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migration and American identity

November 28th, 2018 | 2 min read

By Matthew Loftus

Luma Simms has two very interesting pieces interacting with Reihan Salam’s new book Melting Pot or Civil War? One is at Public Discourse and the other is at Law and Liberty:

From the first piece:

Immigration, work migration, the flight of refugees due to war or persecution—all these upheavals are different faces of uprootedness. To be sure, uprootedness can be experienced by those who are geographically stationary as well, but here I am referring to that which happens to the individual person and/or peoples who, for one reason or another, are physically uprooted.

To use Weil’s language, we have or ought to have multiple roots. These are the bonds that tether a person to the different spheres of belonging, and immigration disrupts all these spheres. We see how this happens: there is the physical move from one town to another or one country to another. This involves leaving the variety of social circles in which that individual was embedded, such as family, friends, co-workers, and a religious community. It also means the disruption of the sphere that tied that individual or group to their town, city, or country. As a result, uprootedness can also disrupt the political spheres.

From the second:

I think one of the most important cultural crises of our time is that we have “largely symbolic and optional” cultural identities. More of that would be absolutely pernicious, yet Salam thinks it’s a good thing. He believes it is good because intermarriage has a higher probability of the immigrant leaving behind his ethnic identity and assimilating more fully into the American culture. Assimilation offers the basis for the melting in, and if they are melted in, then they become one of us, and if they become one of us, we will not have ethnic strife. This thinking assumes that ethnic heritage, communities, and civic associations are interchangeable. Give us your ethnic identity and close-knit community and we’ll give you middle class status in the richest nation on earth. The emptiness of that promise is driving our society to melancholy and madness.

Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at