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I Found Assimilation on a Two Way Street/And Lost it on a Lonely Highway

May 11, 2007

The Libertarian nativist is sparring with Aunt B over the cultural component of the immigration battle. AC fears that immigration will cause a loss of “cultural homogeneity.” B says poppycock.

Really, a loss of our cultural hegemony is the least of our worries regarding immigration. Immigrants, ethnics, people of color, all realize that part of the game of Life in this country is to in part conform to the norms. Most of managed the balancing act of having a face for mainstream America and a face for the folks in their enclave. It drives some people crazy, what I call cultural schizophrenia.

Not only has the enthralling Anglo culture been able to withstand the influx of European ethnics, Asians, Jews, and the special import population, it has expanded its reach globally with the power of the cathode ray tube. The culture is a flickering filament in the beam of light that draws people here. However, what they see is not the culture that AC sees.

Assimilation in the form AC would like to see, total and utter submission to the Borg of bland J. Crew-ness (the company makes a fine pair of chinos) is a two way street. Not only does the group/sub-culture in question have to believe abandoning their sending culture is beneficial enough to go through the machinations, it has to be accepted by the majority. That acceptance, as B points out, comes grudgingly, if at all. Now, how, tell me, do you expect Arab and Persian immigrants to want to be a part of the “melting pot” when it is boiling them alive with suspicion and doubt? How do you expect Hispanic and Latino immigrants to want to jump in with both feet when the police are getting Bull Conner on their asses? Sure, the majority would like to assimilate half of the Asian population and welcome them with open arms and sweaty palms. What about the other half, derided as either hopelessly effete or dangerously inscrutable? (Yes, I’ll get to “us” in a minute)

Moreover, what exactly does it mean to assimilate in these modern times? Playing golf and liking it? Being able to discuss American Idol, Heroes, and The Office over morning coffee? Owning a gun? Speaking the 10th grade level English that most of us speak (I’m working on 7th)? Not owning a business that operates on some level tied to the country of your birth or parent’s birth? Listening to rap music? Eating Pizza? Drinking beer? Being a “soccer mom?”

Assimilation has been effective as a one-way street in the US in a couple of cases, the relocation of Africans and Native Americans. So, let’s use that model in the modern day! All you have to do is beat the foreign out of them, force them to take Anglo names or forbid them from speaking their language. Make them go to church on the reg, just not their church. If you really want to assimilate them well, make them resemble you by sneaking into their women’s bedrooms at night while your kids are asleep. Okay, perhaps that doesn’t work so well because of the whole recessive genes thing, but you get the idea. Damn science. If they feel like they want to get sassy and demur, give them a distraction, like liquor, small pox, or the WB.

So, bud, you’re saying that if these “aliens” just play it like Clarence, all the compunction about immigration would go away? Hmm. Guess I better forget the whole teaching my son Japanese thing.

The argument that immigration is a danger to our way of life is not only dangerous itself, but flawed. The way of life you’re trying to protect isn’t the way of life immigrants want when they come here, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. AC misses the point of B.’s aside. It isn’t that “because we are all immigrants we should allow unfettered immigration,” it’s that there’s nothing wrong with bringing some of your “alien culture” when you immigrate AND keep it while you stay.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. xanthippa permalink
    July 3, 2008 7:31 pm

    Perhaps there are several very separate issues here – at least, ones which I, as an Immigrant, perceive. And though my adoptive land is Canada, not the US, perhaps some may parallel experiences south of our border as well.

    There is a very major difference between ‘assimilation’ and ‘integration’. Never mistake the two.

    Integration is learning the host culture and its customs in order successfully become educated, employed, and able to comfortably exist with your neighbours. Understand the cultural expectations and behaviours well enough to either accept them, or have a strategy for avoiding putting yourself into situations where you are confronted by that which you do not wish (say, like not going to beaches, if you do not approve of bikinis).

    But, most importantly, a successful integration is learning the laws of the country and accepting a responsibility to obey them.

    It does not, in any way, imply that you should abandon all aspects of our original country’s culture, customs and habits – unless you want to. Keep some, but do accept that it is your differentiation from the mainstream, and do not be surprised if not everyone likes them. But, above all, do not keep the parts of ‘original culture’ which contravene the laws of your new land. You came here, you are protected by these laws – so it is your responsibility that you respect them fully.

    ‘Assimilation’ is something different. It is abandoning a part of you which defines your self through your associated with your past culture, or ‘original culture’, and replacing it with what you see as the ‘new culture’s norm’.

    It is never healthy to abandon, or deny, a part of your self – or to presume that you understand what such a ‘cultural norm’ actually is.

    So, I would propose that ‘integration’ is much preferable to ‘assimilation’ – for one more very important reason (not mentioned above).

    Social bonds of friendship.

    A successfully integrated immigrant will be able to form social connections with all of her or his neighbours, regardless of the neighbour’s origins, cultural backgrounds, religions, race, etc. In other words, the primary social bonds of a successfully integrated immigrant will include freindships with other people around them – building a common community. If this fails, ghettoization results! Not good.

    I am an immigratn, and think I have integrated rather well. But I have not ‘assimilated’ – not at all. But instead of seeking contact only with other immigrants of my original culture, I pick its best bits and teach it to my neighbours’ kids, my kids friends – and sometimes their parents, too! It is fun!!! I love to share!

    What I am very upset with is when some immigrant groups fail to integrate, and then demand that laws be changed to make their failure acceptable. That is wrong.

    We, immigrants, come to ‘The West’ because here, each individual has rights and freedoms – and no group can take these away. That protects the most vulnerable from ‘group opression’. And these laws, like freedom of speech, must never be lost – or we will end up with a society as bad as the one that forced us from our native land.


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