If we were talking in America in the 1920s or 1930s, the difference between Irish people and Italian people would have been enormous. I have some friends who got married in the 1960s, he was from an Italian background, she was from an Irish background, and when they got married everybody called it a “mixed” marriage. Parents on both sides, said mixed marriages never work. And now that seems like a joke because what’s happened in the ensuing years is that the line, the sharp line between the Italians and Irish has just disappeared in America. It’s not that they don’t know that they’re from Irish or Italian backgrounds, but it no longer has that same salience. We’ve done this repeatedly over our own history.
This current wave of immigration, is not the first time that we have had a big wave of immigration that causes turbulence and then when you come out the other side we’re all better off. I mean, look it happens that my ancestors came to this country in 1640, so we’ve been here forever. And we were doing just fine. And, then the Dutch arrived. Now don’t get me started with the Dutch. It was really hard for us to get along with the Dutch, and then eventually we got along with the Dutch, and then we forgot they were Dutch. And then they were just us. And then the Germans arrived, and they were really difficult, and we had a lot of, a lot of trouble assimilating the Germans. And then after awhile, we got adjusted to them, and we sort of didn’t even notice that the Germans were Germans, and then we invented, at that point, a term called Anglo-Saxon, to refer to the Dutch and the Germans and us. And then we had a lot of trouble when the Irish arrived — I hope you see that there’s a smile on my face. We’ve done this a lot!
– Robert Putnam @ Trust Me – Ep. 266 – Freakonomics Radio