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  • Food 2 – Assimilation 1

    Posted by Ginny on March 17th, 2016 (All posts by )

    The distinction between rich and poor was large in 1900, less large in 1950, larger again now. My husband’s tax accountant friend keeps arguing that taxes made the difference – so we need more of them. Well, maybe, he knows a hell of a lot more about taxes than I do. Of course, that seems counterproductive. Equally obvious is that large percentages of immigrants will add to the bottom rungs of an open market economy and their assimilation over the next generations (if immigration is lessened for a generation or two) is likely to lessen overall disparities.

    (I know, this whole post ignores the fact that some want to overhaul the core legal values of our nation and believe less in joining than forcing submission. That intensifies, perhaps, my point – but I’m making a different one. This considers a tradition which I think remains valid for some immigrants – those who want to become a part of a nation defined by a free market in commerce, religion, and speech. I’m just saying here, perhaps a strong border and stopping immigration for a while is a good idea, even if you believe (as I do) that part of the vibrancy of America is its ability to assimilate others.)

    Moving to a new country and developing the skills (including language) necessary to succeed is demanding. When Rubio describes his parents’ progress, we recognize the narrative – wanting better for their children, they were willing to sacrifice much, but their habits as well as values were ones likely to succeed in a free economy. He and they recognized that the payment from those first jobs (as for adolescents) was as much knowledge – of language, of culture, of work customs – as monetary. Those differentials the progressives complain of may reflect the cost of assimilation – a cost paid for by both the workers themselves and the overall economy.

    Assuming all workers are equal is one of the strange “equality” applications. We learn. Was I worth the same as a fifth grader biking out to deliver papers as when I stood in front of a classroom, after decades of training? Was I the same writer when a beloved old teacher wrote “ILLITERATE” across a sophomore paper in 1965 or a wonderful James critic wrote, 6 years later, on a Golden Bowl one “A+, What more can I say? “ (Nothing like throwing away old papers for humility and pride.)

    Our metaphors (melting pot or salad bowl) reflect differing concepts, though such references are now fault lines in the ever present culture wars.

    Food is a spot where wage differentials and assimilation meet. Clearing out my books, I came across one I’d meant to send to a daughter interested in food history: Harvey Levenstein’s Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet. This time, I went beyond the cover and found it full of information and observations about the American diet from the 1600s to 1930, the role of the marketplace, agriculture, technology and home economists. (His last chapter a bit scattered as he must have realized he needed – and later wrote – a post 1930 one.)

    Food traditions reinforce the influence of the Anglosphere – long after the Revolution, American cuisine was heavily influenced by the British, even as American fruits and vegetables arrived on the Continent. (My grandfather was convinced tomatoes, embraced by the Italians, were poisonous.) The English lay down the meter and form, other cultures then played variations within that overall structure. Probably the book had remained unopened because Levenstein’s earlier work was on unions. Later works were on French cooking. The two interests contributed to some observations, which aren’t surprising or new, but could stand restating. One is implicit: if we want unity, we probably need to let the parts stew until they are thoroughly mixed in the culture. That probably means some periods of low heat without adding much but an occasional spice.

    And this reminds us Jim Bennett’s deservedly famous observation: “Democracy, Immigration, Multiculturalism — Pick Any Two” – explained in detail at Albion’s Seedlings: “Assimilation”. The cost of assimilation may seem high – but less than the cost to the country – and the émigré – of its absence. An important (and hard to define) cost is the émigré’s joy of feeling at home in that culture, but another cost is to a worker’s productivity and therefore the nation’s. Discussing the effect of WWI and its aftermath, Levenstein notes in passing the difficulty of applying economic conditions alone to food history. What was lost and what was retained was complex, affected by culture, ambitions, economy, technology. He was prompted to study the phenomena because, as a father, he had already recognized food choices as rational and irrational. This is writ larger than the family table, of course: the elusive definition of vitamins led to a “vitamin consciousness” in which “rational concerns [were] fostered by irrational advertising.” But then, as he observes in the introduction, what could be more irrational than dying from lack of food even as a prisoner refused to eat what his captors did?

    He observes that

    wage differentials between skilled and unskilled workers remained wide in the years during and after the war, but the great gap between the living standards of the two main component of the working class, the immigrant unskilled and the native- or northern European born skilled, narrowed. Immigration was effectively cut off by the war, and after a brief spurt in 1919-20, by Congress. Although cheap labor continued to migrate to the industrial centers from the South, Canada, and Mexico, the pressure for jobs at the bottom which had helped keep the wages of unskilled low was thereby considerably relieved. From 1914 until 1929, then, the real wages of American workers improved significantly” (174-5).

    As the economic pressure relaxed, in some ways homogeneity increased. Meals were defined by ethnicity but also by culture – advertising, availability, ease. Economics were important, perhaps, but those years also led to a blending of cultures at the table. The number of foreign born in a state like Nebraska was large in 1920 (I’ve seen it cited as over 50%). By the 1950s, the greatest concerns were shared – a hail storm, a tornado or gatherings for the high school games and music events. Of course, with the pattern so firmly set, the occasional outlier (the war bride, the Cuban refugee) was easily assimilated. What we saw as multiculturalism growing up (a delight in differences my parents often remarked upon) was lightly laid atop a powerful emotional bond cemented in World War II where those villagers fought beside urban dwellers in the great melting pot of the war experience.

    By 9/11 levels of immigration had grown. That day, which I’m sure in some baby boomers’ minds was an affirmation of the heroism and unity of their parents’ experience in the forties and perspectives in the ’50s, appears to have been a return to the chants and revised history of the sixties for others. (I suspect George Bush and Bill Ayers, not of different eras, had totally different frames for these events.)

    Today, responses are conflicted and often angry. The large number of immigrants in the last 30 years – like those at the turn of the century – may well pull back from assimilation as they first step into this chaos. We need to know the nation’s identity if we expect others to respect it and join it. Many do, but I’m not sure the majority does.

    Slowing immigration is self-conscious, self-aware, understands human nature and the stakes. It isn’t xenophobic, merely aware melding is a multi-generational task. If a nation is worth assimilating to, it must be able to define, assert, defend its own identity. (And what is an identity without borders?)

    And as for the good of assimilation: why would we immigrate to a place to which we didn’t want to assimilate, that our children might say, yes, they are . . . in this case, Americans. We might like to visit many another place and see many another culture, but part of the pleasure of a visit is that we don’t feel at ease. The pleasure of home is we do – and isn’t that ease the result of assimilation?

     

    18 Responses to “Food 2 – Assimilation 1”

    1. dearieme Says:

      Whether they assimilate, and whether disparities lessen, might depend on who they are, might it not?

    2. Mike K Says:

      I grew up in Chicago and there was a real melting pot then. My high school girlfriend had a grandmother who spoke only Polish and did not like that I was Irish. We went to different colleges and the grandmother got her wish. My uncle was English Anglican and took in his orphaned Catholic niece, but insisted she go to public school as he was concerned that Catholic school would prejudice her against him. My high school buddies and I all had Jewish girlfriends at one point, who considered us a bit exotic and a sort of mild rebellion as their parents were upset at them dating boys who were not Jewish. One girl was ordered not to see me again when her father, a state Senator, found out.

      Later, in California, my closest friend in medical school was second generation from Mexico and his mother did not speak English. His wife was the daughter of a partner at Price Waterhouse and her parents were a bit ashamed of him. When her parents were in town (They lived in Connecticut) it was obvious they were uncomfortable with him. They had met at Stanford.

      The present flood of illegals will be indigestible for decades as they have provided a useful tool for politicians.

    3. Will Says:

      I don’t think I could manage on the bland English food of my Father’s parents. I’m remembering they were highly suspicious of dishes prepared in the Southern European style of my Mother’s people. Nobody knew what the Polish people ate. But, Catholic or Protestant or Jewish, everyone was encouraged and seemed to want to become American. My Mother always bemoaned the fact that we didn’t learn the language. All that diversity we now are told, isn’t, and has to be eradicated. The new immigrant’s have a much different perspective, I find.

    4. Jonathan Says:

      The present flood of illegals will be indigestible for decades as they have provided a useful tool for politicians.

      Let’s hope they don’t become our Palestinians. They probably won’t, since at the rate we’re going there soon won’t be money to subsidize them (or to subsidize the Palestinians for that matter).

    5. Ginny Says:

      Isn’t part of the indigestibility when the draw isn’t work but welfare and the attitude isn’t, well, this is my choice and it’s a big one – indeed, a multi-generational choice – or why isn’t this just like where I came from, except for what I didn’t like? (Citizenship like marriage has been devalued as it has seemed less like an “all in” proposition.)

      One of my brighter students came from Venezuela; he was complaining that sometimes people treated him differently. He referred to the American treatment of the Japanese – he said his tutor had been telling him about it. I told him if he could find a culture that didn’t see outsiders as “different” – hell, we didn’t use the word for “people” to apply to only our tribe – he should tell me about it. He did seem to think about it. I’ve seen him later and he was quite friendly. I think we need more reality checks – and of course less encouraging of grievances by politicians.

    6. Mike K Says:

      “I’m remembering they were highly suspicious of dishes prepared in the Southern European style of my Mother’s people.”

      I don;t know if you have watched “Its a Wonderful Life” as much as I have but there is an interesting spot where Potter refers to the Italians buying homes with loans from Bailey Brothers as “Garlic Eaters.” I can remember when garlic was considered quite exotic.

    7. Mrs. Davis Says:

      Trigger warning. Potentially non-PC comments ahead.

      This is an extremely complex topic. Some have never assimilated and every one is fine with it. They have accommodated to the prevalent culture or when it threatens to overwhelm them have removed themselves to more remote locations where their culture can be maintained. They have no interest in becoming the predominant culture as long as they can live as they wish in peace. I am thinking of the Amish and Hutterites as well as the Hassidic in the Catskills. However, while the Amish and Hutterites have reached accommodations with the English culture, I understand that there is some resentment toward the extent to which the Hasidim have become reliant on the welfare state to support themselves.

      There was also severe repression of German culture in the US as a result of WWI. I can’t cite it on the internet, but I believe there were at least five daily German language newspapers published in Cincinnati before World War I. Afterwards one only. Every ethnic group has gone through this when reaching sufficient nujkbers. Growing up in the ’50’s I certainly recall the use of derogatory terms to refer to almost every ethnic minority in the country. This was part of the bullying of the time that forced minorities to become Americans. Barry Levinson’s films, especially Avalon, show this process for the Jews in Baltimore.

      Avalon also show the generational aspects of assimilation. The first generation, while in many respect the most American ideologically (after all they decided to leave their home for the benefits of America about which they had first hand knowledge), still want their children to marry within the immigrant community. The second generation, the ones with the parents who speak funny, do everything they can to appear American, if only to escape mockery and bullying from peers in public schools. The third generation, comfortable Americans they, react by identifying with the romantic grandparents. The fourth intermarries without a thought.

      Ethnic identity also remains stronger in different parts of the country. It seems to me the closer the location in the US is to Europe, the stronger the ethnic identity. Boston was a virulently bigoted place in the 70’s. By the time you get to California, things are pretty homogenized. Our millenial daughters grew up in the SF Bay Area and one attended a college in SoCal. She went back east to work in publishing in NYC. One day someone commented that someone else was Jewish. “How can you tell?” she asked. The guy’s name was Goldberg. That’s how clueless they are in Caliphornia.

      I am convinced there is a certain point at which our ability to assimilate is overwhelmed by the number to be assimilated. Regions of Caliphornia are at this point because of immigration and emigration. The assimilation from the 1880’s to the 1960’s was a lot rougher than we recall when watching those WWII movies where there was one of each in the platoon but they call got along. That war did do a lot to make us much more of a nation, but it wasn’t painless. Multi-culturalism has done a lot to postpone assimilation of the post 1964 immigrants. It is time to abandon multi-culturalism and put a hold in immigration, especially of the unskilled. Let’s assimilate those here into a single nation before we reach the breaking point. Then let’s adopt a rational policy neither as exclusionary as the 1890′-1920’s nor as romantic as 1964.

    8. Mike K Says:

      “There was also severe repression of German culture in the US as a result of WWI.”

      My uncle told me that, prior to WWI, there was a portrait of the Kaiser in Chicago public schools.

      The German community around St Louis was an important consideration for Lincoln in the 1860 election. Bates was the leader of the St Louis area and was one of the “Team of Rivals” in Lincoln’s government.

      My father was a dictionary of derogatory terms for others, even including our own Irish which were “flannel mouthed turkeys” when in disfavor.

      I spent six months in Boston in 1965 as a medical student at the Mass General hospital. We had an Italian interpreter ninth Emergency Ward. The North End was full of second and third generation Italians who did not speak English, much as Hegewisch which had shop names and even street signs in Polish when I was a boy.

      Television has also had a lot to do with the loss of regional accents. When I moved to California in 1956, I could hear a distinct California accent, somewhat like the “Valley Girl” parody later. I’m sure I also had a midwestern accent like the one I can now hear in my sister’s speech.

    9. Ginny Says:

      Sure – it was difficult and complex. The Missouri Synod Lutheran church down the street stopped preaching in German during WWI. My mother’s antagonism toward the Germans (and constant sense that their culture was inferior) was made up of parts of patriotism and her feuds with my father’s mother, whose first language was German and who was a pretty difficult mother-in-law. My point is that the reasons for the move should include a recognition of a new allegiance and that the quantity needs to be kept manageable. And the generational divides are important – my mother-in-law spoke Czech and claimed she didn’t; her son had to learn it in college; my children all took their four semesters, but with varying degrees of delight. And, of course, that whole process left me (3/4 pre Revolutionary war) sometimes the unassimilated.

      And when we watch those movies from the 30’s and 40’s good many ethnic slurs are unself-consciously (and often uncritically as well) handed out.

      I agree with Mrs. Davis, but still think that we need to remember what we know – income disparity is likely to be greater in periods of high immigration; it takes generations to assimilate; assimilation should be seen as a good for the émigré as well as the host.

    10. Sgt. Mom Says:

      “By the time you get to California, things are pretty homogenized.”
      Pretty much, yep, in comparison with some other places in the US. I recall going to Air Force basic training in 1977, and meeting trainees from elsewhere (East and South, I think) who were mildly astonished when I told them that my best high school friends were Jewish and Catholic. In their hometowns there had, apparently, not been that much mixing along those lines.

    11. Will Says:

      It’s been a while since I’ve seen it. I’ll have to check.

      One of my bosses years ago told me his father had a portrait of Mussolini in the house. When the kids got older, they harangued him until it was moved to the cellar. Apparently, it was a real bone of contention within the family. Big arguments out under the grape arbor once the vino got flowing. It was still there after the old man passed. I offered to buy it, (what a great gag!), but he just laughed and said no.

      My own maternal grandparents never learned to speak English that well. They came just after WWI, escaping their own dictator. No portraits of him, though. The only time his name was mentioned was preceding spit, or as derogatory term for someone.

    12. Grurray Says:

      “much as Hegewisch which had shop names and even street signs in Polish when I was a boy.”

      There are lots of signs in Polski on the Northwest Side. Every Labor Day they have a big street festival, and English speakers are outnumbered. Many came over after Solidarity and the fall of the Berlin Wall, along with other Eastern & Central Europeans.
      I used to get haircuts from a woman from Belarus. Big hockey fan. I’d barely heard of the place until I met her.

    13. TangoMan Says:

      I liked your essay.

      It isn’t xenophobic, merely aware melding is a multi-generational task.

      You use the present tense and I argue that you should use the past-tense. Here’s what happened in the past. In keeping with the culinary theme, in the past we took Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Barbera red wines, and over generations we mixed them and came out with a unique, blended, product.

      In the present we are taking that unique, blended, red wine and we’re adding sunflower oil, olive oil and peanut oil and we’re not getting a new, blended, product. No matter how much we swirl around the product, it’s not blending. When we take a hands off approach we see the wine and the various oils stratify.

      What worked for various wines doesn’t work when oils are added to the wine.

      I believe I’ve already shared the story of a few people I know, one came here from Eastern Europe and he’s a total nut about early American history. He’s slipped into an American identity to such a degree that he’s completely adopted the view that those Early Americans are his people. His own heritage is, essentially, neglected. I’ve never seen this type of assimilation from any minority I know, when a black African immigrant comes to America, he, in my experience, never embraces the white history, he instead begins to feel the burden of past slavery, of Jim Crow, he feels racism and oppression directed at him. Does anyone have personal stories which rebut what I’ve written here? I’d love to read them.

      Although cheap labor continued to migrate to the industrial centers from the South, Canada, and Mexico, the pressure for jobs at the bottom which had helped keep the wages of unskilled low was thereby considerably relieved. From 1914 until 1929, then, the real wages of American workers improved significantly”

      Of note, the period beginning in the 20s and extending to the early 60s saw the white-black wage gap close significantly more than the closing which occurred after the passing of the CRA. This shouldn’t be a surprise to the readers of a blog which knows the work of Hayek, but for most people this comes as a surprise. Who would have thought that labor scarcity would elevate the wages of blacks more than legal restrictions government placed on the labor market.

      The distinction between rich and poor was large in 1900, less large in 1950, larger again now. My husband’s tax accountant friend keeps arguing that taxes made the difference – so we need more of them.

      The accountant is wrong. He’s completely missing the point regarding how market forces work to allocate the product of wealth creation. Labor scarcity drives up wages and reduces profits. With this simple lever you can affect income inequality metrics.

    14. TangoMan Says:

      There was also severe repression of German culture in the US as a result of WWI. I can’t cite it on the internet, but I believe there were at least five daily German language newspapers published in Cincinnati before World War I. Afterwards one only. Every ethnic group has gone through this when reaching sufficient nujkbers. Growing up in the ’50’s I certainly recall the use of derogatory terms to refer to almost every ethnic minority in the country. This was part of the bullying of the time that forced minorities to become Americans. Barry Levinson’s films, especially Avalon, show this process for the Jews in Baltimore.

      People changed family names, they stopped speaking their native language in the home, they did a lot of shedding of old identity and assuming a new identity. These were internal reforms. The external reforms to which they were subjected included numerous expressions of discrimination, in jobs sought, in housing sought, in associations sought. There were also the tools of mockery, name calling, bullying and other methods of social persuasion.

      None of the above was pretty, but it was quite effective in stripping away the armor of ethnic identity and preparing people to adopt towards an American identity.

      Those tools are now taken out of our toolbox. How do you build something, like we did with American identity, if you no longer can use tools?

    15. JNorth Says:

      TangoMan, you just need to add an emulsifier (egg whites would work) and they will blend just fine, red wine mayo. /s

    16. TangoMan Says:

      TangoMan, you just need to add an emulsifier (egg whites would work) and they will blend just fine, red wine mayo.

      Imagine a world without chickens/eggs. /s

      The problem is we haven’t yet found such an emulsifier. We’ve lived side by side with African-Americans for centuries and there is still massive separation. The CRA was supposed to, kind of, turn blacks into a darker version of white Americans. Didn’t work out.

    17. Anonymous Says:

      Tango,
      Regarding labor scarcity and its effects: You did not note the substitution of capital for labor and the incentive to innovate in that direction. Any economic dislocation has a general effect of both windfall profits and losses. If the labor scarcity was largely unanticipated then likely the losses will be larger than the profits. Often labor shortages or other market changes for that matter are generally anticipated and profits can more than offset losses. It is a creative process. and people shifting into capital allocation from say labor are part of it as well. There is no established long term effect on profits from capital-labor substitution in either direction. I could have noted that this holds for resources as well.

      Perhaps our problem with trying to blend our ingredients is that we have perverse incentives which we have created. Certainly the doctrine of multiculturalism is one of those. So are insulation from market forces through welfare, social safety net, whatever you want to call it and affirmative action which breeds the entitlement mentality. If we don’t believe that our collective heritage is singularly better (not perfect) than all others, we have little basis to insist on assimilation as the requirement. The progressives have certainly sold that and from which the other perversities flow.

      I am of one-quarter German ancestry, but I realize that we not only got skilled labor from that culture, we got the Frankfurt School and a world view that is devoid of the John Lockes’ understanding of liberty and law as king. Nevertheless, here I am a third generation kraut (et al.) who doesn’t buy any of that political, ideological or philosophical baggage. Too many counter examples of blacks and hispanics who have done likewise to insist there are irreconcilable rigidities among the unassimilated. The culture can not assimilate much of anything in its present dysfunctional state requiring a serious overhaul. The cancer is deep.

      Death6

    18. TangoMan Says:

      You did not note the substitution of capital for labor and the incentive to innovate in that direction.

      I have written about this before though. This is a fantastically creative process. When there is a need, someone will find a way. Capital substituting for low skilled labor as wages increase helps alleviate labor scarcity and also creates some higher value jobs for those who design and service and operate the machines. Replace 100 with 10 better paid people. None of this happens when society subsidizes low wage labor.

      Perhaps our problem with trying to blend our ingredients is that we have perverse incentives which we have created. Certainly the doctrine of multiculturalism is one of those. So are insulation from market forces through welfare, social safety net, whatever you want to call it and affirmative action which breeds the entitlement mentality. If we don’t believe that our collective heritage is singularly better (not perfect) than all others, we have little basis to insist on assimilation as the requirement. The progressives have certainly sold that and from which the other perversities flow.

      Completely agree. The problem now is that vested interests, which benefit from the existing order, will fight to the bitter end in order to protect their interests, taking all of society down with them.

      Nevertheless, here I am a third generation kraut (et al.) who doesn’t buy any of that political, ideological or philosophical baggage. Too many counter examples of blacks and hispanics who have done likewise to insist there are irreconcilable rigidities among the unassimilated.

      You’re not visibly different though. Blacks, Hispanics, etc can be individually successful but they also benefit from quotas and other distortions due to their identity. In a homogeneous society there are always people on the bottom, just like in every other society, but there is nothing which distinguishes the people on the bottom. Every large family could have someone who is at the bottom of society’s hierarchy, the black sheep so to speak. In a heterogeneous society though you tend to find identifiable groups who cluster at different points along the hierarchy. This always begs the question – “Why is MY GROUP stuck on the bottom and that other GROUP hardly has any people at the bottom? Something is rotten in society. We need to fix it.”

      The culture can not assimilate much of anything in its present dysfunctional state requiring a serious overhaul. The cancer is deep.

      Sometimes you can cut out a cancer. Other times cancer kills the patient. I don’t see how we can cure our cancerous culture.