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Tom Brokaw was correct. He was also wrong.

caricature-of-steve3 2Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw sparked controversy Sunday when he said on NBC’s Meet the Press that Latinos should be more assimilated into American society rather than remain codified within their own communities.

Let’s begin with why Brokaw is right

No immigrants will truly be assimilated and comfortable in America without a command of English and understanding of United States culture. And every immigrant family wants that for their children.

I write children because the older parents are the more difficult it will be for them to speak English. The older the immigrants, the more they will be attracted to spending time with others of their nationality or those who speak the same language.

That’s because they are limited in how freely they can interact with English-only speaking citizens and the type of work they can do. They retain many of their linguistic and cultural ties and—not surprisingly—willingly isolate themselves from their host country.

It’s true for us, too, for the identical reasons.

American ex-patriots living abroad where English is not the official language usually form U.S. communities and social groups with fellow compatriots. They spend time with other Americans–often more frequently than with citizens of their adopted country. They all share the same language, grew up with common cultural values and have a common history.

What Brokaw got wrong

Immigrant children assimilate more quickly than their parents. Yes, they speak the language of their elders at home but learn English easily playing with other children in their neighborhoods and at school.

Scores of studies document how these bi-lingual family flow easily from one culture to another—one at home; the other outside.

These children most likely will choose friends and mates from both within and without their own nationality. And they are just as likely to speak only English to their own children. They will have more and better job opportunities.

By the third generation, these grandchildren of the original immigrants will speak little if any of the first generation language. Their cultural ties and loyalties decline and they will think of themselves first as Americans and only secondarily as children or grandchildren of immigrants. They will be among American’s leaders in business, government and education.

We all are immigrants

If we look at our own family histories, we know this is true.

Tom Brokaw was correct when he spoke to the importance of Latino assimilation. He failed to realize, however, that is already happening to second and third generation Hispanics. Just as it happened for all of us.

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