Study suggests Mexican Americans have received less government aid than European immigrants in the early 1900s

An op-ed from two sociologists that discusses social science research on the assimilation of immigrant Mexicans includes one study about the governmental aid received by two large groups of immigrants:

No one should underestimate the challenges Mexicans from a humble background face when they move to the U.S. — especially in today’s economy, in which low-skilled jobs are scarce. Their children can face ethnic prejudices. They often do not have access to top-quality education.

But even in light of the struggles, it is important to highlight the progress of many Mexican Americans. Indeed, they have made this uphill climb in spite of greater challenges than those faced by earlier, European immigrants. An extensive historical study published by sociologist Cybelle Fox in 2012 shows that Europeans who came at the turn of the 20th century were far more likely to receive government aid than Mexicans or blacks, regardless of need. Local relief officials also protected European immigrants from federal agents who were investigating public aid recipients during the Depression. In stark contrast, officials repatriated Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born offspring, who also faced Jim Crow-like racism in many parts of the country.

The end argument is that Mexican immigrants have faced some steeper hurdles than European immigrants, including in levels of government support, in the early 1900s and have done well. It would then be interesting to hear how people interpret this historical information. A common refrain among white Americans is that their ancestors had to work hard and do certain things to succeed in America. Thus, new immigrants should similarly pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Yet, circumstances change. Immigration has changed quite a bit since the early 1900s, particularly due to the 1965 Immigration Act that helped increase immigrant flows from non-European areas. Who is thought to be white has changed and will likely continue to change.

All of this is a reminder that immigration policy and reactions to immigrants is variable and dependent on social conditions in both the sending and receiving country.

At the same time, this op-ed doesn’t mention other sociological research on different outcomes for immigrants beyond assimilation into some sort of “normal” white, American culture. In the last few decades, a number of sociologists have found evidence of segmented assimilation where different immigrants have different experiences. For example, more educated immigrants may be more able to experience upward mobility compared to immigrants who have few job skills. Or, certain groups are treated differently than others because of existing stereotypes and policies. Assimilation may not be possible or desired for some immigrants.

Sarkozy joins growing chorus of Western European leaders who have said multiculturalism has failed

In a recent interview, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said multiculturalism has failed in his country:

“My answer is clearly yes, it is a failure,” he said in a television interview when asked about the policy which advocates that host societies welcome and foster distinct cultural and religious immigrant groups.

“Of course we must all respect differences, but we do not want… a society where communities coexist side by side.

“If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France,” the right-wing president said.

“The French national community cannot accept a change in its lifestyle, equality between men and women… freedom for little girls to go to school,” he said.

“We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him,” Sarkozy said in the TFI channel show.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia’s ex-prime minister John Howard and Spanish ex-premier Jose Maria Aznar have also recently said multicultural policies have not successfully integrated immigrants.

Based on what Sarkozy said in this interview, it sounds like he either has a different definition of multiculturalism or a different end goal. A contrast to multiculturalism would be assimilation where newcomers to a country (or any group) should quickly or eventually adopt the customs and values of the country they have entered. Sarkozy is suggesting that because some immigrants have not done this, multiculturalism has failed. But Sarkozy seems to be explaining how assimilation has failed. The Oxford English Dictionary defines multiculturalism thusly: “the policy or process whereby the distinctive identities of the cultural groups within such a society are maintained or supported.” In this sense, a long-running policy of multiculturalism ends up changing the larger culture to some degree. It sounds like Sarkozy (and some of these other leaders) are not as interested in this. Can French or English or German culture change and incorporate elements of cultures from immigrants living within their borders?

These comments from various leaders seem to have been motivated in part by growing Muslim populations in these nations.

It is also interesting to note that there is not a whole lot of public discussion about this in the United States. Some of this may be more below the surface, particularly when issues like immigration arise (though this has been overwhelmed by economic concerns). Can you imagine an American political leader of any party making a statement like these Western European leaders have?

Baseball training now including cultural assimilation

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen recently made comments suggesting Latin American baseball players are not treated as well as Asian players. While reading an article about this on, I was interested to find that major league teams have stepped up efforts to help players assimilate to American culture:

[M]any teams are doing what Guillen has suggested. Although they aren’t hiring specific interpreters, many organizations have intensified their English and cultural assimilation classes at the minor league level. This is a recent development, which is why Guillen hasn’t seen its impact at the major league level.

Teams recognize that a player’s path to success depends on how quickly he can assimilate into the American culture. It’s not nearly enough to be able to throw 95 mph or to hit a ball 450 feet. Pity the teams that lag behind in realizing this. It’s to a team’s benefit to have its players focused on baseball and not on whether they can order dinner, pay their rent or call for a taxi. Teams should do this not for altruistic reasons but for simple economic reasons. It’s a sound fiscal decision to put your employees in the best position to succeed.

Take the case of star Cleveland Indians rookie catcher Carlos Santana. Although he had been bashing Triple-A pitching for most of this year, one of the reasons Cleveland waited until the middle of the season to call him up to the majors was because the team wanted him to focus on language training.

The writer portrays this as a sound business decision but surely there are more dimensions to the story than this. What is the responsibility of a sports team (or any business) to its employees? Helping players adjust to a new culture or helping players complete an education (an issue in baseball, football, and basketball) or navigate a new world of fame and money is an important consideration. Not only might it be a sound economic decision and boost on-field performance but it also suggests teams might also be interested in the human potential (and not just athletic potential) of their players.