films of John Ford have been discussed more than once innthese pages. All I will say about them now is that all thenmythic themes of 19th-century America can be found innsuch movies as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers,nThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and CheyennenAutumn, and what Ford was to the last century, Capra wasnto the mid-20th century.nFor most Americans Frank Capra is remembered for onenfilm: It’s a Wonderful Life, done to death simultaneously onnevery cable channel throughout the holiday season. If therenis anyone who does not know the story by now, I will not benthe one to enlighten him. But one segment of the filmnturned out to be remarkably prophetic. When GeorgenBailey is given the chance to see what his town would havenbeen like if he had never lived, in place of Bedford Falls wenare given a vision of Potterville, a factory town filled withnmean streets, gin joints, and cynical characters who mightnhave escaped from 40’s film noir into a screwball comedy.nThis celebrator of the old America and all that it wasndoing for immigrants was an Italian who cheerfully attachednhimself to his adopted nation’s ideals. In his autobiography,nCapra explained that he made the sort of pictures he did innorder to pay back the country that had been so kind to him.nNot all Italians adapted so readily, but when they were leftnalone in their own neighborhoods, Italian-Americans mindedntheir own business, reared their own families, served innthe Armed Forces, and refused to constitute themselves as anvoting bloc or interest vote.nUnlike my Irish relatives who devoted themselves sonenthusiastically to the Democratic machine, the Italiansnuntil recently largely stayed out of politics. Perhaps it was thenlanguage barrier or the fact that so many came from Sicilynand Southern Italy — an area that approached the ThirdnWorid in poverty. But Italians turned a disability into anvirtue. By remaining what they were, they took a long timenin becoming fully American, but they did not have to passnthrough the anti-American phase of so many other immigrantngroups.nI am not afraid of ethnic enclaves or the persistence ofnOld World folkways on American soil, especially when it isnan ethnic group, no matter how apparendy alien, withnwhom we share part of our history and part of our culture.nAn Italian will boast of Cicero and Vergil, Dante andnMichelangelo, Verdi and Puccini; all of this we are preparednto appreciate, and our lives are richer for it. Even thenstrangest aspect of his culture — the cuisine — has beennsomehow incorporated into our own, and Americans havenbeen attempting to eat Italian since Jefferson began servingnpasta to his guests.nThis cultural mixing of Italians and Germans and Slavsnand Jews and Scandinavians into an already establishednAnglo-American mold is a strange and perilous experiment,nbut it is one that we must make work, if we are to survive.nOur survival, however, depends upon our willingness tonlook reality in the face. There are limits to elasticity, andnthese limits are defined in part by our historical connectionsnwith the rest of Europe and in part by the rate ofnimmigration. High rates of non-European immigration,neven if the immigrants come with the best intentions in thenworld, will swamp us. Not all, I hasten to say, do come withnthe best intentions. Once upon a hme, the grateful immi­ngrant was the norm. Now he is an anomaly in a nationnwhere foreigners are hardly off the boat or under the wirenbefore they are squabbling with their traditional enemies.nThe Serbs and Croats, for example, are engaged in anmetaphorical genocide over each group’s representation atnVoice of America. Why don’t we import several millionneach, Armenians and Azeris, or Iraqis and Iranians, and letnthem fight it out in Nebraska or Jersey City? Why don’t wenturn the whole United States into Miami, which now bearsnthe nickname “city of immigrants”?nFrank Capra saw the future, and realized that withoutnpeople like George Bailey it is Potterville. It is the worldnof our generation, an America that has gone from JimmynStewart to Mickey Rourke and John Travolta and Madonna.nWhy? If there is a film that captures the difference, it is ThenYear of the Dragon, directed by another patriotic Italo-nAmerican, Michael Cimino. Mickey Rourke plays a Polishncop (who has changed his name to White) trying to clean upnNew York’s Chinatown. It is not a struggle between WSPsnand hyphenated Americans, but a crusade waged by annimmigrant’s son who served his tour in Vietnam and camenback to discover that he had to fight against the same thingsnin New York: drugs, a brutal disregard for human life, andn”thousands of years” of Chinese civilization. StanleynWhite’s answer is brutal and direct:nYou people think gambling and extortion are koshernbecause it’s a thousand years old. All this thousandnyear old stuff is s—t to me. This is America you’renliving in, and it’s 200 years old, so you better getnyour clocks fixed.nBlame it on the New Deal. Blame it on the schools. Blame itnon the media. Blame it on the inevitable decay andnfossilization that overtakes all republican institutions. Blamenit on whatever or whomever you like, but remember this. Sonlong as this was, fundamentally, an Anglo-American countrynwith Anglo-American culture, language, and heroes, wenknew who we were as a nation, whatever our individualnbackgrounds were. So far as I know, I don’t have a drop ofnreal English blood in my veins, and I grew up meeting andnhearing of relatives from all over Europe — the Balkans,nScandinavia, and Britain. I take a personal interest in all ofnmy ancestral groups and have even gone so far as to studyntheir languages (except Norwegian), but insofar as I am annAmerican, I am also English in the same way somentree-worshiping Celt or skull-swilling German had to becomena Roman if he was to live within the empire.nIf we really are the last generation of Anglo-Americans,nthen we are also the last generation of Americans, period.nLet the Japanese buy the Washington Monument; go aheadnand flood the country with Indian and Pakistani doctors andnengineers whom, if we had a particle of charity toward ThirdnWorld nations, we would compel to return home and serventheir own people; get rich on bribes from foreign businesses;nwrite editorials on how everyone else in the world wouldnmake a better American than the present population.nBecause, if we continue the cultural and moral slide thatntook us from the world of Frank Capra to the world ofnMichael Cimino, in thirty or forty years there won’t be annAmerica worth slandering or selling out. <^nnnJULY 1990/13n