Editorial Board: Editor: George H. Conklin, North Carolina Central University Board: Bob Davis, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Richard Dixon, UNC-Wilmington Ken Land, Duke University Miles Simpson, North Carolina Central University Ron Wimberley, N.C. State University Robert Wortham, North Carolina Central University
Editorial Assistants John W.M. Russell, Technical Consultants Austin W. Ashe, North Carolina Central University
Volume 7, Number 2
Attitudes Toward Immigrants and
Multiculturalism in Contemporary America:
Drawing from sociological research seeking to explain variation in attitudes toward immigrants and immigration policy, the present article tests the basic premise that knowledge and proficiency in a language other than English is associated with more favorable views towards immigrants and towards multiculturalism in contemporary America. The present text reviews the literature on sociological research on immigrant attitudes, explores the nexus between foreign language learning and appreciation for foreign culture(s), and presents the methodology and analysis used to test the strength of the association between knowledge in a foreign language and favorable views towards immigrants and multiculturalism in the United States.
Immigration and immigration policy have been some of the most fiercely debated topics in the United States since the early 1990s. Even today, television pundits like Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Riley have established their fierce opposition to illegal immigration as a central part of their news coverage and analysis. Beyond what is discussed in the news media, social scientists stemming from the fields of sociology and public opinion research began to analyze immigration attitudes in the United States since the late 1980s. In particular, the scholarly work of Rita J. Simon (1987), Espenshade and Hempstead (1996), Chandler and Tsai (2001), Wilson (2001), Haubert and Fussell (2006), among others, has helped to contextualize and address variations in attitudes toward immigration among the American population. Drawing from the work of these authors, three broad perspectives have been identified to explain variation in the perception of immigrants in the United States: group threat theory, labor market competition and the cosmopolitan/parochial divide.
Group Threat Theory
Although group threat theory has been used for the most part in the context of racial prejudice and conflict between whites and blacks, more recently, it has also been used to explain anti-immigration views (Wilson 2001). Group threat theories can be traced back to the research of Blumer (1958) and Bobo (1983) on racial group conflict. In essence, group threat theory proposes that there is a fundamental conflict between dominant and subordinate groups over the distribution of scare resources, power, and social status. Additionally, group threat theory also claims that dominant groups are keen on restricting access to power and privilege to members of the subordinate groups. For instance, in the context of immigration and immigration policy, Massey (1995) has argued that whites would be more likely to oppose immigration than non-whites because they would have more to lose as the traditional holders and brokers of power and status in American society. Conversely, Rodriguez (1999) and Sanchez (1999) have pointed to some examples of animosity towards immigrants on behalf of African-Americans as evidence of competition for status and power among disadvantaged, subordinate groups. The role of race in explaining attitudes toward immigration has been so mixed and inconsistent that even some researchers, such as Chandler and Tsai (2001) have found race not to be a significant determinant of attitudes toward immigrants. Instead of focusing on racial distinctions, more recent research has focused on group threat centered upon the distinction between the native-born and the foreign-born (Wilson 2001). Under this view, the foreign-born represent a perceived threat of higher crime levels, economic competition or a cultural threat (Espenshade and Hempste 1996, Palmer 1996, Chandler and Tsai 2001). In particular, Chandler and Tsai (2001) exemplified this cultural concern by noting that the perceived threat to the English language was an important factor in determining immigrant sentiment. Furthermore, immigrants may also be perceived as a group threat in the form of economic competition in the labor market. This perspective is described in the following sub-section.
Labor Market Competition
A dimension frequently noted in debates and scholarly work on immigration attitudes is the potential threat which foreign-born immigrants represent to the position and employability of the native-born population in the labor market. In particular, workers in lower-wage occupations whose work involves primarily manual labor are likely to be most threatened by competition from low-skilled immigrants either through lower wages or replacement. Conversely, white collar workers mostly involved with the production of knowledge, analysis of information or the management of resources are the least likely to feel competition in the labor market from immigrants(1); Borjas (1998) has argued that many business owners and managers may even benefit from immigrant labor because immigrants with lower level of proficiency in the English language and fewer skills are willing to work for lower wages and are also less likely to engage in labor conflicts with management due to their illegal status. Furthermore, Haubert and Fussell (2006) have also argued that the perceived threat from immigrants in the labor market is also context specific, that is, more pronounced in areas where there are large immigrant communities in comparison to those where they are less numerous.
The Cosmopolitan/Parochial Divide
The concept of cosmopolitanism has been derived to a large extent from previous research on new class theory. In the 1970s and 1980s, new class theory was quite often cited to explain the embrace of liberal politics by some members of the upper and middle classes. Drawing on the work of Moynihan (1972) and Gouldner (1979), new class theory centered on the proposition that a new power struggle emerged between business elites and a new class of workers engaged in knowledge production. Ever since then, sociologists have debated on how to best identify members of this new class. Some believe this new class includes managers and professionals with a college degree or more (Ladd 1978) while others restrict membership to college graduates who obtained degrees in the humanities and social sciences (Bruce-Briggs 1979). Despite the difficulty in clearly identifying members of the new class, the notion of cosmopolitanism has become a central element of new class theory, particularly when used to explain varying attitudes toward immigrants (Haubert and Fussell 2006).
Drawing from the work of Betts (1988) on attitudes toward immigrants and immigration policy in Australian society, Haubert and Fussell (2006) argued that American society is ideologically divided into two camps: the cosmopolitan and the parochial. "Locals, or parochials, are more likely to identify with the nation and take an ethnocentric stance on public issues [ ] [while] cosmopolitans are more open to the virtues of other nations and to criticism of their own" (Bean 1995: 32). While cosmopolitans tend to be more numerous in occupations requiring college degrees in areas such as education and the public sector, the parochials are more abundant among the traditional business elites and the lesser educated sectors of the population. Chandler and Tsai (2001) as well as Haubert and Fussell (2006) have argued that cosmopolitans stress their appreciation for other cultures and reject ethnocentric views as racist or quasi racist as a way to gain status within their own group and to demonstrate that they "think alike." Haubert and Fussell (2006) use five characteristics to identifying cosmopolitans: holding a college degree or higher, a white collar job, a liberal political ideology, rejecting ethnocentrism, and having lived abroad. In multivariate analysis, Haubert and Fussell were able to show that having lived abroad was substantially associated with pro-immigrant sentiment. They argued that having lived abroad can certainly contribute to a more cosmopolitan worldview since it opened the opportunity to have more contact with people from other cultures while diminishing the importance of negative stereotypes about foreigners and acknowledging commonalities among peoples from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Just as living abroad may help contribute to an individual's cosmopolitan world view and to the development of more egalitarian attitudes towards other cultures, the present analysis emphasizes that knowledge and proficiency in a language other than English may also help shape more favorable public views on immigrants and multiculturalism in contemporary America. The following subsection describes the various ways in which culture, and in particular an appreciation for foreign cultures, is an integral part of foreign language instruction and learning.
Foreign Language Learning and Culture
Experts and scholars in language acquisition have long held that knowledge of a foreign language is beneficial because it facilitates a closer and perhaps a more genuine access to the culture or cultures of its speakers. This argument is embedded in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning developed by the American Council on the Learning of Foreign Languages in 1996. The Standards for Foreign Language Learning seek for students of foreign languages in the U.S. to communicate in languages other than English, gain knowledge and understanding of other cultures, connect language with other disciplines, develop insight into the nature of language and culture and participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world (Standards for Foreign Language Learning, 1996: 9). These standards broadly encompass objectives for language study in the U.S. and explicitly call attention to the importance of culture in language learning. With regard to this, Hadley argued that: "The importance of cultural learning is rooted in at least two widely held beliefs among foreign language professionals: (1) that language is an essential component in the curriculum, in part because it can lead to greater cross-cultural understanding, and (2) that language and culture are inseparably intertwined" (2001: 345).
The aforementioned intrinsic relationship between language, culture and the teaching of culture within language learning denote that, to varying degrees, more fluency in a foreign language should grant greater exposure, experience and understanding of a foreign culture as well. Within this context, the purpose of this paper is to empirically examine the relationship between relative fluency in a second language and attitudes towards immigrants and multiculturalism in America. The increasing perceptibility and manifestation of foreign cultures in contemporary America is linked, in part, to the sizable influx of immigrants from Latin America and Asia since roughly the mid 1960's, which provided a notable departure from traditional immigration flows primarily from Europe. In this context, it is argued that the more fluent individuals become in a foreign language, the more knowledge they acquire of cultures abroad and perhaps the less they view the diversity linked to immigration as a political, economic or cultural threat. That is, perhaps the most proficient second language speakers see immigration and the multiculturalism that comes with it as an opportunity rather than a threat. In light of this, the present study examines the relationship between the relative knowledge of a language other than English and attitudes towards immigrants in the U.S., on one hand, and national views about multiculturalism, on the other. Given that knowledge of a foreign tongue may augment awareness and appreciation of a foreign culture or cultures, the preliminary hypothesis is that more fluency in a language other than English is associated with favorable attitudes toward immigrants and with views favoring the preservation of visibly separate sub-cultures in America (multiculturalism).
The analysis included in this article was based on data collected from a random sample of 1,394 respondents, obtained from the 2000 General Social Survey. The GSS (General Social Survey) is a nationwide survey of a random and representative sample of the non-institutionalized U.S. population done biannually since 1972(2). It includes data descriptive of the non-institutionalized American population as well as statistics relating to viewpoints on a wide range of social, political and economic issues. The 2000 GSS incorporated a set of variables described in this section which relate to immigrants and multiculturalism in America.
In the year 2000 the General Social Survey asked respondents the question: Can you speak a language other than English? That particular year, 26 percent of the sample answered "yes" and the remaining portion said "no." If the respondent answered "yes" he or she was subsequently asked: How well can you speak that language? The respondents were given the following choices: (1) Very Well, (2) Well, (3) Not well, (4) Poorly. Additionally, those who said that they could speak a language other than English were also asked to state where they had learned that language. They were given 3 possible responses: (1) At home because parent(s) spoke the language, (2) At school and (3) Elsewhere. Of those who said that they could speak a language other than English, forty one percent said they could speak it "very well," twenty one percent said they could speak it "well," twenty seven percent said they could speak it "not very well," and eleven percent said they could speak it "poorly/hardly at all."
Given that the present analysis includes questions about attitudes towards immigrants, those who learned a foreign language at home because one or both of the parents spoke it at home were filtered out. Likely, these respondents are themselves immigrants, children of immigrants or may hold strong ethnic ties to their family members. In this study, the relationship of interest is between second language knowledge and attitudes towards foreign culture and not the relationship between ethnic identity and attitudes towards foreign culture; thus we sought to minimize any potential bias by only selecting those who had learned a language other than English at school or elsewhere. After this filter was applied we were left with a sample size of 1,204 individuals.
An important consideration to keep in mind with regard to the present analysis is that the level of language fluency of those who participated in the 2000 General Social Survey is based on their own personal appreciation of their second language competence and not an independent, objective examination. Thus some respondents may have modestly underestimated their second language fluency while others may have exaggerated it. Nonetheless, if we assume that the self reported level of proficiency in a language other than English does not depart considerably from the real proficiency, then the sample included in the General Social Survey allows us to identify relationships between second language fluency and attitudes toward immigrants and multiculturalism in the U.S.
A new variable was computed by merging together those who could speak a language other than English according to their degree of fluency and those who could not. The new variable called "Relative Language Fluency," ranged from 1 to 5 and was coded as follows: (5) respondent can speak a language other than English very well, (4) respondent can speak a language other than English well, (3) respondent can speak a language other than English not very well, (2) respondent can speak a language other than English poorly or hardly at all, and (1) respondent cannot speak a language other than English.
The General Social Survey for the year 2000 also included variables regarding attitudes toward immigrants and mixing cultures in the U.S. The four available variables relating to immigrant attitudes in the 2000 GSS ask the respondents to state their opinion on the following statements: "More immigrants cause higher crime rates," "Will immigrants cause economic growth?", "Immigrants open the country to new ideas and culture" and "Immigrants cause Americans to lose jobs." Participants ranked their response to these survey statements on a four point scale: (1) Very likely, (2) Somewhat likely, (3) Not very likely and (4) Not likely at all. On the other hand, the General Social Survey asked respondents to communicate "their attitude toward mixing cultures in the U.S." They were asked to rank their views on a seven point scale ranging from 1 to 7, where (1) is "Maintain Distinct Cultures" and (7) is "Blend in to Larger Society." It is important to note that not all of these questions presented here measure the same thing. In broad terms, the four questions concerning immigrants measure an individual's sentiment with regard to the effect which immigrants have or have had in shaping America. On the other hand, the question about mixing cultures in the U.S. deals with a respondent's desired level of multiculturalism in America.
For simplicity, the immigrant variables from the GSS dataset were combined into two indexes. "More immigrants cause higher crime rates "and "Immigrants cause Americans to lose jobs" were grouped into one index called Immigrant Perspectives 1, while "Will immigrants cause economic growth?" and "Immigrants open the country to new ideas and culture" were grouped into Immigrant Perspectives 2(3). All the immigrant variables were measured on the same scale, and thus the computation of both indices represents an average value of the two variables included in each index. The variable "mixing cultures in the U.S." was not grouped along with any of the other immigrant variables because, as stated earlier, it does not attempt to measure the same phenomenon as the immigrant questions. In this analysis, Melting pot was the name given to the variable with regard to "mixing cultures in the U.S." in the 2000 GSS and in this study as well.
The reported values for the two variables included in Immigrant Perspectives 2 and the values of Melting Pot were recoded reversely so that higher values represent favorable attitudes towards immigrants and lower values negative ones. This was done so that all the relevant variables in the analysis would have the same direction: higher values for Immigrant Perspectives 1 and Immigrant Perspectives 2 represent favorable views towards immigrants, higher values for Melting Pot represent a greater desire to encourage cultural diversity and higher values for Relative Language Fluency represent more fluency in a foreign language.
Multiple linear regression analysis was used to assess the relationship between knowledge of a foreign language and attitudes towards immigrants, on one hand, and the assimilation of cultures, on the other. Three separate regressions were run: (1) Regression model with Immigrant Perspectives 1 as dependent and Relative Language Fluency as independent, (2) Regression model with Immigrant Perspectives 2 as dependent and Relative Language Fluency as independent and (3) Regression model with Melting Pot as dependent and Relative Language Fluency as independent. Thereafter, for each regression model, socio-demographic and socio-economic control variables such as age, sex, race, education, income, and occupational prestige were included. This was done to evaluate the relationship between each dependent variable and Relative Language Fluency while accounting for the effects that these socio-demographic and socio-economic variables may also have on each of the dependent variables. The variable age was measured in years. The inclusion of age in the analysis allows us to control for the generational differences with regard to attitudes toward immigrants, where younger generations may be more accepting of them. Sex is a dichotomized variable where (0) is men (the reference category) and (1) is women. This variable allows us to control for gender differences in attitudes toward immigrants. Race is a dichotomized variable in which (0) whites serve as the reference category and (1) is non-white. As mentioned earlier, some members of minority groups, like African Americans, may feel economically and socially threatened by immigrants as a competing, subordinate group in American society. Education was measured as the highest year of the respondent's education, income was measured as the respondent's yearly income in constant 2002 dollars and occupational prestige consists of a prestige score that was assigned to respondents' occupations, where higher numbers indicate greater prestige. As mentioned in the introduction, the individuals most likely to feel economically threatened by immigrants are those with lower levels of education, income and those in blue collar occupations, while the least likely to perceive immigrants as a threat are those with higher income and education levels and those in knowledge or skilled service occupations.
Table 1 includes the standardized coefficients obtained by including Immigrant Perspectives 1 as a dependent variable and Relative Language Fluency as independent in multiple linear regression models.
*coefficient is significant at the .05 alpha level
**coefficient is significant at the .01 alpha level
***coefficient is significant at the .001 alpha level
Model 1 in Table 1 shows that in a bivariate model, Immigrant Perspectives 1 and Relative Language Fluency are positively related to each other indicated by a Beta (standardized coefficient) of 0.123 which is significant at the p<.001 alpha level. Put differently, greater fluency in a language other than English corresponds with more favorable perceptions of immigrants as measured by the two variables included in Immigrant Perspectives 1. In Model 2 we see that after controlling for the effects of socio-demographic variables such as age, sex and race, the relative Beta weight of Relative Language Fluency remains virtually unchanged and significant at the p<0.001 level. In Model 3 after controlling for socio-demographic and socio-economic variables, the relative Beta weight of Relative Language Fluency slightly decreases to 0.085 and is significant at the p<0.05 level. Furthermore, we observe that in Model 3, in addition to Relative Language Fluency, a respondent's income influences his or her views about immigrants as it has a Beta weight of 0.298 and is significant at the p<0.001 level. Broadly, according to Model 3, higher levels of income and greater fluency in a language other than English are both associated with relatively more favorable views towards immigrants measured as an index of responses to: "More immigrants cause higher crime rates" and "Immigrants cause Americans to lose jobs."
Table 2 contains the standardized coefficients obtained by including Immigrant Perspectives 2 as a dependent variable and Relative Language Fluency as independent in linear regression models. Model 1 in Table 2 displays the bivariate model consisting of Immigrant Perspectives 2 and Relative Language Fluency. The two variables are positively related to each other, indicated by a Beta of 0.141, which is significant at the p<.001 alpha level. Again, just as in Table 1, better language fluency is associated with more optimistic views about immigrants, measured as an index of responses to "Will immigrants cause economic growth?" and "Immigrants open the country to new ideas and culture" grouped in Immigrant Perspectives 2. In Model 2, after controlling for the effects of socio-demographic variables such as age, sex and race, the relative Beta weight of Relative Language Fluency is slightly reduced to 0.119 and remains significant at the p<0.001 level. In Model 3, after controlling for socio-demographic and socio-economic variables, the relative Beta weight of Relative Language Fluency is reduced marginally to 0.83 but continues to be significant at the p<0.05 level. Moreover, Model 3 in Table 2 indicates that in addition to language fluency, non-white, younger and more educated individuals are also linked to more favorable responses towards immigrants as measured by the Immigrant Perspectives 2 index.
*coefficient is significant at the .05 alpha level
**coefficient is significant at the .01 alpha level
***coefficient is significant at the .001 alpha level
Table 3 displays the standardized coefficients obtained by including Melting Pot as a dependent variable and Relative Language Fluency as independent in multiple linear regression models. Model 1 in Table 3 represents the bivariate model including Melting Pot and Relative Language Fluency. The two variables are positively related to each other and Model 1 displays a Beta of 0.068 which is significant at the p<.05 alpha level. It is important to note that the initial bivariate Beta between Melting Pot and Relative Language Fluency is lower than those displayed in the two previous tables between attitudes towards immigrants and Relative Language Fluency. In Model 2, once we control for the effects of socio-demographic variables, we see that the standardized coefficient for Relative Language Fluency looses significance at the 0.05 alpha level. In Model 3, once we control for socio-demographic and socio-economic variables, the coefficient for Relative Language Fluency is also not significant at the 0.05 level. That is, once we take into account the effects of socio-demographic and socio-economic variables, Relative Language Fluency is not considerably helpful in explaining the variation in the Melting Pot variable. On the other hand, in Model 3 the coefficients for occupational prestige and age are significant at the p<0.05 and indicate that younger individuals and those with more prestigious occupations are broadly more in favor of maintaining distinct cultures in the U.S.
*coefficient is significant at the .05 alpha level
**coefficient is significant at the .01 alpha level
***coefficient is significant at the .001 alpha level
Much emphasis was given to the inclusion, appreciation and practice of culture within the teaching of foreign language in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning, which have served as a benchmark for foreign language education in America since 1996. Nonetheless, the link between fluency in a second language and a desire to achieve greater multiculturalism in American society is paradoxical. As observed in tables 1 and 2 in the results section, relative fluency in a second language is positively related to favorable views of immigrants even after taking into account the effects of control variables like age, race, sex, education, income and occupational prestige. On the other hand, relative language fluency in a second language is only marginally correlated to attitudes opposing the assimilation of different cultures into an overarching American culture. As seen in table 3 in the "results" section, this marginal correlation between fluency in a second language and favoring the maintenance of separate sub-cultures loses significance when the effects of variables like age and occupational prestige are also considered. In sum, the degree to which one knows a language other than English, in conjunction with other socio-demographic and socio-economic variables, is useful in explaining some of the variation in viewpoints pertaining to the impact and contribution of immigrants in American society while it is not helpful in assessing the variation in attitudes towards the amalgamation of diverse cultures into one mainstream culture.
The positive association found between relative foreign language fluency and views toward immigrants in the present analysis suggests that knowledge of a foreign language may grant American individuals the opportunity to have more contact with immigrant groups, thus perhaps finding exceptions to negative stereotypes, developing friendships with them and discovering commonalities. This finding is consistent with the argument advanced by Haubert and Fussell (2006) on the positive effect which living abroad has on views toward immigrants in the U.S. as well as previous research on the positive role which previous contact with members of other races may have on an individual's willingness to incorporate them into close social circles (Emerson, Kimbro and Yancey 2002). In addition to this, it is also likely that in the process of learning a foreign language, language learners may also learn more about the historical, social and cultural context of the individuals who speak it. As a result individuals in America with a higher level of proficiency in a foreign language may hold more positive views toward immigrants because they are more familiar than individuals who only speak English about the socio-historical and socio-economic circumstances that drive people away from their home countries into the U.S. In essence, the more fluent individuals become in a language other than English, the more likely they are to acquire of knowledge of foreign cultures and societies and perhaps also the more likely they are to conceptualize the entrance of immigrants to the U.S. as an opportunity rather than an economic or cultural threat.
An important consideration with regard to the relationship between proficiency in a foreign language on attitudes towards immigrants is that it may be context specific. That is, the relationship between fluency in a language other than English and attitudes towards immigrants may differ considerably according to one's place of residence. This may be particularly true in those counties and states which receive a large influx of immigrants, where immigration is a highly politicized issue, and where immigration is seen as a social threat. That is, in areas where immigration is primarily conceptualized as a drawback, proficiency in a foreign language may not do much to overturn the impression that immigrants represent an imminent economic, criminal or cultural threat. In the present study it was not possible to test whether the relationship between foreign language fluency and attitudes toward immigrants was markedly different for particular counties or states. The General Social Survey does not identify the states or counties where the respondents reside; it only identifies the broad region, like New England, Southwest, Southeast, etc. Testing for impact of the place of residency was not feasible even when using the regional categories used by the GSS because there were only few speakers of a language other than English in many of the listed regions.
The other important finding of the present analysis centers on the weak association between competency in a second language and a strong inclination towards maintaining visibly separate subcultures in America. Although those who are more proficient in a foreign language tend to have more favorable attitudes towards immigrants, they do not support multiculturalism in America to the same extent. This phenomenon may have some plausible explanations. Perhaps there may be some confusion with regard to the way in which we choose to interpret the responses of those who favor multiculturalism. The question of whether one does or doesn't favor "the mixing of cultures," as it is stated in the General Social Survey, could also have an alternative interpretation. Possibly some or a few of the respondents who strongly favor keeping cultures distinct may do so because they essentially dislike foreign or minority sub-cultures and want to keep them away from the American mainstream. That is, they would favor keeping separate subcultures in the U.S. in an attempt to marginalize members of subcultures from influencing American culture and society. Thus not all of the responses leaning towards keeping visibly separate subcultures can be interpreted as necessarily favoring multiculturalism in America in an egalitarian way. The respondents most likely to desire to keep visibly separate subcultures due to their fear of the influence which subcultures may have on American society as a whole are also unlikely to speak a foreign language. As a result, from a statistical standpoint, the proficiency in a foreign language would seem not to have a strong impact on a desire to maintain visibly separate subcultures in America. Moreover, another plausible explanation as to why the more fluent foreign language speakers do not support multiculturalism more strongly is that perhaps even those who are proficient in a foreign language and appreciative of the presence of foreign cultures in the U.S. may be unwilling to take an extreme position which encourages cultural separation because a lack of integration may, in the long run, be economically or socially detrimental to members of isolated subcultures.
Perhaps the weak relationship between second language fluency and the support of multiculturalism found in the present study is due to the fact that there is still an ongoing and unsettled ideological debate between multiculturalism and assimilation in America. In our sample, the persistence of this debate is evidenced in the even split between those who favor assimilation and those who favor maintaining distinct cultures. Figure 1 displays the distribution of responses regarding the "mixing cultures in the U.S." ranging from (1) to (7), where (1) is "Maintain Distinct Cultures" and (7) is "Blend in to Larger Society." While most participants chose the middle ground, there is almost the same number of people leaning towards assimilation as there is favoring multiculturalism. The split has much to do with counteracting forces on traditional assumptions and implications of integration and cultural diversity. On one hand: "Since the 1960's [assimilation] has been seen in a mostly negative light, as an ethnocentric and patronizing imposition on minority peoples struggling to retain their cultural and ethnic integrity. It represents a bygone era when the multicultural nature of American society was not comprehended, let alone respected, as there appeared, at least to white Americans, a unitary and unquestionable American way of life (Alba and Nee 2003:1)." On the other hand, there is also concern that the large influx of immigrants from Latin America and Asia has altered the Anglo-Protestant cultural and religious foundations of America; such views were included, for instance, in Samuel Huntington's The Hispanic Challenge. From this perspective, a "cult of ethnicity" represents an attack on Anglo-American heritage and challenges national unity (Schlesinger 1991:52). At the core of these contrasting views is a struggle to define what it currently means to be "American" and how it is that recent waves of immigrants are to be integrated into such a definition. As evidenced here in this article, an individual's age and occupation have a much stronger role in this debate than acquiring fluency in a foreign tongue.
Suggestions for Future Research
The findings presented in this study should be corroborated by examining the same variables considered here in future waves of the General Social Survey. The variables used to carry out the study were obtained from the multiculturalism module in the 2000 GSS. The main difficulty in validating the results found here with data from other GSS years was that the same set of variables included in the 2000 GSS under the multiculturalism module was not exactly same as the one asked in previous or subsequent years. Forthcoming years of the General Social Survey may ask respondents the same variables used here, in which case, the research design could be replicated to assess whether or not the findings attained in this study hold over time.
Additionally, even though competence in a second language was more strongly linked to positive portrayals of immigrants than it was to enhancing multiculturalism, more research needs to be done to assess whether this relationship varies according to the second language that is learned. That is, for instance, whether someone who learns French as a second language and speaks it well is more likely to have favorable views towards immigrants from France (or from other French speaking areas) only, or if such favorable views are extended to all immigrants as a whole. In other words, future research could assess whether the foreign language learned determines which types of immigrants and cultures are favored or if proficiency in a language other than English is associated with more favorable views towards immigrants in general.
Subsequent research should also test the impact which increased proficiency in the English language has on the views which immigrants or ethnic groups themselves hold toward American culture and on their willingness to be an integral part of American society. The conclusions of the present analysis suggest that perhaps the more fluent an immigrant becomes in the English language, the more likely it is that he or she would hold more favorable attitudes towards American culture and the more he or she would like to become an active part of American society. Such research would lead to important findings relating to debates on bilingual education and English-only legislation initiatives.
*I would like to thank Dr. Thomas C. Wilson of Florida Atlantic University for all of his guidance and advice toward the completion of this article. I would also like to thank the reviewers/staff of Sociation Today for their useful feedback and comments.
workers in industries such as software design or phone-based customer service
may feel an economic threat by foreign workers abroad as a result of outsourcing,
but not particularly from those workers who migrate into the U.S.
(2) The GSS includes
a sample of the non-institutionalized, adult population of the U.S. Thus
people living in institutional facilities like prisons, mental institutions,
college dormitories and military dwelling units are excluded from the sample.
(3) The grouping
of the four variables into two indices was justified by factor analysis.
The analysis was run including all four variables and the rotated component
matrix indicated that "More immigrants cause higher crime rates "and "Immigrants
cause Americans to loose jobs" loaded on one component, while "Will immigrants
cause economic growth?" and "Immigrants open the country to new ideas and
culture" loaded on a second component.
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