Sunday, April 02, 2006

Why Immigrants Won't Assimilate

There has been a lot of debate as to why immigrants will not assimilate into the American culture.

However, all those who are now assimilated children of immigrants seem to have forgotten how long it took their families to assimilate.

I am sure it was not done in 2-3 years or even one generation. But even if they could assimilate rather quickly here are some of the reasons why they are not assimilating as quickly as you may wish they would.
1) Socially, the American society is not very accepting of people with foreign accents (except British colonial, soft North European- Swedish, Norwegian etc,. and a gentle French accent). Learning to speak a language without an accent is a very difficult proposition after the age of 12. If you have an accent, ostracism or mockery is very common. Scorn for other cultures and languages is common, too. Many people do not want to be mocked and ridiculed (do you?), so they stick to their won kind.
I remember in NY, where I used to live it was common for kids not to play with someone whose parents had an accent. This is how bad it can get.
Latin American societies such as Brazil or Argentina are much less so and if you have an accent it is no big deal. Hence, there you have people who came at a more mature age and found a society that is far less suspicious and more embracing. After a person becomes a citizen of Argentina, he is called an Argentinean and that's that. Accent or no accent. But try speaking with an accent to a bunch of working class Americans. Suspicious looks and frowns will abound. And few will see you as an American.
2) The Anglo-Saxon culture of the US is cliquish and not very friendly; socially that is. The laws are very generous and the Constitution is superb. A great friendly government, but many people are very much into their small groups. Breaking into those groups is not an easy task. So, many people just don't bother- they have other priorities.
3) Nativism; "American means: born here!" I remember a very classical example of how it works: I was at work and one employee called me a "foreigner" in an unfriendly way. Actually, this had happened more than once. He had found out that I was not born in the US because I am fluent in many languages and the 'terrible truth' had surfaced. Then, when I answered- "I am not a foreigner, but a US citizen", a pat answer came my way: "I mean a foreigner; not born here". This attitude is very common in the US, although, admittedly, not all people adhere to it- there are some nice people that see you as someone who 'became' an American. But socially, unless you are British or Aussie who turned into an American and have no accent now, you will not really be seen as such.
Just look at the sites that have been organized to stymie Arnold Schwarzenegger’s alleged bid for US presidency.
They are calling him a "foreigner" even though he is a US citizen and took the Oath of Renunciation without which one cannot become one. Such an attitude is 'very' widespread in the US.
There is also an ingrained social way of looking at immigrants. In the American culture people do not ask you "Are you a US citizen?” they ask you “Where are you from (originally)?". Once you tell them, bingo! You are an immigrant to many (if not most) people. And it does not matter how long you have been in the country and if you are US citizen.
And also, the US media simply loves to attach the title "German- born", "Russian-born", etc. to anyone who was not born in the US. Even if they are US citizens. And God forbid if you do something bad- immediately the word "immigrant" surfaces. Remember Zsa Zsa when she slapped a policeman? The judge was telling her “It is like you slapped every American!" meaning in a subtle way she was 'not' an American.
In Argentina or Brazil, no. Look at Carlos Gardel- the famous tango composer. He is referred to as an Argentinean even though he was French-born. Few even talk about his foreign birth. But in America, it is an issue. At least one that is worth mentioning.
There is no difference in the popular culture and understanding between a legal immigrant, illegal immigrant and a naturalized US citizen as far as the working masses of the US population go. They are all the same. And then they have censuses of the foreign born population in which the above categories are dumped into one.
4) The class of people that would want to come and live in the US is usually that of people in economic need or refugees. Refugees do not really 'want' to be in the US. Coming was a necessity; not a need. It is just that they were unfortunate enough to be in very bad circumstances, and although they are grateful to the US government for all the benefits, emotionally they are still attached to their country. Add to that the social (not the official) hostility and you have a recipe for multiculturalism.
The other, very poor people may not have the smarts (and the IQ) to go to school and assimilate. Plus you would not want to be a kid with an accent at a US school. I have been one and you are harassed very often and can get beat up. Young American kids can be nasty. You will have no friends, no dates, nothing. Unless of course you are from a popular country such as Switzerland, Australia, the UK, etc. But these are not coming to the US for the most part.
If you had people of “high class” with means coming to the US from places such as Belgium or the Netherlands, etc, there would not be an assimilation issue- they would all assimilate very quickly. But people from those countries rarely want to come- life is better there than in the US now.
The US immigration quotas favor non-white people from very different cultures for whom the Anglo-based culture is not easy to learn, plus they would not really be accepted into the mainstream even if they wanted to. Racism is still strong- from the whites, the blacks and even other immigrants who had come before them.
5) The US now is not about culture, assimilation, etc. It is mostly about making money. So, people concentrate on that. Prices are high, rents are high. People work to make ends meet. Some work to save for school, cars, apartments, etc. Cultural and language studies are secondary.
Thus, assimilation is left to its own devices and it will take its natural course- two or three generations. Just like it has with most other assimilated immigrants' children whom you see around you.

1 comment:

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