The Effects of Cultural Assimilation: Conformity vs. Unorthodoxdy “Cultural assimilation is a complex and multifaceted process that first involves immigrants learning the language, cultural norms, and role expectations of the absorbing society, and further changes in attitudes”, or so it is explained by Dejun Su, Chad Richardson, and Guang-zhen Wang, in their article, “Assessing Cultural Assimilation of Mexican Americans: How Rapidly Do Their Gender-Role Attitudes Converge to the U. S. Mainstream? ” (764).
Throughout history and also present day society, cultural assimilation is easy to be identified, thanks to the “melting pot” quality of North America. Also, cultural assimilation is questioned about the effects it has on various groups of immigrants. Effects, such as the loss of one's identity, the struggle to attain success in the new country, the loss of one's heritage and unique background, conflict between family and friends and stereotypical discrimination in society, are demonstrated in varying degrees by the past and present generations of immigrants from the countries of Mexico, Japan and the Middle East.
Throughout history, Mexican immigrants have continuously crossed the boarder into America for the chance of a new life. However, coming to a new country inevitably has it's consequences, and the pressures of assimilation are always present. During a time of great immigration of European citizens into the United States, Mexican immigrants were not so much of a concern throughout the whole country.
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Katherine Benton-Cohen supports this idea in her article “Other Immigrants: Mexicans and the Dillingham Commission of 1907-1911”, by explaining that, “Unlike Japanese immigration in California—which had set international diplomatic maneuvers in motion, in this period 'American officials generally viewed Mexican immigration as a local labor issue,' not a national or international policy question” (39). As a result, the Mexican immigrants were not so quick as to forget their culture, but as long as they were willing to work for small wages, this resistance did not bother American's.
Benton-Cohen also points out that “While the Mexicans are not easily assimilated, this is not of very great importance as long as most of them return to their native land after a short time”(Benton-Cohen, 38). This resulted in the effects that the Mexican immigrants were unable to attain higher wages, or to gain success in America. However, new effects came into account as time went on, and more Mexicans continuously moved to America. Compared to past Mexican immigrant challenges, present day effects have drastically changed.
As the population of Mexican immigrants has grown overtime, so has the attention and concern towards their living and adaptation to a new country. It is believed that in the article “The Kids are (Mostly) Alright: Second-Generation Assimilation” written by Richard Alba, Philip Kasinitz and Mary C. Waters, that “In general, the second generation is doing much better than its parents in educational attainment and is less concentrated in immigrant jobs” (763). However, this does not justify the fact that the pressures of cultural assimilation are much more developed in today's society than in the past.
Alba then goes on to point out that “The overwhelming majority of the second generation is completely fluent in English... Yet most of its members have not reached parity with native whites, and many experience racial discrimination” (Alba, 763). This statement goes to show that the newer society of Mexican Immigrants find that resisting cultural assimilation, is a greater risk than when the older generations came to find meager jobs. Another example of the effects the newer generation must face, would be the struggle to be successful in school.
In the article, “Immigrant Families and Children (Re)Develop Identities in a New Context”, the author, Mariana Souto-Manning, talk about a young Hipic boy she had in class, and the effects of his mother's attempt for cultural assimilation had on him. When Souto-Manning meets to discusses the boy, his mother confesses, “I decided to give him an American name... so that no one would know he is Mexican. So that he would have a better chance to be successful in school than his brothers” (402).
Based on experience, she thought that by changing the boys name from Idelbrando to the American name Tommy, she could save him from the “cultural stereotypes that might hinder his schooling experience” (Souto-Manning, 402). However, she also left him vulnerable to the effects of cultural assimilation that are the loss of one's identity, and the loss of one's heritage and unique background. Idelbrando is not the only Mexican immigrant who has been effected in this way. In fact, it is common for many Mexican immigrants to change their name, but it doesn't stop there.
If the belief that cultural assimilation makes it easier for Mexican immigrants to become successful, then the immigrants would need to change much more than their name's; going as far as to cast their own culture to the side and fully assimilate to the American culture. Another example of complete cultural assimilation and it's consequences, would be in Joy Kogawa's Novel Obasan. In this novel, the main character, Naomi, and her Japanese family are faced with the discrimination and cruel treatment of Japanese-Canadians that was practiced in Canada at the time of World Was II.
Still, throughout all the hardship and pressures of conformity she was faced to go through, Naomi managed to keep much of her Japanese roots that were apart of her since birth. At one point in the novel, Naomi points out the differences in her and her brother's lunches and describes,“My lunch that Obasan made is two moist and sticky rice balls with a salty red plum in the center of each, a boiled egg to the side with a tight square of lightly boiled greens” (182). In this description, it is evident that Naomi remains accustomed to her Japanese upbringing.
On the other hand, Naomi explains that “Stephen has peanut-butter sandwiches, an apple, and a thermos of soup” (Kogawa, 182). Therefore emphasizing that, unlike Naomi, her brother Stephen does not hold strong to his Japanese culture, and falls to the pressures of cultural assimilation. Naomi then goes on to explain how “She [Obasan] mends and re-mends his [Stephen] old socks and shirt which he never wears and sets the table with food, which he often does not eat. Sometimes he leaps up in the middle of nothing at all and goes off... “ (Kogawa, 259).
Sadly, Naomi's explanation suggests that Stephen has gone as far as to shun anything to do with his Japanese Culture. Another example of Stephen's reluctance, is when Naomi asks Stephen what there Aunt Emily is like, and he replies, “She's not like them” while “jerking his thumb at Uncle and Obasan” ( Kogawa, 259). Additionally, this behavior is an example of how cultural assimilation can effect the bonds of family and friends, and cause conflict between them. While the percentage of Japanese immigrants traveling to North America is ot as prominent as in the past, the Japanese culture is still ever present throughout society. As well, after World War II, Japanese immigrants seemed less of a threat, and their cultural differences slowly became more acceptable among society. However, the pressures of cultural assimilation are not completely eliminated for this culture. People of Japanese heritage living in North America, today, still feel the pressures of cultural assimilation, but mostly in the effect of stereotyping.
For instance, in the article “Japanese International Female Students' Experience of Discrimination, Prejudice, and Stereotypes” by authors Claude Bonazzo and Y. Joel Wong, it is acknowledged that “Portrayals of Japanese culture and the Japanese in recent Hollywood movies such as The Last Samurai, Lost in Translation, and Memoirs of a Geisha might play a role in shaping Americans' perceptions and stereotypes of Japanese international students” (paragraph 5).
In otherwords, they believe that Americans may get the wrong impression of the Japanese culture, which create false myths and unrealistic stereotypes for people of Japanese culture. Bonazzo then goes to explain how “Another common stereotype that Asians living in the United States encounter is the racialization of their ethnicity... Americans have the tendency to lump Asians of different ethnic groups into one homogenous racial category by downplaying ethnic differences” (Bonazzo, paragraph 16).
Thus proving, that although the pressure to assimilate to the North American culture is not as strong, Japanese immigrants are now pressured with living up to false stereotypes that the consequences of over-assuming can create. Before September 11th, conflict between the cultures of Americans and Middle Eastern immigrants, mostly were the result of their clashing religious practices. While America is a country of religious freedom, the most common religion here was, and is Christianity. Likewise, the common religion practiced in the Middle East is Islam.
However, although it is legally acceptable for Muslim immigrants to practice their religion in America, there was still controversy as to the acceptability among Christian Americans. For instance, in the article “Islam in America”, written by authors Ghosh, Abel, Lieblich, Scherer, Newton-Small, Dias, Steinmetz and Ford, a Christian preacher, Reverend Wayne Devrou, claims that “The political objective of Islam is to dominate the world with its teachings... and to have domination of all other religions militarily” (paragraph 4).
This idea, however, is not true, because it is often the case that Americans misunderstand the religion of Islam, and in some cases, it is the Christian extremists who try to push their religion onto the Middle Eastern immigrants. Gosh then goes on to explain how, “To be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith--not just in the schoolyard and the office but also outside your place of worship and in the public square, where some of the country's most powerful mainstream religious and political leaders unthinkingly (or worse, deliberately) conflate Islam with terrorism and savagery” (Ghosh, paragraph 12).
This explanation illustrates the effects of Middle Eastern immigrants not assimilating, and the conflict is causes between the two cultures. Then on September 11th, 2001, the cause of conflict between Middle Eastern immigrants and Americans drastically changed. When a group of terrorist of Middle Eastern ethnicity, were responsible for the death of thousands and the devastation of the whole country of the United States, an idea called Islamophobia settled into the minds of many American's.
In his article, “Confronting Islamophobia in the United States: framing civil rights activism among Middle Eastern Americans”, Erik Love states that “Islamophobia’ is a problematic neologism, and the one that is currently the most common term used to refer to bigotry, discrimination, policies and practices directed towards Islam and a racialized group of people that includes Muslims”, which verifies that after 9/11 the discrimination of Islam is not the main focus of terrified Americans (402).
Americans instead focus on the distinction of appearance that is particular to the Middle East race. Love also argues that, “Islamophobia, in short, affects a racialized group of people- Middle Eastern Americans- /that, like any racialized group, is in fact comprised of an irreducibly diverse collection of individuals who identify with many different ethnicities, nationalities and religions” which in other words means that not all Middle Eastern immigrants are a terrorist or a threat in anyway to the United States (Love, 402).
In fact, when first noticing the presence of a person of a Middle Eastern race, for some Americans, the word Muslim no longer automatically comes to mind. Terrorist is the word that is now associated with this race, and because it all is based on the appearance of the race, no amount of cultural assimilation can extinguish this effect of stereotypical discrimination still present today.
Furthermore, because the effects of cultural assimilation depend on the circumstance, the time period, the culture and the person, each output is different as to whether keeping a strong hold on to one's unique culture when pressured by a new environment is the right thing to do. Also, as time progresses, so does the idea that complete cultural assimilation is not necessary for immigrants to survive in a new country; and more people are becoming proud of their cultural background.
In fact, on the website, Thinkexist. com a quote by Donna Taylor can be found to support the idea that our country is “... no longer a melting pot where assimilation is the goal, but a great mosaic where each culture adds its uniqueness to make the whole better” (Donna Taylor Quotes). Finally, although Cultural Assimilation is still present today, there is less pressure to conform to one's surrounding, and overall, there is a more open-minded feeling towards the blends and coincidence of different cultures.
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