Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Russians, Italians, Poles...

Peter Schrag in an April 2, 2006 Sacramento Bee article about his new book, California: America's High-Stakes Experiment, quotes a once major political figure as saying:

"...races most alien to the body of the American people and from the lowest and most illiterate classes ... and do not promise well for the standard of civilization in the United States. ... That kind of immigrants \ reduce the rate of wages by ruinous competition, and then take their savings out of the country, are not desirable. They are mere birds of passage. They form an element in the population which regards home as a foreign country, instead of that in which they live and earn money. They have no interest or stake in the country, and they never become American citizens."

It was a quote by Rep. (later Sen.) Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts about Russians, Italians, Poles and Hungarians then immigrating by the millions a century ago. Similar fears were also being bandied about by other major political figures at the time.

California's immigration problems and other challenges are examined by Schrag, as he explores whether or not the "Golden State" will remain the national trendsetter it was once supposed to be. Schrag states, "Roughly 26 percent of California's population is foreign born, far and away the highest percentage in the nation and the highest in California since the generation after the Gold Rush; one fourth of our children come to school from homes where English isn't the primary language and where, in many cases, no English is spoken at all."

On the flip-side, Schrag goes on to say, "In fact, today's new immigrants - Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern - generally follow the same paths as their predecessors. By the second generation, there are few Latinos not fluent in English; by the third only a small minority still speaks any Spanish."

* Peter Schrag's book, "California: America's High-Stakes Experiment," to be published by the University of California Press. © by Peter Schrag. Schrag is a contributing editor and former editorial page editor of The Bee and can be reached at Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852-0779 or at pschrag@sacbee.com.