Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin, in Washington. Neal Conan is on assignment.

The Senate could vote as early as tomorrow on a new and controversial immigration bill. The Senate version includes a guest worker program, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S., and tougher security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border.

If the Senate bill passes tomorrow, it will immediately face strong opposition from the House of Representatives. The House plan for immigration overhaul focuses almost exclusively on enforcement.

The debate in Congress has been as contentious as any in recent years, but it also seems to have sparked an equally intense national conversation about what it means to be an American. It's a cliché rooted in truth that the United States has always been a nation of immigrants. But throughout our history there has been ambivalence about immigration. How many should come? Why are they coming? What will they do when they come here?

Our ambivalence is reflected in our refusal to embrace a single metaphor. Are we a melting pot, a phrase President Bush used last week in his national address on immigration, a beautiful tapestry, or as some would have it, a salad bowl?

Today on TALK OF THE NATION we'll talk about assimilation. What exactly does that mean? How much emphasis should our government place on national identity and national unity? How should that be fostered?

Later in the program, our weekly visit with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. On the agenda, the troubles of Representative Bill Jefferson, Ray Nagin's resurgence in New Orleans, and remembering former Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen.

If you have questions about this week's top political stories you can e-mail us now, talk@npr.org. But first, assimilation.

What does it mean to you? How did you or your forbearers become assimilated? What helped? What hurt? Call us with your stories. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And joining us are two people who have thought a lot and written a lot about this topic. Linda Chavez is Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity. She served as Director for the Civil Rights Commission in the Reagan administration. Linda Chavez joins us here in studio 3A. Welcome.

Ms. LINDA CHAVEZ (Political Analyst and Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity): Glad to be here.

Also with us, Bill Hing. He's a professor of law and Asian-American Studies at the University of California at Davis, and author of, Defining America Through Immigration Policy. His new book, Deporting our Souls: Morality, Values, and Immigration Policy, is due out next month.

Bill Hing joins us from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to you, Professor Hing.

Professor BILL HING (Law and Asian-American Studies, University of California, Davis): Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

MARTIN: Let me start with you, Linda Chavez. Now I'm sure many people know your background, but for those who don't, would you just tell us a little bit about your family history. Your father was Mexican-American; that's why you're Linda Chavez instead of a Linda Smith or O'Connell.

Ms. CHAVEZ: Right.

MARTIN: How did he come here?

Ms. CHAVEZ: But my mother was Velma McKenna(ph)...

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CHAVEZ: ...so I am the product of intermarriage in an earlier generation, back in the 1940s. My father's family came to New Mexico in 1601. They were kicked out again with the Pueblo Revolt, and came back again in the early 1700s.

My mother's family, some of them were from England and probably settled here in the 1700s. The only immigrants in my family actually come from Ireland, and they came in 1874; that's when Katherine Dolan(ph) and Michael McKenna(ph) hit America's shores.

MARTIN: And, when you say assimilation, what are you thinking about?

Ms. CHAVEZ: Well, what I'm thinking about is beginning to think of yourself as American. And of course we've had this huge debate throughout American history, and certainly Bill knows this and has written about it, as have I. We're never very happy with the immigrants who are coming at the present. And that doesn't matter if we're talking about the mid-1800s or the late 1800s or the early 1900s. We tend to love the immigrants of our grandparents' generation, but are very, very skeptical about the ones that are coming today.

MARTIN: But when you say assimilation, what do you mean specifically? You've written quite a lot about that. In fact, you had, the latest thing I've seen you wrote, was a piece that you posted on townhall.com, where the headline was Assimilation is the Key.

But what are you actually talking about? You're talking about learning the language, I assume.

Ms. CHAVEZ: Learning the language. That's first and foremost. I think that until you have learned the language you cannot be a full member of society. You can't participate in the civic life of the country. And so learning the language is number one.

It also means learning to identify yourself as American. It means learning about the civics and history of this nation, learning to respect the rule of law, learning to accept all of the traditions that are part of this great nation. It means tolerance.

Many people who come here come from societies that are very intolerant. One of the things that you think about when you think about what it means to be American is to believe that even though you may disagree with someone, the person has a right to disagree here in the United States. We have a very important First Amendment. It means to be religiously tolerant, ethnically and racially tolerant. It means to respect women. That is very, very high up on the list of things that sort of define American character.

MARTIN: I'm going to bring Bill Hing in here in just a moment, but you know, some of the native-born Americans have not always respected those particular parameters. I mean, there are groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, whose sole purpose has been to terrorize persons who are not of the, kind of the majority background, as, however they define that.

Ms. CHAVEZ: Absolutely. And by the way, some of the sentiments that we reflect, the sort of "know nothingism" of the 19th Century we're hearing again in today's immigration debate. You asked me earlier about my family. I get lots and lots of e-mail now because I'm writing a lot about immigration and I support the McCain approach to immigration reform. And most of the hate mail that I get tells me to go back to Mexico, even though, you know, as I say the last person who came from Mexico was in 1701. Nobody ever tells me to go back to Ireland, interestingly.

MARTIN: I wonder why that is! Bill Hing, what's your family's journey?

Prof. HING: Well, my mother actually was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1901, and the...

MARTIN: Far away Scranton.

Prof. HING: Far away. Actually, she returned to China at the age of three to, because her mother took her back to take care of her mother in China, who was dying at the time. My father was born in southern China, where most early Chinese immigrants actually came from; from southern China, the Guangzhou, Canton Province. And he immigrated in 1917, as the son of a U.S. citizen, because his father had preceded him before to the United States.

MARTIN: And, but how then did he come to be born in China? So his father had gone back at some point?

Prof. HING: Had gone back to China and fathered my father. And so my father came in 1917 and he landed in San Francisco, where he thought the city was too big. And so he ended up in Arizona. His father had worked on the Southern Pacific Railroad and he went, so my father went to Phoenix and he befriended a wealthy flourmill owner working in a restaurant and got a loan and opened a small supply store in a copper mining town in southern Arizona called Superior, Arizona. So I grew up in a town that was predominantly Mexican-American, actually. It was a population of 5,000 people.

And so I grew up in what I consider a pretty diverse community with Mexican-Americans, my Chinese-American family, many Native Americans, and some African-Americans as well.

MARTIN: Did you speak Chinese at home?

Prof. HING: We spoke Chinese at home, and we spoke Spanish. Our customers in the grocery store were Mexican. I learned how to speak Spanish probably at the same rate that I was learning how to speak English. And I remember - so I grew up, I was born in 1949 - I remember playing on playgrounds where Spanish was forbidden to be spoken at school. And so being the maverick that I was then and continue to be, I decided to challenge those rules, and so I spoke Spanish on the playgrounds.

MARTIN: Did you ever get in trouble?

Prof. HING: I sure did.

MARTIN: What was your punishment for speaking (speaks foreign language) language?

Prof. HING: Well, it was generally staying after school and having to stay in study hall or clean up, that type of thing.

MARTIN: And when you use the word assimilation, what does it mean to you? And when other people use it, what do you think they're saying? I guess I have the impression that people mean different things when they use that word.

Prof. HING: I think that's true. Actually, much of what Linda said I agree with. But let me begin by saying this: you know, we are a nation of immigrants. But we're also a nation that loves to debate immigration policy. And that's been true since the inception of the country, beginning with President Adams.

And so, I think that we've always debated the most recent group of immigrants. And we didn't - Benjamin Franklin didn't like the German speakers, and certainly in the first decade of the 1900s, the country was upset with the large number of Russians and Southern and Eastern Europeans that entered the country. And I think that what most - what many people think when they think assimilation, is grounded or rooted in a Western European image of the United States. And that's what many people - not all - many people believe immigrants should become…

MARTIN: But what do you mean by that? You mean where the classic attire, don't wear ethnic clothing. What, lose your accent? What do you think that means?

Prof. HING: I mean more than that. I mean - I actually mean - assimilation to many people means becoming white. And obviously, that's physically impossible for Asians and Latinos and Africans who immigrate to the United States. But for some reason, people - I think many people continue to think of the United States as, in a Western European, certainly European-centric mode.

When I talk about assimilation, I actually prefer using terms. I don't mind the term Americanization. I prefer using the term, integration, civic integration. And what I mean by that is where immigrants understand that they have a responsibility, but that Americans, all Americans understand that we have a responsibility also to the immigrants that are coming.

And the approach is to encourage rather than browbeat them into wanting to take part, wanting to learn English. Wanting - taking interest in the schooling of their children, taking interest in what's happening in their neighborhoods, taking interest in what's happening in their church and other aspects of the community. So, my idea of integration and Americanization is one of welcome and encouragement rather than browbeating people into conforming to a certain way.

MARTIN: Bill Hing, we need to take a short break. We're talking about assimilation in America. What does it mean, and how important is it? And we're taking your calls at 800-989-TALK. You can send us e-mail. The address is talk@npr.org.

I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan who's on assignment.

In the debate over illegal immigration, the word assimilation means different things to different people. Today, we're talking about how to define assimilation, what it means to immigrants and what it means to you. Our guests are Linda Chavez - chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity - and Bill Hing, professor of law and Asian-American Studies at the University of California at Davis.

You're invited to join the discussion. How important is assimilation? If you have a story about fitting in, in America, give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And let's go to Newport News, Virginia, and Joe. Joe, what's on your mind?

JOE (Caller): How you doing?

MARTIN: Good.

JOE: I think - I agree with most of what your panelists are saying as far as, you know, using the buzzword assimilation. You know, when you're in Rome, do as the Romans do. But I think the real issue here, it all comes back to economics. You know, years ago, when we had, you know, vast, low-skilled paying jobs where you could still make a living wage, it was great. You know, you could pretty much, you know, let the floodgates open and all, in a manner of speaking.

But, the bottom line is today, we don't have that luxury of having to allow a lot of low-skilled workers into the United States, because everything was moved overseas. And the economic issue of it is, you know, a lot of - me being a landlord, I get a lot of Hispanics wanting to rent my houses from me, but I can't rent to them, because they can't afford to pay me what I got to pay -plus add a little bit of profit - to pay for the mortgage payment. You know, then you got car insurance issues, then you've got the healthcare issue, you know.

MARTIN: So, Joe, if I could just interrupt for a second. You believe that it really isn't' so much an issue of the culture and the concern that people have about immigration. You think it's really more the poverty, the…

JOE: Yeah, I mean…

MARTIN: …groups that are coming in, you feel are more poor. And, therefore, people are worried about the impact they're going to have on the economy and that the culture is really a small part of that.

JOE: Well, it's a big part, but the real issue is truly, the economics of it. Now, I've lived up and down the whole East Coast and I've dealt with Puerto Ricans when I lived in Connecticut. You know, you've got good and bad in all nationalities.

I've worked with Vietnamese all the time - great, hardworking people. I've worked with Hispanics of all sorts - great, hardworking people. But it's just the sheer economics of it, you know.

MARTIN: Okay, Joe, thanks so much for calling, appreciate it.

JOE: Okay, thank you.

MARTIN: Well, Linda Chavez, Joe kind of touched on an issue, which is - and you've written about this repeatedly. You have written repeatedly that Hispanics assimilate at the same rate as other groups, and faster even than some groups have in the past. And yet there is this persistent belief that they don't want to - that they don't want to speak English, that they don't want to adhere to the cultural norms of the United States. Where do you think this view comes from?

Ms. CHAVEZ: Well, it comes from the confusion that's caused by so many newcomers. When you encounter somebody and they are brand new - they've just been here for six months or even a year, particularly if you're talking about somebody who's already in the workforce - they may not know English. In fact, the Italians, Greeks, Poles, Jews, Germans, and others who came at various points in our history also didn't learn the language in the immigrant generation. Their children learned the language.

And all of the evidence - and I've been collecting this data, I've been writing about this subject for 20 years. I wrote a book about Hispanic assimilation in 1991. Used data then that it can - still today, is true. And what it shows is by the second generation, the children of immigrants learn English.

By the third generation, 80 percent of Hispanics no longer even speak Spanish. They're just like the Italians and the Germans and others. They don't speak they're grandparents' language anymore. They're basically English monolingual, and that's - by the way, that data is from a Kaiser Family foundation survey of Latinos in the U.S.

MARTIN: But people don't believe you. I know when you posted your…

Ms. CHAVEZ: Mm hmm.

MARTIN: …commentary on townhall.com, which is titled Assimilation is the Key, it was dated May 17, 2006. These are some of the responses that you got. This is a conservative Web…

Ms. CHAVEZ: Right…

MARTIN: …a conservative Web-based publication…

Ms. CHAVEZ: …people who should be agreeing with me, right…

MARTIN: And you are a conservative…

Ms. CHAVEZ: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Former Regan administration official, Senate candidate and so on -Republican Senate candidate. And these are some of the comments you received: “What planet are you living on?” “Ms. Chavez should go to Mexico.” “This is our country, it belongs to the citizens of the United States. Our country does not belong to Mexico.” “Ms. Chavez has to understand that if she is on the side of illegals in Mexico, she should take her talents and go to Mexico.” Even as you pointed out, that you're families been here since the 18th century…

Ms. CHAVEZ: And I don't speak Spanish, by the way. I'd be up a creek.

MARTIN: So, but why do you think people don't believe you? You say these are the facts and that this is the same as every other immigrant group, but people don't buy it.

Ms. CHAVEZ: Well, they didn't believe it about the immigrants in earlier generations. All you have to do - and I'm sure, you know, Bill writes about this in his book, I wrote about it in mine - take out some of the debates that were on the floor of the United States Congress in 1917, when they were debating immigration bills.

Bill talks about all of those European Americans, well they weren't thought of as Europeans. Italians were actually called blacks. They were not even considered white, they were dark skinned, Southern and Eastern Europeans look different from the native stock, Northern European and British isles descendants.

And so, you know, it is very much the same. And, again, it is confused by the numbers. When you're talking about an Hispanic population in the U.S. today of about 40 million people, half of all of the adults in that population have come within the last 20 years and are immigrants. And so, when you're looking at that group, sure, they are not yet fluent in English.

The question is whether their children will be. And the fact is that all the evidence suggests that they will be. All of the evidence that we've been able to gather on this suggests they're doing exactly what other immigrants have.

MARTIN: I'm going to take another call. But when we - and we're going to talk to this young man, but I want to ask you whether you think the country should be more proactive in assisting immigrants to assimilate.

But first, let's go to San Antonio and Darrell(ph). Darrell, what's on your mind?

DARRELL (Caller): (Unintelligible) Hello.

MARTIN: Hello, Darrell.

DARRELL: Hi, I'm on the radio, hold on. Hello.

MARTIN: Darrell, what's on your mind?

DARRELL: Oh, hi, I was just calling to answer your assimilation question. I guess it's more of an in-home, like cultural things. I'm an African-American student, and I've spent most of my, like, education in like, all white surroundings, like my high school was predominately white.

My parents were in the military, so whenever we'd move, we'd move to places and the children would predominantly be predominately white. And so, whenever I'd go home to visit my grandparents and my extended family, I'd be out of place with them, because I wouldn't, like, I wouldn't speak the same slang - if you called Ebonics or not, I wouldn't dress the same way.

I was always accused of being, of speaking white and dressing white. And then when I would go back to wherever we were stationed at or at home, I mean, I stick out like a sore thumb, because I'm black, but not naturally.

But, like the situation that I called about initially was an experience I had on swim team. Like, I was the one of like four black kids, like in the aquatics program in the district. And like, one of the trends was to dye your hair blond. It was like - just like, I guess a unity thing, or what not, I guess -chlorine-swimming hair. But, like it didn't look natural and it made you feel uncomfortable - well, made me feel uncomfortable, because…

MARTIN: Did you do it?

DARRELL: Yeah.

MARTIN: You dyed your hair blond?

DARRELL: Yeah, ended up cutting it off, too because it - just really didn't like it.

MARTIN: Well, Mary J. Blige thinks it's cute.

DARRELL: Yeah, Mary J. Blige has great hair, though.

MARTIN: What message do you draw from all that, Darrell? That what, fitting in comes at a price? Sometimes at a price of self-hatred?

DARRELL: Yeah, well, self-hatred, just being comfortable in your own skin. Like, I guess to assimilate, you have to disassociate yourself with what is home or what's natural to fit in. And, like you really need to learn how to either be totally comfortable with not knowing where you're from or just not wanting to know, or being able to play, like, both sides of the spectrum when you go home.

You pick up the accent and you do the clothes and you assume culture, or you ethnic perceptions. And then when you're not, then I guess you are - as the gentleman that you're talking with has said - become whiter, or more white.

MARTIN: Darrell, you know, it's very windy where you are, so I'm going to have to let you go in a minute.

DARRELL: Sorry.

MARTIN: But I did want to ask you one thing. Is it really so - you know, I could argue, on the one hand, that you are uncomfortable in your own skin. I could also argue that you are culturally bilingual, that you actually have a skill, which is to fit in in a lot of different places. And that that could be an asset as opposed to a liability. What do you think about that? Darrell?

DARRELL: Yeah, I'm thinking, sorry. You know, it could be an asset. It is an asset, like in professional situations, where I've had to talk correctly and do things correctly. I'm more comfortable in, like knowing I'll get hired over someone who doesn't assume those same skills. But it's - I guess the price is I guess, confidence in myself. Like, when you know something, like it's an innate sense of self. And I don't have that because I had to assume too much, I think.

MARTIN: Okay, Darrell, thank you so much for calling.

DARRELL: Thank you.

MARTIN: Bill Hing, what about Darrell's point that perhaps - I'm going to broaden it out beyond where he was taking it as an individual - but that perhaps the price for fitting in for some has been very high. And it's been to deny aspects of self that have made people feel kind of unsure of who they are. What would you say about that?

Prof. HING: Well, a couple of reactions. I think that when you speak with -when I speak with immigrants, they have different reactions to the idea of Americanization and what they need to do.

But let me say this. First of all, I have never met any adult immigrants who do not want their children to learn English and become a part of United States' society. And, in fact, most, I think, adult immigrants, as well, want to become part of the United States society and want to learn English, as evidenced by the long waiting list for citizenship classes and English classes.

But I agree with you that Darrell, being bi-cultural, has a lot to offer and I - the most - I love meeting new immigrants. I want to tell you, the most exciting group of immigrants that I work with are the young adults, because they have this bilingual ability, they're smart, they've retained their native language and they can speak English fluently. They're so talented, they have so much to contribute to our society, that it excites me when I meet them, because I understand how much they're going to offer to the country and how much they can help bring the country forward economically and socially.

MARTIN: But, Linda Chavez, I wanted to ask you, though - you and Bill Hing both agree that your view is that the vast majority of immigrants really want - they want to learn the national language, they want to adopt whatever the national norms are; and yet, one of the things that pushed a lot of people's buttons in recent weeks have been the very large demonstrations in support of immigration reform in many, many cities around the country where people were waving, you know, Mexican flags or flags from countries other than the United States. And I'm sure you know that many people were offended by that, and they take that as a sign that these are folks whose attachment is not fully to the country of -to the country that they're living in.

Ms. CHAVEZ: I actually wrote a piece about that for The New York Times. In fact, right after the first demonstrations, when there were so many Mexicans, Salvadoran and Guatemalan and other flags, I said, you know, if you want to stay here, you've got to start bringing out the American flags. And, of course, that message was being repeated over and over again among some of the leadership of those - of those demonstrators. And, as a result, when you saw the second wave of demonstrations, there were many more American flags.

I do think that's important and I guess - let me just quickly say that Bill and I agree on a whole lot. I think where we would probably disagree is that I actually think that we've been discouraging acculturation, integration and assimilation by programs like bilingual education in past years. And I don't even believe that we would be having this huge debate today if we had not been promoting programs that I think slowed that process.

Now, sure, the immigrants do learn English. They would learn it much faster if they were being put into special education English immersion classes, where they would be given help in learning English and there would be less emphasis on their retaining their Spanish.

I have no problem with retaining Spanish or Chinese or whatever language. I think that belongs at home and in the community. And, for example, Bill well knows that in San Francisco, if you go to Chinatown on any Saturday, the kids are all marching in to Saturday Chinese classes. I wish Hispanics had been promoting Saturday Spanish classes rather than insisting that the children be taught in Spanish in the public schools.

MARTIN: We need to take...

Prof. HING: Well, (unintelligible)

MARTIN: ...a short break. Hold on, Bill. Let me just take a short break just to say, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Bill Hing, go ahead.

Prof. HING: Well...

MARTIN: Linda Chavez was saying that we should, really that they should be privatized, that the problem is that the system - the educational system on the whole; that the sort of public structures have not really worked to emphasize national identity and the American culture, if we can call it that. And if people want to pursue those ethnic identities and affiliations, they should do it on their own time and on their own dime. What do you say?

Prof. HING: Well, I think that - well, first of all in San Francisco, I just want to correct something. There are Chinese immersion schools in San Francisco, as well, not just Spanish immersion schools in the public schools.

I - you're right. I look at this differently. I don't see anything wrong with the public promotion of individuals maintaining their culture and their language. On the other hand, I - as I said earlier, I am all for encouraging people to learn English, as well.

We shouldn't be afraid of having different cultures in the United States. The United States is constantly changing and you just have to look at our history. And we are in the middle of what some people are very uncomfortable with.

Your earlier question to Linda was, what is it that bothers people? What is it that motivates people to write hate letters to Linda and to me when we speak out on these issues? And I think it's because people look around and they see change happening that they feel that they don't have a handle on - that they don't have any control over.

And what we need to do, those of us who know the facts and know the information, is we actually have to provide a certain amount of comfort level to people so that they understand that what's happening is not new, it's not that radical, and that, in fact, irrespective of the different programs that are being offered; everyone wants to become part of the society, including the person that stays home and maintains his or her non English language. They want to take part; they want to become part of the United States fabric.

MARTIN: One of the things, and we need to be brief here because we need to take another break in just a moment, but one of the things that neither of you has talked about, and neither have I for that matter, is September 11th. And there was a sense that - certainly none of the suicide bombers came from Mexico, but I think there is a sense on the part of Americans that you can have people who are living among you who, you know, eat ketchup and go to McDonald's and wear the clothing that everybody wears and have frequent flyer miles, but that deep within them there is not an appreciation for the culture, the norms and the history of the United States, and that that is the deeper issue that has to be addressed somehow.

Ms. CHAVEZ: Well, you know, it's interesting, because I think one of the great things that came out of September 11th was those series of public service announcements that everybody stood up and said, I'm an American, and they looked very different and they said it in different accents and with different hues. In fact, the difference between our Arab and Moslem population in the United States, and that of Europe or France, for example, is that we have integrated people in. They do feel a part of this society. Our Arab-American population is very successful and has bought into the American dream.

Prof. HING: Well, you know, I...

MARTIN: I'm sorry, but we need to take another short break.

Prof. HING: Okay.

MARTIN: We can come to you when we come back.

When we come back from our short break, our regular Wednesday feature, the Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, will be here. Today, the FBI says they found cash in a Congressman's freezer; New Orleans looks ahead after their election; we remember former Texas Senator, Lloyd Bentsen.

If you have questions about this week's political happenings, give us a call: 800-989-8255. And more with our conversation on assimilation after the break. I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin, in Washington; sitting in for Neal Conan. Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, Neal Conan broadcasts live from New Orleans. As the Crescent City prepares for the new hurricane season, he'll talk with residents and ask them: Are you ready?

If you have a question about how resident there are preparing, you can send us an email now. The address is talk@npr.org. Please put New Orleans in the subject line. That's tomorrow's TALK OF THE NATION, live in New Orleans, from NPR News.

Later, it's our regular Wednesday segment, NPR's Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, joins us.

But right now, we're talking about assimilation with Linda Chavez, Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, joining us here in Studio 3A; and Bill Hing, Professor of Law and Asian-American Studies in the University of California at Davis. His new book, Deporting Our Souls: Morality, Values and Immigration Policy, will be published next month and he joined us from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco.

I want to go to another caller in the last couple of minutes that we have left. Let's go to Westlake, Ohio, and Freddie(ph). Freddie, what's on your mind?

FREDDIE (Caller): Hi, I'm an American-born Palestinian. I am Moslem by faith. I have done everything I can to become a great ambassador of Islam. I've taken the good out of American society, as well as the good out of Islam; and my kids - I have done the same thing. We participate in PTA, we do everything that you consider assimilation. But whenever there is a bad news in Middle Eastern countries, even in India, we get frowned upon, we get backtalk, we get - you name it. So the American society does not allow us to assimilate, even if we wanted to.

MARTIN: Linda Chavez?

Ms. CHAVEZ: Well, I - that is unfortunately true. There is still a lot of prejudice and, you know, you can attest to that, in terms of my e-mails. So, you know, I wish I could be more, you know, do something more to help our caller feel that this will not always be so. But, in fact, there will always be a certain percentage, most of the public opinion polling data on this show it's about 10 percent of the population that has racial attitudes, antagonistic to one group or another. Unfortunately, that figure seems to be pretty steady over the last 20 or 30 years. It used to be much higher, though, and I guess we can take some solace in that.

MARTIN: Freddie, do you mind if I ask you, why did you want to live in the United States?

FREDDIE: Well, I was born here, but my father made it a point to go to the West Bank to learn our Islamic and Palestinian roots, and I've done the same thing with my children. They speak both languages fluently. They adhere to the Islamic religion but, like I say, we do everything you possibly can do to define what assimilation is, and we have American friends.

I'll give you an example: When 9/11 occurred, my son, Adam(ph), his best friend is Mark(ph). His dad told him, don't play with them, they've bad people. And these were the best of friends and this is what bothers me. I mean, you try your best...

MARTIN: We can understand how that would hurt you, Freddie. What are you telling your kids about how to handle situations like that?

FREDDIE: I mean, I - you - like I believe - like your panel said, you try your best to explain what ignorance is. It's hard to explain that to a five-year-old boy. You try to tell them, hey, the majority of Americans are decent, educated people and time will show it's not - that Islam is a good religion, we are a good people and we love this country. And this is hard - on day in and day out, you preach this to your kids and there comes somebody that says, hey, you camel jockey or you - I mean, we've been called - you name it. We can't even take a walk around my neighborhood, why did you blow up 9/11? We don't even know these people, and I didn't have anything to do with 9/11.

MARTIN: Okay, Freddie, thank you so much for calling and good luck to you.

Prof. HING: Michel, if I may. You know, the - see, we can do something about this. We all share the blame for an environment that this poor gentleman and his family went through and endured when we don't speak up when we hear these kinds of insults and put downs and racial epithets that are used in casual conversation with our friends. We've got to speak up; we can be part of the solution. And you know, we have our own homegrown terrorists, but, you know, I'm more afraid of the Timothy McVeigh's than I am of the immigrants, to be honest with you, in the United States.

We got a little bit too much credit after July 7th bombings in London when members of the British Parliament thought that the United States had done a great job in assimilating. Yeah, we've done okay, but we can do a whole lot better. But this gentleman's story reminds us that we've got a long way to go; and that each individual living in the United States can be part of the solution by speaking up when we hear this kind of ignorance that's spouted by many of the misguided souls that live in this country.

MARTIN: Bill Hing, thank you so much for joining us.

Bill Hing is Professor of Law and Asian-American Studies at the University f California at Davis. His new book, Deporting our Souls: Morality, Values, and Immigration Policy, will be published next month. He joined us from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco.

Linda Chavez, a closing thought from you?

Ms. CHAVEZ: Well, I absolutely agree with Bill. And I think that if - I like his term integration. I think that's what we ought to be looking forward to is a society in which all of us can live side-by-side, work side-by-side, and consider each other fellow Americans.

MARTIN: Linda Chavez, Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity. She joined us here in studio 3A. Thank you, Linda, so much.

Ms. CHAVEZ: Thank you.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: