the waste of lives in a prison-industrial complex destroyed the most critical resource of this or any other nation – our people.

For all the cowardly fear of change and “those people” that drove the process, stories of hope have often snuck past the media narrative of blight. They still do. A recent story on how immigrants from many places has revitalized Akron, for example, runs the usual course. This one emphasizes Moslem immigrants for the all-important tie-in to the current news cycle, but it doesn’t have to. Articles on Chinese investors snapping up Detroit have been a staple for many years in Michigan, usually with a sinister bent to them.

Which naturally brings us to anti-immigration stands in key swing states. What is going on?

Give me your energetic, your educated ...

Give me your energetic, your educated …

As Barataria has said many times, America is like a large fraternity – the first generation of new pledges is hazed horribly, but the next generation is in. Stories like this can be read many ways as they reverberate through the social media gossip chain and devolve into innuendo and “fake news”. Eventually, the message becomes narrow and fearful – “those people” are here to take our cities/jobs/culture.

There is little doubt that a new era is coming to America and to the world. Whether or not it’s a coming apocalypse or new Eden remains a matter of opinion, at least until the world realizes that the future is always a matter of shared vision and hard work to bring it to fruition.

How might things work out after all? Pretty much the same way they have always worked out in America, at least since the days when we Irish arrived in great numbers to be the first ones hazed en masse into the expanding definition of America.

The standard commodity that is the same everywhere - but made from local materials & labor.  And the indigestion is the same, too.

The standard commodity that is the same everywhere – but made from local materials & labor. And the indigestion is the same, too.

Most people around the world see globalization as little more than an Americanization. A rejection of new ways which disrupt the existing order rarely makes a distinction between the two, which is why we are so often the target of wrath. But the rejection of globalization here in America? It, too, is a rejection of America – or at least a rejection of what actually made our nation great in the first place.

The signs in Spanish along Payne Avenue may not look like America to some people. The appearance of Halal foods in Akron may seem like a threat of some kind. But they are not. Where those who lack the imagination to preserve our great traditions flee in a wild panic a space has opened up for the next generation of Americans. Our nation remains bigger than anything which you or I can possibly imagine.

Unfortunately, we have to wait out the whines and whimpers of the panic as they are shouted out as bravely as any coward can imagine. Be assured, however, that these voices will eventually fade. The voices which replace them may lapse into Spanish or Arabic or Mandarin from time to time, but eventually they will be strong in English. If not this generation, then the next.

When it happens, American cities will indeed be reborn, made in the new image of the New America. In the most important ways it will be the same as the old America – because that is what has always made America great, again and again.

6 thoughts on “(re)New America

  1. A Country without defined protected borders and an official language; is no longer a Country.
    My Italian grand parents refuse to allow their children to speak other then English when they arrived in America. I don’t want to learn Spanish, or any other language. I expect immigrants to be able to communicate with me in my native language; as I would when I went to one of their countries.

    • This generally happens, but take a look at a picture of any city in the 1920s. You will see signs posted in German, Polish … any number of languages. Most are in English, yes, but there are always some which are not. And that’s fine.

  2. There are long traditions of anti-immigrant sentiment, know-nothing ism, and religious intolerance in this country. Nothing really new here, or so it looks to me. Objectively, this is a country of low population density and plenty of room for more people. What do we do about our malfunctioning political systems.

    • Indeed, there is always more room. I think we have to make that point more and more – alongside the demonstration that there is a net benefit to everyone for immigration.

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