Friday, February 3

Spanish language State of the Union not cricket?

Tunku Varadarjan has a provocative piece on today's Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal page, in which he attacks the Democrats for offering an official "Hispanic" response to the President's State of the Union address. I would be interested in any thoughts readers might have on it. If no one wants to post a comment, I may offer a few of my own at a later date.

The article brought to mind Lord Tebbit's famous "cricket test" for Britishness, for which he was roundly savaged by those in whose company he is known as the Chingford Polecat.

In 1990, Tebbit suggested that immigrants and their children could not show loyalty to Britain until they supported the England team at cricket.
"A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It's an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?"

Tebbit made a silly and ignorant mistake when he singled out Britons of Asian descent (i.e. Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi; not Chinese and Japanese, as we think of "Asian" in North America)--for one thing, British immigrants from Australia and South Africa are far more irredeemable homers than Asians--but I think his general point is valid.

At some point, every immigrant must make what Varadarajan calls "a brutal contract with their land of adoption." I can sympathize with first generation immigrants who move to a new country as adults, and think that the test should be looser for them, provided that they are committed to raising their children as unalloyed supporters of their new country. Were I ever to become an American citizen, I doubt that I could ever overcome decades of reflexive support for Canada against the United States in hockey. Some attitudes are just too ingrained, too visceral to change mid-life. Accordingly, I would no more ask that an Italian or Mexican adult immigrant give up his deeply-rooted support for his national soccer team.

I would, however, insist on two conditions: (1) that he support his adoptive* country as against all countries other than his native country, and (2) that he not publicly cheer against his adoptive country (by painting his face, or waving his old country's flag in the stadium). An emotional response may be unavoidable, but it is unseemly to oppose your new and freely chosen country in public.

So much for the first generation immigrant. For second generation immigrants, I think that the cricket test is useful. When a generation raised in a country does not support it in head-to-head competition with their parents' country of origin, there is a problem. This is not a race or ethnicity-specific problem; it cannot be stressed enough that this seems to be a universal immigration phenomenon. I have seen Croatians in Canada, who were either born in Canada or moved there as young children, cheer for Croatia against Canada at a basketball game in Toronto. I have seen second generation Mexicans cheer for Mexico against the United States soccer team at a bar in New York. And, along with Tebbit, I have seen second generation Pakistanis cheer for Pakistan against England at cricket. Every sports fan is entitled to a sentimental "second team"-- one for whom you cheer against all teams but your favorite. The same principle is acceptable in immigrant populations, but there is no excuse for the second generation, at least, not to favor its new country above all others.

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* I know that it is acceptable to use either "adopted" or "adoptive" to refer to a person's new country, but the latter is more consistent with the analogy to families, in which a child is "adopted" by "adoptive" parents.

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