Assimilation is defined as a process by which an individual or a group acquires the attitudes and sentiments of other individuals or groups and then incorporates their history and experience to achieve a similar cultural life (Park & Burgess, 1921). Early American ancestors who were against assimilation in the country foresaw that immigrants to the country would throw away their cultural identities and the next generations would not retain those cultural identities.
It was debated that assimilation could result to a similar nature of national identity in which immigrants could achieve both social and economic benefits by integrating themselves into the mainstream of the American culture (Barvosa-Carter). Immigrants are required to take an identity of an Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, white and monolingual English language speaker when integrating immigrants on the assimilationist model.
However, assimilation disregarded the important distinction between a national identity and an ethnic identity. Assimilationists have influenced the American political culture with a false view that the growing cultural diversity among immigrants affects their loyalty to the country (Barvosa-Carter). Furthermore, an assimilationist approach adopts the notion that successful integration of immigrants in the country must remove all ethnic identities among immigrants (Barvosa-Carter). Definition of multiculturalism
Multiculturalism is also called ethnic federalism because it is the official acknowledgment of unique, fundamentally fixed ethnic individuals and the sharing of resources based on the idea of membership in an ethnic group. It disapproves the concept of the role of ethnic diversity in the emergence of a single, culturally united people. Multiculturalism also affirms the right of every ethnic American to privilege and power, to demand recognition and respect, and to act in their native language (Salins, 1997).
Moreover, multiculturalism came out of a conflict between social cohesion and cultural diversity that has been existent in the American political culture since its formation (Bryson, 2005). Assimilation versus Multiculturalism Assimilation in American life has been much more accommodating, flexible, and effective in allowing the country to retain its national unity despite the influx of different types of cultures and nationalities, while multiculturalism is more often an ideology of ethnic grievance and unavoidably results to ethnic conflict (Salins, 1997).
There are two principles that are considered the foundation of multiculturalism and the opposites of assimilationism: immigrants should not throw away any of the cultural qualities they inherited from their ancestors and there will or can never be a single united nationalistic identity that all Americans can interrelate with (Salins, 1997). According to Chavez, multiculturalism supersedes affirmative action with a power to influence how all racial and ethnic groups in the country perceive themselves and conceptualize the country.
Proponents of multiculturalism have not lost their belief in the capability of assimilation. The drive to traditionally assimilate ethnic minorities has been overwhelming in the United States, notably among the children of immigrants. Religion looks to be a more effective hindrance to complete assimilation than the temporal elements of culture (Chavez, 2009). Strengths and Limitations of Assimilation and Multiculturalism One of the disadvantages of multiculturalism is the failure to hear the voices of other people who live and share in the same country.
However, multiculturalism has proved to be powerful and exclusionary because its primary framework and tools are borrowed from the history of anthropology (Michaelsen, 1999). According to Chavez (2009), the driving force for multiculturalism will not come from immigrants, but from their assimilated counterparts who are more affluent and established. However, multiculturalism will not promote progress, but will put the nation a step backward.
The more culturally diverse Americans become, the more important that they commit themselves to a shared culture. The most notable attribute of American culture has been its capability to integrate different elements into a new unified culture (Chavez, 2009). Assimilation among Americans has always implied the notion of give and take and the American culture has been enhanced or improved by what individual ethnic groups contributed to it. (Chavez, 2009) Minority groups experiences
Discrimination suffered by ethnic minorities in the United States has affected their achievements in life. The country faces two challenges in dealing with ethnic relations: the move to further eliminate the negative impact of racism that started with slavery and the successful assimilation of growing immigrants, particularly coming from South and Central America and Asia. Moreover, the immigration trend in the country has gained exceptional successes in making the nation’s motto a reality.
However, each wave of immigration has resulted to tension between new types of immigrants and older, naturalized immigrants (Thernstrom, A & S, 2002). The nature and structure of life in the United States constitutes the social environment in which interpersonal relations among people of different religions, races and national origins occur. The estimated 190 million Americans are not just individual persons with psychological attributes, but belong to different types of groups: primary, secondary, family, associations, social networks, religious, racial, and social classes.
The nature of these different types of groups and their interpersonal relationships has a fundamental impact on how people of different cultural backgrounds perceive and relate to each other (Gordon, 1964). The different cultural varieties of Americans have the tendency to be with their own social class and ethnic group for the main purpose of having the warm relationships with their primary groups, interacting with other cultural varieties of Americans mainly in neutral relationships with secondary groups (Gordon, 1964).
In conclusion, the United States can cope with the influx of immigrants and increasing diversity by making sure that all Americans learn how to relate with different types of groups that exist in the country. They must learn to continually eliminate structural separation of different types of ethnic groups by enhancing their interaction on the job, on the civic environment, and in other areas of impersonal relations. The process of having a modern and industrial society is dependent on the commitment of mobility and interchangeability of individuals based on their occupational expertise and needs.
The universal criteria of training and competence, which rely on the achievement of occupational roles, the choice of political leaders, the selection of living space, and the effective implementation of the educational process must exist in the country, while the criteria based on religion, racial background, and nationality must eliminate. If the structural separation of ethnic groups, brought by prejudices and the desire to maintain their own subculture and ethnic identity, the American society will experience, conflict, mediocrity and confusion (Gordon 1964).
Chavez recommends that that all of ethnic minorities in the United States should think of themselves as Americans, no matter where they all come from or what reasons that brought their ancestors in the country. All Americans need to retain the idea that they are one people, not simply an integration of various and competing ethnic groups. Furthermore, the value for immigrant children to understand English than to retain their native language is also necessary to address the complexity of cultural diversity.
Going beyond the line where ethnicity and race are the key elements that Americans identify themselves or establish loyalty is also needed. Retaining the values and principles that unite Americans must exist rather than their differences in ancestry (Chavez, 2009). The nation can also cope with the steady influx of immigrants by understanding the concept of culture. Cultures are sets of practices involving codes of communication, habits of interaction, expression of artistic talents, and standards of human behavior that need to be understood by Americans.
Furthermore, cultures are interrelated with people because as people change their cultural practices, the entire cultures can and do change (Moya, 2002). Students and teachers can play an important role in helping the nation cope with the growing cultural diversity. They must learn to understand that certain ethnic groups are culturally deprived, while other ethnic groups are culturally rich. It is also important that students and educators must be provided with tools they need to learn the impact of daily interaction on different cultural practices.
Understanding the notion of concept of culture will help explain the importance of cultural diversity. Cultures not only can familiarize Americans to the world, but can also be an important form of moral knowledge (Moya, 2002). References Barvosa-Carter, Edwina. American immigrants in American conflict. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. Retrieved April 7, 2009, from http://journal. georgetown. edu/72/barvosa. cfm. Bryson, Bethany Paige (2005). Making Multiculturalism: Boundaries and Meaning in U. S. Palo Alto, California: Stanford University. Chavez, Linda (2009).
Multiculturalism is driving us apart. USA Today. Retrieved April 7, 2009, from http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mim1272/is_n2612_v124/ai_18274647/ Gordon, Milton M. (1964). Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion and National Origins. Great Britain: Oxford University Press, Inc. Michaelsen, Scott (1999). Limits of Multiculturalism: Interrogating the Origins of American Anthropology. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Moya, Paula M. L. (2002).
Learning From Experience: Minority Identities, Multicultural Struggles. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. Park, Robert E. & Burgess, Ernest W. (1921). Introduction to the Science of Sociology. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press. Salins, Peter D. (1997). Assimilation, American style: multiculturalism and ethnic relations. Reason. Los Angeles, California: Reason Foundation. Thernstrom, Abigail & Stephan, Eds. (2002). Beyond the Color Line: New Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America. Palo Alto, California: Hoover Institution Press.