(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

The collapse of Communism in the Eastern Bloc and the break-up of the Soviet Union, the emergence of the European Community, the growing economic dominance of Japan—these and other developments have prompted considerable speculation about the prospects for a “new world order.” Yet such analyses, whether optimistic or pessimistic, have for the most part consigned to the periphery or ignored altogether a factor that will become increasingly significant in the near future: worldwide migration of people on an unprecedented scale.

All over the world, nations which in the past have had relatively homogeneous populations are experiencing an influx of immigrants. Many of these immigrants are sojourners; they are seeking employment to support their families back home, not permanent residence. Such, for example, were the nearly twenty thousand Vietnamese workers in Kuwait who were displaced by the Gulf War. Others, however, do end up staying in their adopted country. In France and Germany, the growing number of immigrants—who are bearing children at a much higher rate than the national average—has resulted in severe racial tensions and intense political controversy. In Italy and Spain, immigrants from Africa have provoked similar reactions. Scenarios such as these are being played out around the world—in Scandinavia, where long-established social policies are being put to a new test by immigrants and migrant workers; in ethnically homogeneous Japan, where the number of foreign workers is steadily increasing.

Sporadic press coverage of these stories has focused almost exclusively on the moral issues involved, with the presumption that any opposition to immigration is evidence of racism and xenophobia. Indeed, in France and Germany, anti-immigrant groups have employed rhetoric that echoes Nazi slogans. What is absent from most of these articles is acknowledgment that concern over the consequences of immigration might have a legitimate basis. In contrast, a special report on international migration in the Los Angeles Times (October 1, 1991) noted that, “By century’s end, migration will not only color political decisions but may also seriously jeopardize national stability of both sending and receiving nations.”

This global situation provides a context for current issues of racial, ethnic, and civic identity in the United States. Immigration to the United States in the 1980’s was at its highest point since the great wave of immigration in the first decades of the twentieth century, and legislation passed by Congress in 1990 will permit an even greater increase. As a result, the United States, always known as a nation of immigrants, has become even more diverse. In Los Angeles, almost 40 percent of the population is foreign-born; in Miami, more than 50 percent. Ethnic enclaves are to be found throughout the country: Colombians in New York City’s Jackson Heights, Hmong refugees in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Vietnamese fishermen in Louisiana.

Coinciding with this “new immigration”—triggered by a major shift in U.S. immigration policy in 1965—there has been a marked increase in racial and ethnic consciousness among African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. Calls for recognition of America’s multicultural diversity have raised questions about how Americans define themselves: as participants in a shared civic culture, or first and foremost as members of a particular racial or ethnic group?

These questions have been debated in almost every forum in the land, but much of the debate has been unproductive. In The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity, and the Civic Culture, Lawrence H. Fuchs has written a book which could contribute to substantive discussion of multiculturalism. The story he tells is familiar enough in its broad outlines: It is a celebration of America’s uniquely inclusive political culture, tempered by an uncompromising account of the ongoing struggle of racial and ethnic minorities to overcome disenfranchisement and discrimination. (Fuchs particularly emphasizes the African-American experience.)

Yet if the story is familiar, much in the telling is fresh and compelling. Fuchs has mastered an enormous quantity of material, which he integrates seamlessly...

(The entire section is 1744 words.)