My father was something of a boxing fan. That’s an odd thing, because he never boxed himself, and I’m not sure how much he knew, technically, about the sport. But when I was growing up, he was especially fond of Archie Moore, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Sugar Ray Robinson, and I can remember being taken somewhere to watch a fight on television between Archie Moore and some hapless opponent. I also remember, more vividly, being taken to watch Sugar Ray and Carmen Basilio, presumably in their rematch, and I remember it so vividly because of Basilio’s closed eye and bloody, swollen face, which is why I think it must have been the rematch. I was just a wee, sleekit, cowerin’, timorous beastie of ten when they fought and that battered bloody face, and the unflagging aggression of Basilio, in spite of his injuries, made an indelible impression. What I don’t remember is where my father and I watched those fights. We had no television, so it was either at a friend’s house, a bar, or his club. I remember only the fights.
Many years later I set a still-standing record as the worst amateur boxer in the entire recorded history of pugilism. I only fought three-round club fights, about twenty of them, but of those twenty I probably won all but nineteen.
I exaggerate only slightly. I knocked out two opponents, both with body shots, but it was mainly dumb luck, with the emphasis on dumb. Most of my ring-time was spent lying on my back wondering what the hell I was doing.
I still follow boxing; not closely, but I try to catch all the important fights, and one I saw recently, in October of last year, was between two greats, the welterweight champion Terence Crawford, and a previously undefeated and very dangerous José Benavidez, Jr. Crawford won by TKO, but Benavidez showed great skill, and later sportsmanship, staying around to be interviewed afterward, something many losing fighters won’t do.
And that brings me to Tom Brokaw’s comments about Hispanic assimilation, and his subsequent apology for those comments.
According to what I read, this is what Brokaw said:
“Hispanics should be working harder at assimilation… You know, they ought not to be just codified in their communities, but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities.”
He was immediately attacked, frequently with the kind of infantile and ugly name-calling we’ve come to expect from the progressive lower IQ’s on the internet. But let me point something out.
It is axiomatic, and even EU politicians have commented ruefully about this, that when immigration occurs in huge waves, as it has with Muslims in Germany, Sweden, France, Belgium, and England, assimilation is precisely what does not happen. This is not a criticism of the poor devils trying to get the hell out of countries where their lives are forfeit. It’s just that there are not enough jobs or schools to absorb and properly provide for the immigrants, who quite naturally respond by tending to cling together.
In America, according to the Immigration Policy Institute, forty-one percent (25.1-million) of the immigrants living here are classified as Limited English Proficient (LEP, a phrase so awkward it smacks of limited proficiency itself) and of that forty-one percent, nineteen percent (4.7-million) were born in America.
Unsurprisingly, California has the highest percentage of LEP residents. In Los Angeles, where many Hispanics immigrants, legal and illegal, congregate, a young lady I know teaches art in the LA public school system, and she estimates that approximately eighty percent of her students do not speak enough English to be able to follow the curriculum. You don’t need an advanced degree in education to know that if a student is unable to follow the curriculum, he falls behind; if he falls behind, he tends to get discouraged and not continue with his education; if he has no education and little English, employment opportunities are slim to none. Balance that scenario against the glittering allure of the drug-gang life and you only get one guess at which path many desperate young men will take.
Back to José Benavidez as an example of what Tom Brokaw was referring to. He is twenty-seven-years old. He was born in Panorama City, California and he now lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona. He started fighting at eleven and was good enough to become a national amateur champion eleven times, qualifying for the Junior Olympics and earning a spot on the United States National Team, before going on to become the youngest the Golden Gloves Champion of all time at only sixteen. He is clearly gifted, and he is not stupid, and for twenty-seven years he has lived and plied his trade in America. Yet when he was interviewed after his loss to Crawford, he spoke such a heavily-accented kind of left-handed English that I had to strain to understand him. After twenty-seven years of growing up in America.
Tom Brokaw may have expressed his assimilation thoughts less gracefully than he might, and perhaps he should have laid some of the blame on overwhelmed school systems, but assimilation is not achieved when great numbers of people move into an alien culture. The Irish, the Italians, the Germans and Poles, the Ashkenazi Jews, the Chinese and Japanese, the other immigrants who came to this country, legally, in the previous century, clung to each other in their inner-city neighborhoods, but they had to go out of those neighborhoods to work, which forced them to assimilate, they were smart enough to know their children would only get ahead by becoming educated and able to speak English, and most importantly, they came in manageable numbers. They didn’t abandon their traditions or art or food or any other part of their culture—nor should they—but they assimilated in part because they had educational opportunities that are lost to the eighty-percent of the non-English-speaking students my friend faces in her classroom every day.
Assimilation used to be a goal to which immigrants to America aspired; now it appears to have become a dirty word, a hateful thing to even suggest, as if every other culture in the world were superior to American culture simply by virtue of not being American. If that’s the case, what they hell are they all fighting and clawing to get into America for?
If you’re a Spanish-speaking immigrant to America, Tom Brokaw was not asking you to stop reading Gabriel García Márquez or Carlos Fuentes or Mario Vargas Llosa or to abandon any other aspect of the art and culture that made your country great. He was just suggesting that Herman Melville and Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway might provide additional enrichment to your life. I don’t think that’s something he should have apologized for.