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Cultural assimilation

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Cultural assimilation

Similar  Cultural reproduction, Culture shock, Cultural divide

Cultural assimilation is the process by which a person or a group's language and/or culture come to resemble those of another group. The term is used to refer to both individuals and groups, and in the latter case it can refer to either immigrant diasporas or native residents that come to be culturally dominated by another society. Cultural assimilation may involve either a quick or gradual change depending on circumstances of the group. Full assimilation occurs when new members of a society become indistinguishable from members of the other group. Whether or not it is desirable for an immigrant group to assimilate is often disputed by both members of the group and those of the dominant society.


Cultural influence

A place (a state or an ethnicity) can spontaneously adopt a different culture due to its political relevance, or to its perceived superiority. The first is the case of the Latin language and culture, that were gradually adopted by most of the subjugated people.

Cultural assimilation can happen either spontaneously or forcibly. A culture can spontaneously adopt a different culture or older and richer cultures forcibly integrate other weak cultures. The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. A new culture and new attitudes toward the origin culture are obtained through contact and communication. Cultural changing is not simply a one-way process. Assimilation assumes that relatively tenuous culture gets to be united to one unified culture. This process happens through contact and accommodation between each culture. The current definition of assimilation is usually used to refer to immigrants, but in multiculturalism, cultural assimilation can happen all over the world, not just be limited to specific areas. For example, a shared language gives people the chance to study and work internationally, not just being limited to the same cultural group. People from different countries contribute to diversity and form the "global culture" which means the culture combined by the elements from different countries. This "global culture" can be seen as a part of assimilation that causes cultures from different areas to affect each other.

Waves of early Chinese immigrants in Canada

During Chinese immigrants' early settlement in Canada, Chinese Canadians experienced different levels of assimilation due to the encounter of Chinese and Western culture. In 1860, the influx of Chinese immigrants started to arrive in Canada mostly from rural areas of southern China. An estimated population of 7,000 Chinese were settled in Vancouver Island and British Columbia, creating the first Chinese community during that time in Canada. The arrivals of non-British and non-French immigrants were primarily considered by the Canadian government as a way to prosper Canadian economic development. Chinese immigrants contributed greatly to the Canadian economy and completed the British Columbia's section of Canadian Pacific Railway (CRP) construction between 1880 and 1885. Despite the great importance of Chinese migrants to the country, they experienced racial discrimination and prejudice during their settlement due to discriminatory legislations and social practices of anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia.

Chinese was the only immigrant group being legally restricted by immigration policy, in which an act was passed to prohibit Chinese immigration through head taxes from 1885 until the late 1940s. Labors with low pay and appalling working conditions were the only kinds of job opportunity available for Chinese immigrants due to the anti-Asian endemic towards them as well.

According to the Canadian encyclopedia, racial discrimination in Canada can be dated back to the beginning of the European settlement. The discriminative oppressions that Chinese Canadians endured were one of the causes to encourage their assimilation to Western culture for means of survival along with Caucasian society's xenophobic beliefs. One of the factors that caused assimilation was the racial hierarchy within Canada that can be traced back to the sovereignty of Anglo-Canadians, originating from the early settlement of European colonialization of Canada.

Anglo-Canadian values

Begun when Europeans settled in Canada as colonizers in the 17th and 18th centuries and many of the English-speaking Canadians were influenced by the belief in Anglo-Saxon heritages. They were supportive of the British principles of the Canadian government. Discussed by Reginald Horsman in Race and Manifest Destiny, the justification for racial discrimination and imperialism were contributed by the myth of Anglo-Saxon, by which Anglo-Saxon ancestry of the English made themselves superior to others. Beliefs such as Anglo-Saxons being the "apex of biological evolution" and the greatness of Canada was contributed by their people were taken for granted throughout Canada and other Western worlds. Continued to spread throughout the Western world in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, "the belief in progress and in white superiority" developed a racial hierarchy, which was an assessment of the level of desirability of different immigrant groups. For example, British and American immigrants were considered the most desirable while Black and Asian immigrants were regarded the least desirable. As a result, Asian immigrants encountered significant prejudice and hostility from European Canadians, by whom Asians were regarded as alien and inferior. Therefore, Chinese immigrants were left with options of being assimilated to the Western world or being isolated.

The discriminative Western prejudice perceived Chinese immigrants as people that could not be assimilated. Thus, Chinese immigrants were threatened to assimilate by the fear of being deported. For example, the Canadian Illustrated News depicting Amor de Cosmos forcing a Chinese immigrant to leave British Columbia as a result of the Chinese person's refusal to assimilate to Western culture.

Theoretical studies on assimilation

Based on Milton Gordon's Assimilation in American Life published in 1964, where he discussed a gradual decrease in the boundary between group participants. He was describing the distinctive boundary between groups from different cultural backgrounds has been progressively merging. Its multistage assimilation process was anticipated to go through stages of acculturation (first happens extrinsically, such as language and customs, then intrinsically in norms and values), social integration, and identification. The multi-staged assimilation process is also called "melting pot" by Robert Park's theories in Race and Culture. According to Ewa Morawska's In Defense of the Assimilation Model, "melting pot" was a term for Robert Park and his followers to implicitly refer to "Anglo-conformity", by which immigrants detach from their heritages, such as distinctive cultural, social, and psychological characteristics into hegemonic white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) middle-class practices. Morawska argues that classical assimilation theory was too simplistic and ahistorical, and should be studied in a more complex and historicized perspective (for example, more “made time-and-place specific and embedded in multidimensional context”). Therefore, assimilation means differently depending on the specific time and demographic context.


Since 1900, Chinese immigrants who settled in Canada mainly chose to settle in Chinatown and within a Chinese community. Chinatown is significant to the Chinese population as it was an essential place for businesses, living, families, and "safe bastion" away from the racism endemic of Canada. During the 19th century especially, British Columbian Caucasian society considered Chinese immigrants a race that could not be assimilated because Chinese peoples were often stereotyped as "sojourners", who weren't expected to stay in their land permanently. Chinese immigrants were "sojourners" due to the difficulties in bringing their families in China to Canada or having a family, and the difficulties in being accepted in a racist environment. As one senator, a representative of the white residents of British Columbia once stated, "[Chinese] are not of our race and cannot become part of ourselves", Chinese people were compelled to remain alienated and isolated during their lives in Canada.


According to studies on the Immigrants and the Changing Patterns of Schooling done by Carl E. James, schooling and education in Canada were developed in relation to political, economic, and social conditions and goals. Most of the early promoters of public education were associated with Christian churches and thus promoted Christian value principles within the education system. During the waves of immigrants entering Canada in the mid-1900s, schools had an assimilative role through educating Anglo-Canadian values with the anticipation of immigrants coming to accept and to be imbued with the British Canadian identity. Canada later introduced multicultural education programs in the 1970s that advocate respect for ethnocultural differences, integration of immigrant students and education. In spite of the intention to meet individual's academic, cultural, linguistic, and religious needs and interests, parents coming from immigrated backgrounds were still concerned about their children experiencing isolation and alienation from school and also detaching from their cultural heritage due to the school's assimilative environment.


One of the assimilation theories by Milton Gordon discusses linguistic changes are reflecting an assimilation within younger generations of the immigrants. Gordon stated that the first generation or foreign-born immigrants were less assimilated to American culture compared to their second generation that would be born in America. Follow by the second generation; the third generation would be more assimilated into American mainstream. The same situation is reflected in the children of Asian-Canadians as well. According to Daniel Stoffman, "children will learn a language only if they see a need for it...The sociologists ... merely confirm the obvious: fewer than 1 percent of third-generation Canadians speak an ancestral language other than English or French." The fact shows how education and officialized languages that young generations encounter in Canadian school weaken their mother tongues and cause them to assimilate and adapt to Canada's mainstream expectations. Some critical studies argue that for some younger generations to not be able to speak their family's language is a kind of detachment from their culture. For instance, Stoffman discusses language as being the basis of cultural identity that its usage is not limited to communicating but a way of thinking and perceiving the world.

Cultural identity

For a part of the younger generations from immigrated Chinese families, growing up in Canada enable them to absorb the Western culture and to speak native English as fluent as other English-speaking Caucasians. In current popular culture, these generations are stereotypically called "banana", meaning that they're "yellow on the outside, but white on the inside". Stated by Eric Liu's The Accidental Asian, "you don't have to have white skin anymore to become white" is a conceptualization of the current assimilation happening on Asian-Canadians. As long as they practice Western mainstream culture they are counted as "white". In the perspective of some critical publishers, such as Stoffman who argues language being an important part of cultural identity, for younger generations to lose their ability to speak their family languages and to be more fluent in the prevailing language in school are a detachment from their cultural heritage. Educators such as Paul Axelrod stated that "on the one hand, the concept of assimilation suggested inclusiveness and social equality; on the other, it privileged Canada's dominant racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious communities." He suggested that one side of assimilation of cultural identity promotes equality between different cultural groups, yet it is also a focus on the prevailing culture of Canada.

Assimilation of immigrants in the United States

Immigrant assimilation is a complex process in which immigrants not only fully integrate themselves into a new country, but also lose aspects, perhaps all of their heritage too. Social scientists rely on four primary benchmarks to assess immigrant assimilation: socioeconomic status, geographic distribution, second language attainment, and intermarriage. William A.V. Clark defines immigrant assimilation as "a way of understanding the social dynamics of American society and that it is the process that occurs spontaneously and often unintended in the course of interaction between majority and minority groups".

Between 1880 and 1920, the United States took in roughly 24 million immigrants. This increase in immigration can be attributed to many historical changes. Later, during the Cold War from the 1960s through the 1980s and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, over 1.8 million Jews (including some non-Jewish family members) emigrated from the former Soviet Union. The major destination countries were Israel (about 1.1 million), the United States (over 400,000), Germany (about 130,000), and Canada (about 30,000). The beginning of the twenty-first century has also marked a massive era of immigration, and sociologists are once again trying to make sense of the impact that immigration has on society and the impact it has on immigrants themselves.

Assimilation had various meanings in American sociology, Henry Pratt Fairchild associates American assimilation with Americanization or the Melting Pot theory. Some scholars also believed assimilation and acculturation were synonymous. According to a many's point of view, assimilation is a "process of interpretation and fusion" from another group or person. This may include memories, behaviors and sentiments. By sharing their experiences and histories, they blend into the common cultural life.

Theoretical explanations

Researchers have attempted to explain the assimilation rate for post 1965 immigrants in the United States with experiences of immigrants who entered the United States between 1880 and 1920. Many of the methods and theories that are used to assess immigrant assimilation today are derived from earlier immigrant studies. One of the leading theories in understanding immigrant assimilation came from William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki who published The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. Thomas and Znaniecki's study on Polish immigrants (1880–1910) assessed how these immigrants built an institutional community in the United States. Another influence on immigrant assimilation came from Robert Park, Ernest Burgess, and William I. Thomas, in which they trained graduate students to study the experiences of immigrants in Chicago. Park, Burgess, and Thomas provided these graduate students with theoretical tools such as Park's theory on collective behavior. The third theory on immigrant assimilation comes from Gordon's book, Assimilation in American life. Gordon highlighted the generational change in immigrant groups; it states that the first generation or foreign-born were less assimilated and less exposed to American life than their American-born children (the second generation), and their grandchildren (third-generation) were more like the American mainstream than their parents.

Theoretical models to immigrant assimilation

The first, classic and new assimilation model sees immigrants and native-born people following a "straight-line" or a convergence. This theory sees immigrants becoming more similar over time in norms, values, behaviors, and characteristics. This theory also expects those immigrants residing the longest in the host population, as well as the members of later generations, to show greater similarities with the majority group than immigrants who have spent less time in the host society. The second, racial or ethnic disadvantage model states that immigrants' chances to assimilate are "blocked". An example of this model would be discrimination and institutional barriers to employment and other opportunities. In reaction to these patterns of discrimination and other institutional barriers, some immigrant groups have formed ethnic enclaves to circumvent these challenges. The third, the segmented assimilation model theorizes that structural barriers, such as poor urban schools, cut off access to employment and other opportunities—obstacles that often are particularly severe in the case of the most disadvantaged members of immigrant groups, and such impediments can lead to stagnant or downward mobility, even as the children of other immigrants follow divergent paths toward classic straight-line assimilation.

Core measurements to immigrant assimilation

Researchers have assessed that assimilation exists among immigrants because assimilation can be measured on four primary benchmarks. These core measurable aspects of immigrant assimilation that were formulated to study European immigrants to the United States are still the starting points for understanding immigrant assimilation. These measurable aspects of assimilation are socioeconomic status, spatial concentration, language attainment, and intermarriage.

  1. Socioeconomic status is defined by educational attainment, occupation, and income. By measuring socioeconomic status researchers want to find out if immigrants eventually catch up to native-born people in terms of human capital characteristics.
  2. Spatial concentration is defined by geography or residential patterns. The spatial residential model (based on theories of Park) proposed by Massey states that increasing socioeconomic attainment, longer residence in the U.S, and higher generational status lead to decreasing residential concentration for a particular ethnic group.
  3. Language attainment is defined as the ability to speak the national language and the loss of the individual's mother tongue. The three-generation model of language assimilation states that the first generation makes some progress in language assimilation but remains dominant in their native tongue, the second generation is bilingual, and the third-generation speaks only the national language.
  4. Intermarriage is defined by race or ethnicity and occasionally by generation. High rates of intermarriage are considered to be an indication of social integration because it reveals intimate and profound relations between people of different groups; intermarriage reduces the ability of families to pass on to their children a consistent ethnic culture and thus is an agent of assimilation. Intermarriage came under particular scrutiny by the Jewish-American community in the early-mid 20th century as Jewish leaders more and more often turned to social scientists to explain why Judaism was a typically endogamic religion. Although intermarriage was viewed as a firm base from which to begin an argument for assimilation, it was also seen as a way to gradually ease the transition into their new culture. Julius Draschler, a graduate student at Columbia University, believed that as long as people are allowed to maintain some differences, such as the Jewish practice of marrying only another Jew, they will delay the inevitable while simultaneously enriching the nation in the process of their slow assimilation. While Draschler acknowledged that assimilation was the ultimate endpoint for all American groups, he hoped to prove through his intermarriage studies that, the more gradual the process, the better. Such need to justify (or vilify) the intermarriage practice became increasingly important after the 1950s as Jews (as well as other typically endogamic cultures, such as African-Americans) began to engage in more exogamic relationships.

Immigrant name changing as a form of assimilation

While the changing of immigrant names is not one of the 4 measurable benchmarks for assimilation outlined by early sociologists, it nonetheless represents a clear abandonment of the old as new immigrants are absorbed into the fabric of society. It is often believed that language barriers or the lack of training and sensitivity by government officials caused names to be often changed, without consent, such as by inspectors on Ellis Island when emigrating to the USA. That general misconstruction of the facts is refuted in an article released by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, claiming that inspectors did not personally take names, instead inventorying the passengers using manifests supplied by the shipping companies themselves. Many immigrants changed their names willingly.

It is suggested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the USA that most name blunders in the USA were likely the fault of the origin and not the destination. Donna Przecha, a published and well-known expert in genealogy, suggests a number of alternative explanations for name changing, one of which was a need for employment. A huge surplus of labor began to immigrate to the United States, many of whom were unskilled, with names that were often difficult to pronounce. Employers were not bound by the same anti-discriminatory legislation that exists now and tended to gravitate toward individuals with more American names.

Comfort and fitting in was also a heavy motivator behind the changing of names. Many, if not most, US immigrants in the mid-1900s planned to make the United States their new home, permanently. Given this fact, it should come as no surprise that many immigrants welcomed the impending assimilation brought on by their host country. Eager to begin their new lives, many did as much as they could to become "American" as quickly as possible, particularly children. Simplicity was yet another factor in the abandonment of old titles. As immigrants poured in from various European countries, many found their names to be difficult to pronounce and/or spell for many Americans.

Modifications for assessing immigrant assimilation

American studies on immigrant assimilation in the 19th century and 20th century conclude that immigrants had a hard time catching up to the same human capital characteristics as native-born people in the 19th century United States, but studies in the 20th century suggest that immigrants eventually catch up to native born people. Timothy J. Hatton explains this puzzle on immigrant assimilation in the 19th century and in the 20th century. He explores how recent studies have been producing misleading results between the two. Hatton focuses his research on the specification of the earnings function. Hatton argues that that specification of the earnings function should be improved in two ways. First, immigrants who arrived as children should be treated separately from those who arrived as adults. Second, specification of the earnings function should be better approximate to the true shape of age-earnings profiles. Hatton points out that with these modifications, the patterns of immigrant earnings, which have emerged make more sense with those of the 20th century and with traditional views on immigrant assimilation in the 19th century.

Owning a home and immigrant assimilation

Owning a home can be seen as a step into assimilation. William A.V. Clarke explores this link in his book "Immigrants and the American Dream Remarking the Middle Class". Clark is aware that the process of assimilation is more than just being able to purchase a home. He argues that "homeownership" is one of the steps of assimilation, it is becoming part of the community and a neighborhood and being a part of the daily activities that take place in a community.

Naturalization and immigrant assimilation

Other than marriage, citizenship is one of the most significant factors in assimilation. The immigration debate focuses not only on the number of immigrants but on who should be admitted, and who should be allowed to be admitted but also on the processes of incorporation and, most importantly, how citizenship should be extended and to whom. For example, should it be extended to those who arrive illegally? Allowing for naturalization of immigrants can create tension in assimilation. On one hand, those in the United States who favor the admission of immigrants argue that these new residents will help build and enrich the democratic process. However, others argue that the nature and legitimacy of the nation may be challenged and perhaps even threatened.

New immigrant gateways and immigrant assimilation

Although it is changing, the overwhelming majority of immigrants still settle in traditional gateway states such as Florida, New York, California, Illinois, Texas, and Massachusetts. It has found that immigrants settle in traditional gateways where there are large populations of foreign-born people. Waters and Jimenez have illustrated the changes in the geographic distribution and the rates of growth of immigration in the United States. They show the number of foreign-born individuals in states where the foreign-born population grew by a factor of two or more between 1990 and 2000. Waters and Jimenez found that the largest percentage growth in the foreign-born population, was found in either the Midwest or the South in additional none of the traditional gateways were included in this large percentage growth. Waters and Jimenez noted that a reason these traditional gateways did not have an increase at the same rate of the new gateways was because, new gateways did not have many immigrants to begin with.

Waters and Jimenez have argued that this new change in geography could possibly change the way researchers assess immigrant assimilation. They argue that these new gateways are unique and they propose that immigrant assimilation may be different from the experiences of immigrants in more traditional gateways in at least three ways.

Firstly, the long history of immigration in these established gateways means that the place of immigrants in terms of class, racial, and ethnic hierarchies in these traditional gateways are more structured or established on the other hand these new gateways do not have much immigration history therefore the place of immigrants in terms of class, racial, and ethnic hierarchies is less defined and immigrants may have more influence to define their position. Secondly, the size of new gateways may influence immigrant assimilation. Having a smaller gateway may influence the level of segregation among immigrants and native-born people. Thirdly, the difference in institutional arrangements may influence immigrant assimilation. Traditional gateways, unlike new gateways, have many institutions set up to help immigrants such as legal aid, bureaus, social organizations. Finally, Waters and Jimenez have only speculated that these differences may influence immigrant assimilation and the way researchers should assess immigrant assimilation.

Forced assimilation of ethnic Macedonians in Greece

According to a 1994 report by the Human Rights Watch, based on a fact-finding mission in 1993 in the Florina Prefecture and Bitola, Greece oppresses the ethnic Macedonians and implements a program to forcefully Hellenize them. According to its findings, the ethnic Macedonian minority is denied acknowledgment of its existence by the Greek government, which refuses the teaching of their language and other expressions of ethnic Macedonian culture; members of the minority "were discriminated against in employment in the public sector in the past, and may suffer from such discrimination at present"; minority activists "have been prosecuted and convicted for the peaceful expression of their views" and are generally "harassed by the government, followed and threatened by security forces, and subjected to economic and social pressures resulting from government harassment", leading to a climate of fear. The Greek government further discriminates against ethnic Macedonian refugees who fled into Yugoslavia during the Greek Civil War; while Greek political refugees are allowed to reclaim their citizenship, they are not.

The Greek state requires radio stations to broadcast in the Greek language, therefore excluding ethnic minorities and thus also the Slavic speakers of Greek Macedonia (who are considered ethnic Macedonians by the Rainbow political party) from operating radio stations in minority languages spoken in Greece such as the Macedonian language.


Cultural assimilation Wikipedia