I was reading the group blog Crooked Timber yesterday, and there was a discussion of immigrants. When do they become assimilated? The answer of course is, when the Borg finally win. But aside from that… The English apparently have a test. Ask people who they rooted for in world cricket matches. If they root for India or Pakistan or the West Indies rather than England, they are not assimilated.
One of my childhood memories is what a big deal it was when members of Scandinavian royal families visited Minnesota. They came here because the state was very heavily settled by immigrants from Scandinavia. They were visiting their relatives, and their relatives were excited by this. “Our king!” “Our crown prince!” At some point, the visits mostly stopped, I suspect because the older members of the immigrant community died, and the younger ones felt less connected to the Old Country.
A number of years ago, I met a young man at the local Finnish store. He was probably third generation Finnish-American. He was studying Finnish at the university and planned to move to Finland. My father’s parents came from Iceland, so I am the second generation born in North America. I studied Old Icelandic at the university, because Modern Icelandic wasn’t offered. I’ve been to Iceland twice. My brother has been many times. Over time, connections attenuate. But not always. The wonderful Minnesota poet Bill Holm, like me a couple of generations away from the Old Country, was described by Icelanders as being more Icelandic than they were.
There is no question in my mind that I am American. But it’s also clear to me that I am Icelandic-American. When do people assimilate? Some people get rid of the Old Country connections as quickly as possible. Some remain floating between two cultures, which is not a bad place to be. In 3 or 4 generations, the connections may vanish — or may not. Why does it matter?