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Immigrant Integration, or Assimilation?

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The topic of "immigrant integration" has become a buzz phrase here in the nation's capital, but some continue to prefer to use the word "assimilation" instead.

Two years ago, President Bush weighed in on the issue of how to help immigrants find a place in American society, putting out an executive order to form a "Task Force on New Americans" within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The goal of establishing such a task force was "to help legal immigrants embrace the common core of American civic culture, learn our common language, and fully become Americans." The task force says on its Web site that one of its objectives is "gathering input on successful immigrant integration practices."

Lawmakers recently introduced a bill in Congress intended to support immigrants in learning English and civics. It calls for an "office of citizenship and immigrant integration" to be established in the Department of Homeland Security. The bill, H.R. 6617, is called "Strengthening Communities Through Education and Integration Act."

The Migration Policy Institute is offering a training institute on "immigration and integration" in September. There's that word "integration" again.

But Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which works to curtail immigration to the United States, uses the term "assimilation". I skimmed his chapter, "Assimilation: The Cracked Melting Pot," and sections about education in his book, The New Case Against Immigration. He criticizes government for being unwilling "to insist on the primacy of English in the public sphere." He claims that because of multiculturalism, "schools today are failing utterly to pass on the history and heroes and legends of our past." (The American Enterprise Institute hosted him last month to talk about his book.)

The Bradley Foundation also chose to use the term assimilation in a report it released this summer that contends immigrants in the past assimilated into American society faster than they do now. (Flypaper picked up on David Broder's commentary about the report.)

I see a difference between the two terms. Integration, to me, means that immigrants find a role in this society regardless of whether they adopt the culture of the United States; assimilation implies that, in fact, they do adopt U.S. culture. Assimilation may happen along the way, but should it be a goal that educators have who are supporting English-language learners? Do you see a distinction between the two words?

6 Comments

It amazes me that people always see this as such an either/or issue. You either adopt American culture completely or you do not. I come from an immigrant family, and my husband is an immigrant himself. Our family is a wonderful mix of both American and Greek cultures and languages. I would fight tooth and nail with anyone who told me that I had to choose either one and give up the other, on either continent.

The central issue is not whether we use one word or another to describe the acculturation status of immigrants. The core idea behind integration and/or assimilation is the simple fact that when immigrants (or anyone) do not see themselves as an integral part of a society, they tend to remain outside the circle of citizenship in terms of values, loyalty, and a shared sense of identity.

When a child is adopted, does it need to assimilate or integrate into the new family in order to be healthy and whole (and in order for the family to be healthy and whole)? Both words are surface semantics for the sense of belonging that is necessary for forging a unified direction nationally, for creating a sense of "us" and "we" in times of crisis, and to accomplish national goals.

Unless immigrants come to identify at least in part as part of a larger cultural family, their alienation portends ill for employment, crime, and other vital statistics that reflect the health of a nation.

Unfortunately, the policies we have implemented to help immigrants succeed, many of which result in isolationism in the economy and the classroom (separate ELL programs, classes, standards, etc...) serve to reinforce a sense of 'difference' rather than create the natural bonds of caring and common identity that come through shared experiences. When Hispanic-Americans, Hungarian-Americans, and other-Americans recognize their common "Americanness" more than they focus on their different alternate cultural identities, the future of all Americans is more likely to be safe, secure, healthy, and economically sound.

Yes, it is possible to have two cultures. And it may actually be better for society. My own two daughters are examples of this. Their father is Salvadoran and I'm from the U.S., and the family has lived in both countries. We taught the girls to be proud of speaking two languages and having two cultures. They both excelled in school and feel equally comfortable texting their English-speaking friends about the latest movie, joking with their grandmother in Spanish about Tio Meme's latest prank, or writing a college term paper comparing the differing syntactical structures of English, Spanish and Italian.

Asking someone - especially a young person - to assimilate means asking them to give up who they are. This makes no sense if you think about it. Why not value both cultures?

I am a mother of 4, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of one! My paternal grandparents were from San Luis, Potosi, and my maternal grandparents were always in Texas. The accurate Texas history reminds us that Texas like all of the Southwest was Mexico before it was a part of the U.S.A. So what culture/language is it that one is expected to "assimilate" and/or "integrate" into? We are all of the above and better for it. I am concerned that the general Anglo populace simply wants to make us and then keep us ignorant -- shoving down our throats that to 'know less is better' -- the English Only people. The rest of the world knows more than one language and KNOW IT IS SMARTER! We should be GROWING our culture and LANGUAGES not 'dumbing down' our people. We are warriors -- let's stop letting people run over our rights as citizens.

People assimilate or acclimate to the extent that they can and feel comfortable doing. It really isn't about anyone else though some people have more opportunity than others. It just happens in the course of living a life.

We live in a global society, the United States as it is, a nation united diverse culture. The key is we should learn good things from different culture while sometime it is not easy to say "good" or "bad" when comes to culture difference and conflict.
Respect each other and Learn together

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