Culture and the Assimilation of Ethnic Groups
The definition of assimilation is when outsiders, either ethnically or culturally, adapt their way of life to become like others in a new environment. Many ethnic groups immigrate to a new country and often fleeing conflict in their home country to make a better life for themselves and their families. A vast majority of ethnic groups believe the United States is a country with more significant economic, political, and social opportunities, and therefore, many immigrated to the country. A pressing concern in immigration research involves the impacts of immigration and assimilation on health, social programs, and education. These impacts are particularly concerning in areas of high immigration concentration.
According to the article National Research Council (1996), “One of the most serious deficiencies in the area of immigration and economic inequality is the absence of information about income and employment dynamics among various segments of the foreign-born population. Virtually all national estimates of immigrant employment, poverty, and welfare participation are based on data from the decennial census or the Current Population Survey. Although static measures of poverty status and welfare participation are useful for portraying aggregate trends and differentials in the prevalence of poverty in a given year, they do not illustrate the dynamics of income stratification processes.”
While assimilation may have its benefits, the disadvantages, as mentioned earlier, are outlined as having a more significant impact. Virtually through assimilation, many cultures and ethnicities lose their connection to their ancestral practices over time alongside the economic impacts they often face.
Ethnic group assimilating contributes to and reinforces existing ethnic hierarchies. Later we will explain if the mainstream society is more welcoming to newcomers if they assimilate or retain some of their cultural customs. Many ethnic groups migrate to the united states to provide a better-quality life for their families by seeking improved job opportunities than at home.
“In fact, major streams of European immigration can be identified during the colonial era, the first portion of the 19th century, and the period from the 1880s to 1920. European immigrants were granted increased access to the United States as stipulated in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. This quota system was not effectively ended until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965,” (Coates & et. al, 2018).
The individuals assimilated and received positive and negative feedback when they came to the United States. Society was not as welcoming to some ethnic groups because there are not many job opportunities for them. Some will also receive welfare benefits to help them get on their feet until they found jobs or an affordable place to live. “The number of immigrants who live in the United States has tripled during the last twenty years and is now approaching thirty million or ten percent of the American population,” (Stodolska, 1998).
Assimilation varies for ethnic groups that immigrate to a new country. These groups analyze cultural symbols, such as food, and how they play a role in assimilation. The immigrant groups are expected to assimilate to mainstream culture and try to grow accustomed to how they do things in the US. The assimilation can help those achieve fluency in English as it is the dominant language. The group is expected to advance in educational or economic success and familiarity with its history and culture.
Some cannot go back home to their old country, and it is hard for them to contact the family they left behind, but this is something many dreams of and want to come to America for a better life. “Immigrants contribute to America in a million different ways… They commit far fewer crimes than native-born citizens. But hardly a week goes by when poor assimilation isn’t blamed for offenses involving immigrants” (Lalami, 2017). The ethnic groups are encouraged to adopt their new home culture rather than maintain their cultural traditions because many were being discriminated against and racially profiled since years ago; many did not understand their culture, especially after 9/11.
Things had changed from when immigrants first came to America by feeling like they have to make a culture change to fit in better because they felt different by coming to a new country, but now things are not like this. When different cultures and ethnicities immigrate to the US, and they do not have to change their culture to fit in, unless that is their decision, but it is their choice. The Americans are not forcing them to change their cultural traditions, and many are very accepting of new cultures, even though there are some that racial profile and discriminate.
Looking at the assimilation of Native American children, they were forced by the United States employing killing them or sending them away to assimilation boarding schools. The Native Americans were forced to change their names, live a different culture, change their looks, and cut their hair to fit in the settler’s world and be accepted. “Decades later, those words—delivered in a speech by U.S. cavalry captain Richard Henry Pratt, who opened the first such school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania—have come to symbolize the brutality of the boarding school system” (Little, 2017). The forced assimilation of the Native Americans served and benefited the settlers because they took over the indigenous people’s lands. As the settlers viewed the indigenous people as savages, they took strides to make them more human from their point of view.
Researchers often measure the degree to which an ethnic group has assimilated by looking at cultural practices. The resources involved provide the importance of food as a cultural symbol for ethnic groups. An immigrant group may resist adapting to the mainstream culture’s cultural food norms because this is what they know, and love and they already have to change their appearance and names to be more accepted.
The traditional food culture is one thing that the Natives will not change and resist letting most people control what they eat. “Immigrants contribute to America in a million different ways, from growing the food on our tables to creating the technologies we use every day. They commit far fewer crimes than native-born citizens” (Lalami, 2017). The traditions of every culture have their type of food and family traditions they have too. Our comfort foods map who we are, where we come from, what we represent in our culture.
In a Mexican-based culture, women usually cook the food, and grandmothers have all the recipes and secret recipes used to heal those inflicted with different sicknesses. The young women learn how to cook at an early age, and the older women teach them because they believe that women should cook for the men and have their foods served after a long day at work. They prepare the food and help the men and children, then they eat and care for themselves last. The adults eat at a table, and the children have their table, and everyone is respectful, and they pray together as a family before they eat their food. Mexican traditions usually eat tortillas and beans with almost every meal.
The Chinese culture has its traditions too and usually has rice with almost every meal. The older generation still would shop every day in the wet market, bargain for tomatoes, then go home that night and cook traditional dishes. “Chinese immigrants began arriving in the United States to work as laborers on large construction projects. They helped construct the first transcontinental railroad, and they were quite successful at mining. As gold became scarce and the competition for good jobs increased, anti-Chinese bigotry intensified. Judicial decrees and legislative actions increasingly targeted Chinese and other immigrants for increased police scrutiny and criminalization. Coats et al. (2018) stated that “Chinese were stereotyped as criminals and prostitutes and thus were excluded from entry into the country.”
The more traditional American food in Texas is Bar-B-Que and tailgating for Sunday football games and many family gatherings with BBQ food. The ethnic groups each have respect for each other and their cultural traditions and don’t mind sharing and sampling each other’s food, and that is why many restaurants have authentic food from different cultures. There are Mexican, Chinese, American, Greek, Filipino, and Asian restaurants for everyone to enjoy other cultural foods and have that experience, even though they may not get to visit their country to try these food types.
Another cultural symbol that an ethnic group may want to keep rather than assimilate into a mainstream culture could be hanging their country’s flag outside or inside their home. An immigrant’s national flag is a representation of their culture and heritage. The immigrants can see the banner as symbolic of their past, while the United States flag symbolizes their present and future. Some ethnicities decide to hold onto these symbols to represent, remember, and even educate.
Assimilation can be a rocky process and can cause progressive measures that could result in some hostility. This process can also allow an opportunity for greater peace and understanding between ethnic groups. Every ethnic group has its culture, and when shared, it can yield peace and understanding. Through things like food and its customs, people unfamiliar with ethnicity can have an eyeopener. Food is often said to have a connection to emotions. Through food, one can have their emotions stirred and open a path towards empathy with those who created the food. Certain foods can trigger comfort and security or an emotional connection to something one has experienced. Through food diversity among other ethnicities, one can form a real appreciation for one’s culture.
The process of making any dish varies. Each ethnic dish has its specific preparation method that will often include some similarities and differences in how to prepare the dish and cultivate it to the masterpiece product ready to taste. Cultures are partially shaped by the foods they eat as that is a staple of their everyday life. When preparing a dish and following the process, one grows a connection and appreciation for those who regularly make the dishes. One also gains a relationship to food in the process of being hands-on with the creation of their meal. This process opens the emotional empathy flood gates to how culture may prep and create meals for their families and friends.
Music is another piece of culture that can form connections and open the opportunity for peace and understanding. Music’s rhythm and melody can move a listener emotionally even if the lyrics or instruments utilized are foreign to the ears. Regardless of someone’s ethnicity, they can have many emotions triggered by a melodic song. The range of emotions can vary but heighten one’s connection to the ethnic group that created it.
In conclusion, cultural symbols are fundamental to ethnic groups because they are a representation of the values of their country and heritage. All ethnic groups have their traditions and symbology that is a part of their heritage. Depending on the group or individual, what they hold nearest to their hearts can be the flags from their country, food, religion, beliefs, and traditions. “For some, assimilation is based on pragmatic considerations, like achieving some fluency in the dominant language, some educational or economic success, some familiarity with the country’s history and culture. For others, it runs deeper and involves relinquishing all ties, even linguistic ones, to the old country” (Lalami, 2017). Assimilation to a new way of living does not require altogether remove your ethnic heritage and traditions but can if one so chooses. While the choice or forced to assimilate is different case by case, it is a part of life and continues to this day. Through assimilation, ethnic groups can find what they are searching for, and those who are unfamiliar with the particular ethnic group have a chance to learn and connect with them.
Abramitzky, Ran. (2017, April 12). What history tells us about assimilation of immigrants. Retrieved from https://siepr.stanford.edu/news/what-history-tells-us-about-assimilation-immigrants
Coates, R. D., Ferber, A. L., & Brunsma, D. L. (2018). The matrix of race: Social construction, intersectionality, and inequality. Retrieved from https://www.vitalsource.com/
Kushnirovich, N., & Sherman, A. (2018). Dimensions of life satisfaction: Immigrant and ethnic minorities. International Migration, 56(3), 127–141. https://doi-org.proxy-library.ashford.edu/10.1111/imig.12329
Lalami, L. (2017, August 1). What does it take to ‘assimilate’ in America? The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/magazine/what-does-it-take-to-assimilate-in-america.html?mtrref=www.google.com
Little, B. (2017, August 16). How boarding schools tried to ‘kill the Indian’ through assimilation: Native American tribes are still seeking the return of their children. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/how-boarding-schools-tried-to-kill-the-indian-through-assimilation
National Research Council. 1996. Statistics on U.S. Immigration: An Assessment of Data Needs for Future Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/4942.
Stodolska, M. (1998). Assimilation and leisure constraints: Dynamics of constraints on leisure in immigrant populations. Journal of Leisure Research, 30, 521-5
Written by: Ace