Assimilation by definition does not suggest ethnic or racial eradication, rather, an attempt to absorb or incorporate into the main culture; however, the history of assimilation in the United States and Australia reveal systemic, institutional extermination and degradation. Both English speaking countries are guilty of detrimental assimilation of indigenous peoples including removing native children from to families to state schools, disallowing native languages, stealing native land, and segregation.
In the US this dynamic has a punitive history. American policy was set by then President Thomas Jefferson who was more concerned with White expansionism than preservation of Native Americans. His devious theory consisted of encouraging natives to relinquish hunting for agricultural pursuits.
“The extensive forests necessary in the hunting life will then become useless,” he said in a confidential message to Congress in 1803. (Takaki 1993) President Andrew Jackson furthered these policies with the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
By the end of the 19th century three competing ideologies of assimilation had taken root in America: 1) Anglo-conformity; 2) Melting pot theory; 3) Cultural pluralism. All three have been evident in American society in varying degrees in the last 100 years.
Anglo-conformity is re-rooting in the Republican Party this year as candidates perpetuate the fear of “other” using stereotypes and “shock doctrine” to advance an immigration political agenda focusing on deportation of 11 million undocumented, exaggerating the efficacy of a border wall, separating families, and overturning the 14th Amendment that ensures citizenship for infants born in the U.S.. The demand by some Republicans that immigrants learn English in order to show true allegiance is not shared by all Republicans. During the Republican debates on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) recalled his immigrant grandfather who did not speak English but imparted his love of America and its values to him in Spanish.
Anglo-conformity was used in name changing beginning with African slaves assuming the names of their owners and continued into the 20th century. New immigrants from Europe with ethnic sounding names changed them to appear more Anglo driven by the urge to become socially accepted and economically successful in America. Some of the most notable were entertainers with Jewish, Polish, German, Italian and others. Names were not the only areas where immigrants shed their culture. Ethnic food, dress, religion, customs, and values were discouraged in favor of Anglo conformity and assimilation to Protestant lines of religion and beliefs.
The “melting pot” concept imagined a country where all immigrant populations would live together and “melt” presumably by intermarriage into a new distinct American identity. Among the three, this concept has been the most controversial because it relies on the primacy of Anglo-conformity as the primary tenant for measuring the success of the American Experiment.
In a study done at New York University, economic researchers posit that before 1960 American immigration theory relied on assimilation technology to transform immigrants of various ethnicities and religions into a common American culture. Studies, however, revealed that immigrants interacting with American society met with cultural difficulties and even hostility negating the idea that immigrants would naturally assimilate in a melting pot process due to social and economic barriers. In 1995 a researcher measured the persistence of cultural traits studying the assimilation of immigrants’ ‘‘ethnic capital’’ in the United States, and found quite slow rates of cultural convergence.
Melting pot theories of assimilation have failed because they neglected to consider the well-defined preferences of parents to pass on cultural traits to their children through socialization allowing them to influence ethnic traits and characteristics including language and religion. An individual’s choice of marriage partner is the crucial factor in determining the transmission of cultural traits to the next generation. Minorities have more highly segregated marriage markets; therefore, the tendency for cultural transmission remains isolated within the group.
Cultural pluralism, on the other hand, assumes that all ethnic communities retain their cultural autonomy comprising a “mosaic” that is distinct and equal, but still part of a unified whole. This is known today as “multiculturalism” and is the dominant theory displacing archaic concepts of enforced assimilation that have not only destroyed entire populations, but also contributed to perpetuation of ethnic stereotypes, scapegoating, skepticism and cynicism.
During the August Republican debates, Louisiana governor and candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination Bobby Jindal said, “Immigration without assimilation is an invasion.” Jindal has repeatedly harped on forced assimilation since he announced he was seeking the Republican nomination. During his speech he talked about not having hyphenated names. Americans and immigrants need to better assimilate with society.
The notions of Mr. Trump and Governor Jindal, indeed many in the Republican Party, do not reflect the modern trajectory of socialization modalities existing among ethnic minorities with a strong emphasis on multiculturalism rather than assimilation that insists a minority must give up their identity in favor of the host country.
Cultural pluralism or multiculturalism persists as an outgrowth of the demand by ethnic, religious and racial minorities to maintain their identity. The demand is a result of social forces, whether economic or social, responsible for culturally homogenous communities, family units and social environments to impart ethnic traits and culture from generation to generation.
Republicans who persist in demanding Latino assimilation are by its nature alienating one of the fastest growing minority groups in America. According to the Wall Street Journal Hispanics could account for 40 percent of the job growth by 2020. Over the next five years they will account for more than 75% from 2020 to 2034, according to a new study. That will account for approximately 11 million jobs out of the projected 14 million new positions across the economy.
In 1909 William James wrote “A Pluralistic Universe,” and proposed a “plural society,” for he saw it as “crucial to the formation of philosophical and social humanism to help build a better, more egalitarian society.” James argues in A Pluralistic Universe that the world is not a uni-verse but a multi-verse honoring human experience of “manyness,” flux and disconnection following a pattern of daily experience.
The Republican call for forced assimilation of Mexican-Americans (yes, I used a hyphenated identity) is anachronistic invoking Anglo-conformity rather than James’ “manyness,” acculturation and multiculturalism.
Republican ethnocentricity has positioned Democrats to be the party of inclusion and welcome to all minorities and definitely a friend to immigrants of all races and religions.
The evolution of advanced societies is fluid and incumbent upon democratic change or risk stagnation and discontent. Jolyon Howarth, British scholar of European politics, adds dimension by saying, “We become so accustomed to the prison that history had built for us that, like recidivists or long-term hospital patients, we become incapable of visualizing any other kind of existence. No other world it seemed could exist.”
“Origins and Destinies: Immigration, Race and Ethnicity in America,” Silvia Pedraza, Ruben G. Rumbaut. Wadsworth Publishing, 1996.
“Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America,” Ronald Takaki, Little, Brown & Company (Canada) Limited, 1993.
is retired and lives in Clearlake, California. She has three grown
children and one grandson and a Bachelor’s degree in Health Services
Administration from St. Mary’s College in Moraga California. On the
home front Dava enjoys time with her family, reading, gardening, cooking
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