Outside editorial: Immigrants need to assimilate

Posted: Wednesday, July 04, 2007

It's just a piece of black cloth, but it says so much about immigrants and cultural assimilation. The cloth, known in Arabic as the niqab, covers some Muslim women's faces, leaving only tiny slits around the eyes.

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In the West, the niqab's effect is unnerving, sending an unpleasant message to onlookers: Keep away, because I'm not one of you.

The niqab also symbolizes another issue: how far immigrants should go to adapt to their new country. For Europeans, niqabs put the question of assimilation literally in their faces because the wearer's message is so unyielding. For Americans, where niqabs aren't prevalent, the assimilation question surfaces more subtly. We notice it when immigrants spend years here and never learn English, forcing us to change school curricula, government documents and billboards to accommodate them.

Americans feel anger when protesters at pro-migrant rallies wave Mexican flags. At the Gold Cup soccer championship, when the U.S. and Mexican national teams squared off for the title match, the domestic crowd cheered for the United States to lose.

The mood is turning nasty over immigration. Migrants should heed the message of the niqab. Americans don't want to erase migrants' cultural identities, but it's hard to embrace those who refuse to embrace this culture. At a minimum, meet your hosts halfway.



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