One of the things I worry about is that the country could become balkanized–you know, have large pockets of citizens who haven’t really become part of the United States. It’s an asset to the U.S. when people come here and bring new traditions, new customs, and new foods(!). But both we and they miss out if they don’t become part of our culture, too.

Bruce Thornton has a terrific piece over at City Journal about the “bizarre spectacle” of people who have risked life and limb to come to the United States-and then end up lambasting their adopted country and proclaiming the superiority of their countries of origin. This phenomenon stems from the philosophy of multiculturalism. It is preventing countless new arrivals from fully embracing their adopted county, and it is nowhere more prevalent than in Thornton’s native California.

Thornton recalls that in the past immigrants made the decision to embrace their new nation, even though doing so wasn’t necessarily easy:

For an example of how that assimilation took place, consider the rural San Joaquin Valley, where I grew up. Since it offered plenty of opportunities to own farmland and to find agricultural work, the valley became a place where the theory of assimilation met the practice. Assimilation didn’t mean that an immigrant had to discard his native culture or language. …Some, like my Italian grandmother, kept their native tongues and never became fluent in English. … Yet whatever the degree of assimilation, most accepted a fundamental truth: that whatever affection they had for their homes, for their native tongue, or for their old ways and customs, those cultures had in some significant way failed them.

Thus they had made a difficult, costly choice: to become Americans. If America’s core principles-such as individual rights, freedom of speech, the rule of law, and religious tolerance-conflicted with those of the old country, then the latter had to be modified or abandoned….

The choice was hard, at times even brutal. Racism, ethnocentrism, and prejudice could make the work of becoming American notoriously difficult. But people understood that to have a nation composed of immigrants, there had to be a unifying common culture in the public sphere.

This is an issue I find insufficiently addressed in the debate over immigration. Do we want to be one nation, or a bunch of separated cultures?