Assimilation, Acculturation, and Intergroup Relations
Classic assimilation theory or straight-line assimilation theory can be dated back to the 1920’s originating from the Chicago School of Sociology (Park, Burgess, & McKenzie, 1925; Waters, Van, Kasinitz, & Mollenkopf, 2010). (See also Chapter 2.3). This early assimilation model set forth by Park (1928) described how immigrants followed a straight line of convergence in adopting “the culture of the native society” (Scholten, 2011). In many ways assimilation was synonymous with ‘Americanization’ and interpreted as ‘becoming more American’ or conforming to norms of the dominant Euro-American culture (Kazal, 1995). Assimilation theory posited that immigrant assimilation was a necessary condition for preserving social cohesion and thus emphasized a one-sided, mono-directional process of immigrant enculturation leading to upward social mobility (Warner & Srole, 1945). Assimilation ideas have been criticized for lacking the ability to differentiate the process of resettlement for diverse groups of immigrants; they fail to consider interacting contextual factors (van Tubergen, 2006).
Segmented assimilation theory emerged in the 1990’s as an alternative to classical assimilation theories (Portes & Zhou, 1993; Waters et al., 2010). Segmented assimilation theory posits that depending on immigrants’ socioeconomic statuses, they may follow different trajectories. Trajectories could also vary based on other social factors such as human capital and family structure (Xie & Greenman, 2010). This new formulation accounted for starkly different trajectories of assimilation outcomes between generations and uniquely attended to familial effects on assimilation. The term segmented assimilation is often employed when one group is at a greater advantage and is able to make shifts more readily (Boyd, 2002).
Later, Alba and Nee (2003) formulated a new version of assimilation, borrowing from earlier understandings yet rejecting the prescriptive assertions that later generations must adopt Americanized norms (Waters et al., 2010). Within their conceptualization, assimilation is the natural but unanticipated consequence of people pursuing such practical goals of getting a good education, a good job, moving to a good neighborhood and acquiring good friends (Alba & Nee, 2003).
Critique of Assimilation Theory
Numerous studies have utilized assimilation theories to guide their inquiry with diverse foci like adolescent educational outcomes, college enrollment, self-esteem, depression and psychological well-being, substance use, language fluency, parental involvement in school, and intermarriage among other things (Waters & Jimenez, 2005; Rumbaut, 1994). Despite such widespread use of assimilation, some scholars have noted that the theory may not adequately explain immigrants’ diverse and dynamic experiences (Glazer, 1993) and some note that other theories such as models of self-esteem or social identity may be added to assimilation to bolster its value (Bernal, 1993; Phinney, 1991).
A further critique is that a push for assimilation may mask an underlying sentiment that immigrants and refugees are unwelcome guests who have to compete for scarce resources, which can significantly impact intergroup relations (Danso, 1999; Danso & Grant, 2000). These sentiments can impact the reception and adaptation experiences of immigrant populations in the receiving country (Esses, Dovidio, Jackson, & Armstrong, 2001). Extreme nationalism and a sense of fear may encourage ideals of conformity that defines "successful integration" or "successful resettlement" as full adoption of the receiving country’s ways and beliefs while giving up old cultures and traditions. There is little or no support for the maintenance of cultural or linguistic differences, and groups’ rights may be violated. This belief can lead to misunderstandings when new United States residents speak, act, and believe differently than the dominant culture. It can result in an unwelcoming environment and prevent the development and offering of culturally and linguistically appropriate services for immigrant and refugee families, erecting barriers to their opportunity to adapt and thrive in their new homes. This unfriendly environment has serious repercussions for intergroup relations by keeping them hostile. Assimilation may implicitly assume that some cultures and traits are inferior to the dominant white-European culture of the receiving nation and therefore should be abandoned for ways more sanctioned by that privileged group.
While white ethnics, Cubans, Asians, non-Mexican Latinx, and Middle Easterners follow the traditional assimilation pattern, three significantly large marginalized groups do not: Mexican Americans (about 50%), Puerto Ricans, and African Americans. The assimilation patterns for these groups differ due to propinquity, method of immigration, and let us not mince words, racism. Approximately 50% of all Mexican immigrants to the United States do not follow the traditional assimilation pattern. This is partly due to the propinquity of the mother country, the nearly continuous new migration stream, a relatively high rate of return migration, racism, and in some cases, involuntary immigration in that parts of Mexico have been annexed by the United States so that some people’s native land quite literally changed overnight—they went to bed Mexican and woke up American (Current, Williams, Freidel, & Brinkley, 1987; Harrison & Bennett, 1995; Marger, 1996).
Puerto Ricans, following the treaty that concluded the Spanish American War, became citizens of the United States, albeit citizens without suffrage. Therefore, Puerto Ricans, who are already citizens, have little incentive to assimilate and, like their Mexican counterparts, are physically close to their homeland, maintain a nearly continuous migration stream onto the mainland, and have a relatively high rate of return migration. Puerto Rico is a desperately poor colony of the United States populated primarily by Spanish-speaking, Hispanic-surnamed descendants of African slaves. Thus, entrenched intergenerational poverty, coupled with language difficulties and racism, have prevented assimilation. Most Puerto Ricans who live on the mainland live in poor, inner city neighborhoods in New York and Chicago. These neighborhoods are not ethnic enclaves but are rather huge concentrations of the poor, poorly educated, and Black underclass (Current, et al. 1987; Harrison & Bennett, 1995; Marger, 1996).
African Americans differ dramatically from all other migrants. Many, probably most, African Americans have been Americans far longer than most whites. Many African Americans can trace their ancestry back more than seven generations. Those ancestors however were involuntary immigrants who were stolen from their homes, thrown into the bellies of slave ships, and brought to these shores as pieces of property—chattel—to work for the rest of their lives and for the rest of the lives of their descendants in involuntary servitude as the slaves of white masters. No other people have involuntarily migrated to America in such vast numbers. No other people have been treated as property. No other people have suffered 350 years of slavery. No other people have been so vilely used, abused, mistreated, maltreated, and battered physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It was not until the late 1860s that Blacks were granted Constitutional rights in the United States, and it was not until 1953, and then again in the middle 1960s through the mid 1970s, that real civil rights were finally established for African Americans. Until that time African Americans were second-class people who were often denied their political citizenship by being denied suffrage. Therefore, the opportunity for traditional assimilation for African Americans has not existed until very recently. Given the traditional assimilation pattern, African Americans for all practical purposes, are only second generation Americans regardless of how far back they can trace their actual ancestry in America (Current, et al. 1987; Harrison & Bennett, 1995; Marger, 1996).
For many non-white groups in America there has been denial of political citizenship through denial of suffrage, denial of economic citizenship through de jure and de facto discrimination that prevented competition for jobs and small business loans, denial of social citizenship through de jure and de facto residential segregation and educational segregation, and denial of human citizenship through racist public policies. This discrimination strains intergroup relations.
There has often been the assumption that America is the land of opportunity for everyone, and indeed it can be, however, there are those who also make the assumption that America is a melting pot in which immigrants either do or should assimilate quickly and readily. If assimilation is the process by which a racial or ethnic group loses its distinctive identity and lifeways and conforms to the cultural patterns of the dominant group, then submerging one’s self into the melting pot of American society means trying to be as white as possible. The dominant culture in America is white even though it has many aspects of great diversity and even though it has taken many elements from other cultures and incorporated them into its culture; it has in most cases stamped diversity with the imprimatur of white acceptance. While America is a melting pot for white ethnics, for people of color it has become a kind of tossed salad or lumpy stew where all share the same seasoning, (the sociocultural structure), while each still retains its separate identity. This societal pattern is called pluralism—cooperation among racial and ethnic groups in areas deemed essential to their well being (e.g. the economy the national political arena), while retaining their distinctive identities and lifestyles. (See also Chapter 2.3). In pluralistic societies, citizens share what they can and maintain what they can. With the notable exception of Switzerland with its four distinct ethnic/language groups, most pluralistic societies have destroyed themselves with bloody ethnic strife (Current, et al., 1987; Harrison & Bennett, 1995; Marger, 1996). Whether America can balance the melting pot with semi-pluralism is yet to be seen. The great experiment that is America may be the only nation on earth where the possibility of unity through diversity may actually come to fruition.
Some minority immigrants, most notably Jews and Asians, have found themselves in the unique position of being middleman minorities. Marger (1996) explains the middlemen minority phenomenon:
Certain ethnic groups in multiethnic societies sometimes occupy a middle status between the dominant group at the top of the ethnic hierarchy and subordinate groups in lower positions. These have been referred to as middleman minorities . . . Middleman minorities often act as mediators between dominant and subordinate ethnic groups. They ordinarily occupy an intermediate niche in the economic system being neither capitalists (mainly members of the dominant group) at the top nor working masses (mainly those of the subordinate group) at the bottom. They play such occupational roles as traders, shopkeepers, moneylenders, and independent professionals. . . . They perform economic duties that those at the top find distasteful or lacking in prestige and they frequently supply business and professional services to members of ethnic minorities who lack such skills and resources. . . . In times of stress they are . . . natural scapegoats. . . . Subordinate groups will view middleman minorities with disdain because they often encounter them as providers of necessary business and professional services [that members of their own group do not or cannot provide in sufficient numbers to supply the demand]. Such entrepreneurs therefore come to be seen as exploiters. . . . Because they stand in a kind of social no-man's-land middleman minorities tend to develop an unusually strong in-group solidarity and are often seen by other groups as clannish.
Middleman minorities uniquely affect intergroup relations as they are fulfilling specific roles, hence, are accepted, but are not fully represented in the mainstream.
Acculturation and Adaptation
Later Milton Gordon’s (1964) newer multidimensional formulation of assimilation theory provided that ‘acculturation,’ which refers to one’s adoption of the majority’s cultural patterns, happens first and inevitably. Contemporary acculturation models embrace some of the previous ideas of assimilation but can be less one-dimensional (Berry, 1990). At times, the terms assimilation and acculturation have been used interchangeably. John Berry employed the concept of acculturation and identified 4 modes: integration (where one accepts one’s old culture and accepts one’s new culture), assimilation (where one rejects one’s old culture and accepts one’s new culture), separation (where one accepts one’s old culture and rejects one’s new culture), and marginalization (where one rejects one’s old culture and also rejects one’s new culture) (Berry, 1990). This understanding of acculturation proposes that immigrants employ one of these four strategies by asking how it may benefit them to maintain their identity and/or maintain relationships with the dominant group, and it does not assume that there is a typical one-dimensional trajectory they would follow.
While assimilation is applied to the post-migration experience generally, acculturation refers to the psychological or intrapersonal processes that immigrants experience (Berry, 1997). Hence, the concept of acculturative stress –linked to psychological models of stress (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) arose to describe how incompatible behaviors, values, or patterns create difficulties for the acculturating individual (Berry, Kim, Minde, & Mok, 1987). Adaptation has been used in recent years to refer to internal and external psychological outcomes of acculturating individuals in their new context, such as a clear sense of personal identity, personal satisfaction in one’s cultural context, and an ability to cope with daily problems (Berry, 1997).
Much of the discourse concerning adaptation has focused on the socio-economic adaptation of immigrants as measured by English language proficiency, education, occupation, and income. When culture is included, the emphasis is typically on concepts of ethnic intermarriage and language proficiency (van Tubergen, 2006). Much less attention has been paid to how immigrants form attachments to their new society, subjective conceptions of ‘success’ in the new country, or to the factors that lead some immigrants to retain distinct characteristics and identities but adopt to new ways of being. Some have gone further to identify three types of adaptation: psychological, sociocultural, and economic (Berry, 1997).
Intersectionality Theory and the Immigrant Experience
In many ways, the discourse about immigrant experiences has shifted from an emphasis on group processes to individual processes. Contemporary scholars are beginning to explore the theory of intersectionality as a lens to understand immigrant identities and adaptation to receiving countries (Cole, 2009; Shields, 2008). Intersectionality theory allows for an understanding of the complex intersections of an individual’s identities shaped by the groups to which an individual belongs or to which s/he is perceived to belong, along with the interacting effects of an individual and the different contexts they are in. Intersectionality theory does not claim to be apolitical; it posits that an accurate understanding of the experiences of marginalization requires knowledge of broad historical, socio-political, cultural, and legal contexts. While theories of assimilation and acculturation tend to endorse integration – a stage in which an immigrant has successfully integrated their culture or origin and new culture (Sakamoto, 2007), intersectionality theory proposes that structural issues such as discrimination, migration policy, and disparity in accessibility of resources based on language or nationality, affect an immigrant’s ability or desire to integrate.
Intersectionality rests on three premises:
- People live in a society that has multiple systems of social stratification. They are afforded resources and privileges depending on one’s location in this hierarchy (Berg, 2010). These divisions and hierarchy are arbitrary in that they are socially constructed and have no essential meaning but have been established by those in power and maintained by society historically.
- Social stratification systems are interlocked. Every individual may hold different positions in different systems of stratification at the same time; there is not only variation among groups of people but within groups of people (Weber, 1998).
- Where one is located within this complex social stratification system will consequently influence one’s worldview. This is logical given that each individual has different experiences depending on where they are located within the social stratification system (Demos & Lemelle, 2006).
For example, an immigrant is not only from Central America and female, but is a Latina woman, two identities that when combined, create her unique experience.
Within intersectionality theory, an individual has multiple intersecting identities. These identities are informed by group memberships such as gender, class, race, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, religion, nativity, gender identity, and more (Case, 2013). Intersecting identities place an individual at a particular social location. Individuals may have similar experiences with other individuals within one community, such as similar experiences to others of their nation of origin, but their experiences may also be quite different depending on other identities they hold.
There are pressures to conform to the expectations of each social group to which an individual belongs. Each cultural community has images, expectations, and norms associated with it. These ideas vary by culture and generation because they are constructed for that time, group, and purpose. Conformity to expectations of a social group has both tangible and intangible benefits (Cialdini, 2001), not the least of these is the benefit of affiliation (Cialdini & Trost 1998). There has been much research about conflict and dissonance that can arise from an individual’s pressure to identify with the larger social groups and contexts, and also reaffirm their identity within their family’s cultural group or the culture of their country of origin (Farver, Narang, & Bhadha, 2002; Phinney, Horenczyk, Liebkind, & Vedder, 2001; Rumbaut, 1994).
Furthermore, these identities may be external/visible, such as race and gender, or internal/invisible, such as sexuality or nativity, and carry privileges or limit choices depending upon one’s positionality. Thus one’s position and standpoint may be the most suitable way in which to frame and understand the discussion of immigrant resettlement. An example would be how research has indicated that skin color, often a physical feature that indicates identity, affects how an immigrant experiences and adapts to their new society (Telzer & Garcia, 2009; Viruell-Fuentes, 2007).
The concept of intersectionality has been revolutionary in conceptualizing the lived experiences of people existing on the margins of society, a place where immigrants and refugees often find themselves existing. Specifically, intersectionality highlights ways in which “social divisions are constructed and intermeshed with one another in specific historical conditions to contribute to the oppression” of certain groups (Oleson, 2011, p. 134). Many hail the usefulness of intersectionality as a methodological tool that allows researchers to explore the interacting effects of multiple identities (Weldon, 2006). For example, research could examine ways that an immigrant may make decisions based on several important aspects of her/his identity such as race, gender, social class position, religion, and nationality.
This theory has been used to explore immigrants’ economic success, their experience of internalized classism, and their power and access to resources (Ali, Fall, & Hoffman, 2012; Cole, 2009). Intersectionality may be a unifying theory that illuminates the immigrant experience in a way that increases understanding of the role of the larger society, informs the efforts of each community, and provides a framework for policy.
Multiculturalism and Pluralism
Theories of assimilation, acculturation, and adaptation are all focused on the immigrant. This is not to say that these theories have not included the receiving society or the dominant group’s influence on the immigrant. However, a different way to conceptualize the post-migration experience may be by exploring how any society can support multicultural individuals, both United States-born and foreign-born, and how adjustments and accommodations are made by both the receiving culture and the immigrant culture to aid resettlement.
Multiculturalism and pluralism are often understood as the opposite of assimilation (Scholten, 2011), emphasizing a culturally open and neutral understanding of society. These ideas purport that diverse people need freedom to determine their method of resettlement and the degree to which they will integrate. A nation that embraces a multicultural view may promote the preservation of diverse ethnic identities, provide political representation, and protect rights of minority populations (Alba, 1999; Alexander, 2001). There are those, especially more liberally minded groups that support the idea that immigrant groups should not be judged according to their religion, skin color, ability or willingness to assimilate, language, or what is deemed culturally useful. This pluralist lens fosters greater and more positive intergroup relations. Because multiculturalism acknowledges differences and responds to inequality in a society, critics charge that it is a form of ethnic or “racial particularism” that goes against the solidarity on which the United States democracy stands (Alexander, 2001). Behind every policy are assumptions that implicitly or explicitly support a vast theoretical and ideological continuum. With the ebb and flow of immigration throughout the history of this country, some of these ideological positions have shifted, and also residuals of traditional nationalistic ideals remain.
On the opposite end of the continuum from pluralism, immigrants from various countries have fled genocide, the systematic killing of an entire group of people. Thousands of Armenians escaped the the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1918 in the Ottomon Empire. Approximately 125,000 Germans, most of them Jewish, immigrated to the United States between 1933 and 1945, fleeing persecution and death at the hands of the Third Reich during World War II. Though estimates vary, somewhere between 180,000 and 220,000 European refugees immigrated to the United States between 1933 and 1945 (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Hundreds of thousands of Germans, mainly Jewish, were on the waiting list to emigrate from Europe, most of them never allowed to come into the U.S., though the U.S. accepted more refugees fleeing the Nazi regime than any other country in the world (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Escaping the Khmer Rouge genocide, Cambodian refugees fled their homeland from 1975-79 during the communist Pol Pot regime. Estimates of 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians were killed during this atrocious time. Between 1975 and 1994, nearly 158,000 Cambodians were admitted to the U.S. (Chan, 2015). "Refuge-seekers from other countries, including people from Iraq and Afghanistan where the United States has fought long wars, have also entered but in very small numbers compared to the (combined) millions of Cubans, Soviet Jews, and Indochinese (the last group includes Vietnamese, Sino-Vietnamese, Cambodians, lowland Lao, Hmong, Iu Mien, Tai Dam, and Cham)—all of them refugees from communism" (Chan, 2015).
World War One gave the Young Turk government the cover and the excuse to carry out their plan. The plan was simple and its goal was clear. On April 24th 1915, commemorated worldwide by Armenians as Genocide Memorial Day, hundreds of Armenian leaders were murdered in Istanbul after being summoned and gathered. The now leaderless Armenian people were to follow. Across the Ottoman Empire (with the exception of Constantinople, presumably due to a large foreign presence), the same events transpired from village to village, from province to province.
The remarkable thing about the following events is the virtually complete cooperation of the Armenians. For a number of reasons they did not know what was planned for them and went along with "their" government's plan to "relocate them for their own good." First, the Armenians were asked to turn in hunting weapons for the war effort. Communities were often given quotas and would have to buy additional weapons from Turks to meet their quota. Later, the government would claim these weapons were proof that Armenians were about to rebel. The able bodied men were then "drafted" to help in the wartime effort. These men were either immediately killed or were worked to death. Now the villages and towns, with only women, children, and elderly left were systematically emptied. The remaining residents would be told to gather for a temporary relocation and to only bring what they could carry. The Armenians again obediently followed instructions and were "escorted" by Turkish Gendarmes in death marches.
The death marches led across Anatolia, and the purpose was clear. The Armenians were raped, starved, dehydrated, murdered, and kidnapped along the way. The Turkish Gendarmes either led these atrocities or turned a blind eye. Their eventual destination for resettlement was just as telling in revealing the Turkish governments goal: the Syrian Desert, Der Zor. Those who miraculously survived the march would arrive to this bleak desert only to be killed upon arrival or to somehow survive until a way to escape the empire was found. Usually those that survived and escaped received assistance from those who have come to be known as "good Turks," from foreign missionaries who recorded much of these events and from Arabs.
After the war ended, the Turkish government held criminal trials and found the triumvirate guilty in abstentia. All three were later executed by Armenians. Turkey agreed to let the US draw the border between the newly born Republic of Armenia and the Turkish government. What is now called Wilsonian Armenia included most of the six western Ottoman provinces as well as a large coastline on the Black Sea. Cilicia, a separate Armenian region on the Mediterranean, was to be a French mandate. Mustafa Kemal's forces pushed the newly returned Armenian refugees and forces from these lands and forced a new treaty to be written which was an insult to Armenian victims. They were basically told never to return and that they would never receive compensation. The Kars and Ardahan provinces of Armenia were taken as well in an agreement with the Soviet Union.
On the 50th anniversary of the genocide, the scattered survivors of the genocide and their children around the world began commemorating the genocide on April 24th, the day which marked the start of the full-scale massacres in 1915. Many Armenian Genocide Monuments have been built around the world since, as well as smaller plaques and dedications.
The Turkish government has in the past few decades been denying that a genocide ever occurred and spending millions of dollars to further that view. This is adding insult to injury and will cause bad feelings to continue much longer than would otherwise be the case between the peoples. Those who say forget about it, it is in the past, are wrong. Unless crimes like this are faced up to and compensated for, they will be committed again and again by people who do not fear prosecution or justice. Read what Hitler said before beginning the Jewish Holocaust here.
A class action suit against New York Life insurance company by genocide survivors was filed in 1999. They were sued for not being forthcoming in paying up for policies of those killed in the genocide. The suit was settled in 2004 for $20 million, and payouts began to individuals and some Armenian charitable organizations.
A 2002 study by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), a New York-based human rights organization, ruled that the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians fits into the internationally accepted definition of genocide. The study was commissioned by TARC - a group of Armenians and Turks set up by the US State Department.
This section is licensed by CC BY-SA. Armenian Genocide (Armeniapedia). CC BY-SA 3.0.
Emigration, Immigration, and Intergroup Relations
Is America a melting pot or a lumpy stew/tossed salad? America is a nation of immigrants. With the exception of Native Americans, we all have immigrant ancestors or are ourselves immigrants. Assimilation is the process by which a racial or ethnic minority loses its distinctive identity and lifeways and conforms to the cultural patterns of the dominant group. Cultural assimilation is assimilation of values, behaviors, beliefs, language, clothing styles, religious practices, and foods while structural assimilation is about social interaction. Primary structural assimilation occurs when different racial/ethnic groups belong to the same clubs, live in the same neighborhoods, form friendships, and intermarry. Secondary structural assimilation concerns parity in access to and accumulation of the goods of society, (wealth, power, and status), which is measured by SES and political power—it is becoming middle class or above. The traditional American assimilation pattern is that white ethnics, Asians, Cubans, and non-Mexican Latinx, by the third generation (third generation Americans are those people whose grandparents were foreign-born), have assimilated both culturally and structurally. However, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans do not follow this traditional pattern which differs due to propinquity, coercion, and lack of socioeconomic opportunity (Marger, 1996).
Push and Pull Factors in Emigration/Immigration
Emigration is the movement of people from one country to another while immigration is the movement of people into a country other than their land of birth. Emigration and immigration are ubiquitous among human beings: we have been moving ever since we were born in Africa tens of thousands of years ago. There are various reasons why people move from one country to another and we call those motivating forces push and pull factors. The table, below, shows some of the push and pull factors for sending and receiving countries.
Assimilation is the process by which a racial or ethnic minority loses its distinctive identity and lifeways and conforms to the cultural patterns of the dominant group. It is submerging one’s self into the melting pot of American society. There are two kinds of assimilation cultural and structural. Cultural assimilation concerns values, behaviors, beliefs, language, clothing styles, religious practices, and foods; whereas structural assimilation concerns social interaction in clubs, neighborhoods, friendship, marriage (primary structural assimilation), and parity in access to and accumulation of the goods of society (wealth power and status) measured by SES and political power (secondary structural assimilation).
There are certain patterns of primary and secondary structural assimilation (hereinafter referred to by the term assimilation) into American culture that differ based on race and ethnicity but before discussing those patterns an explanation of terminology is necessary. First generation Americans are those people who are foreign-born; second generation Americans are the children of foreign-born parents; and third generation Americans are the grandchildren of the foreign-born. For white ethnics—primarily Southern and Eastern Europeans, although arguably anyone who is not one of the primary racial or ethnic people of colors such as Arabs, Asians, Blacks, Latinx, American Indians could be considered a white ethnic—Asians, Cubans, South American, and other, non-Mexican Latinx, assimilation follows a fairly traditional pattern even though some prejudice and discrimination may continue to exist. First generation white ethnic Americans, although the vast majority learn and speak English, tend to maintain their native language in their own homes, to keep many of their traditional religious and holiday customs, retain native styles of dress and food preferences, marry among themselves (endogamous marriage), and live near others from their homeland. Second generation white ethnic Americans generally lose much of the language of their parents, drift away from traditional religious and holiday customs, let go of native styles of dress and food preferences in favor of more American-style clothing and food, marry outside their parents’ ethnic group, and move into neighborhoods that are ethnically mixed. By the third generation, most white ethnics have become thoroughly Americanized and have failed to learn all but a very few words of their grandparents language, found meaningless many of the traditional religious and holiday customs, and have adopted American customs (turkey instead of lasagna for Christmas dinner) instead, wear American-style clothing exclusively, eat fast food, marry outside their ethnic group (in fact third generation white ethnic Americans usually do not even consider the ethnic background of those they marry) and live in such ethnically-mixed communities that, except for the generalized whiteness, there is no consideration of the ethnic backgrounds of their neighbors. Moreover, by the third generation, most white ethnics enjoy relatively high levels of structural assimilation (Current, et al. 1987; Harrison & Bennett, 1995; Marger, 1996).
Some of this ease of both cultural and structural assimilation is based on the migration patterns of white ethnics. Although many white ethnics have come to America because they perceive it to be a land of economic and political freedom and opportunity, many have been driven from their homelands by border wars, internal ethnic conflict, economic uncertainty or collapse, lack of educational opportunities, less political freedom, and myriad other reasons. The primary push factors—those conditions which impel people to emigrate from their native lands and immigrate to a new and unknown country—are political and economic, and, as one might guess, the primary pull factors—those real or perceived conditions in the new country which beckon to those on foreign shores moving people to emigrate from the countries of their birth—are also political and economic. Regardless of the push or pull factors, white ethnics are voluntary migrants to America choosing to migrate, sometimes at great personal risk, because they choose to migrate; a migration pattern that sociologists call voluntary migration. Although many white ethnic groups—Jews, Irish, and Italians particularly—have experienced greater or lesser degrees of discrimination, complete assimilation by the third generation is the rule. However, that assimilation was often accomplished with the help of others.
Many white ethnic groups (and as will be shown many nonwhite migrants) formed neighborhoods where first, second, and third generation white ethnics lived and worked together in ethnic enclaves. (See also Chapter 1.3). In general, ethnic enclaves provide a safe haven with a variety of social supports for new immigrants that serve to ease their transition into a new and different culture. The Little Italys in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia; the Chinatowns of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York; the Little Saigons of Houston, Los Angeles, and Atlanta; the Calle Ocho Little Havana district of Miami and the Little Mexico Barrios in Houston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix; the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn New York which is home to nearly 100,000 Lubavitsch-sect, ultra-Orthodox Jews; the Amish and other Old Order religious groups of Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and far Northwestern Minnesota are all primary exemplars of ethnic enclaves. Ethnic enclaves, once they have served their purpose of socializing new immigrants into American culture, tend to disappear as later generations follow the traditional assimilation pattern and move further and further out into the wider society (Current, et al. 1987; Harrison & Bennett, 1995; Marger, 1996).
The Statue of Liberty notwithstanding, (“give me your tired, your poor”), the United States has a long history of preventing immigration and attempting to block persons based on national origin and/or religion. There have been many anti-immigration groups and political parties in the United States beginning in the early 19th century and continuing until the present day. Many of our immigration laws have been discriminatory and have stultified migration rather than encouraged it. The Native American Party, the American Party, the American Protective Association, the Immigration Restriction League, and the Ku Klux Klan, among many other groups, were all founded based on their opposition to the immigration of anyone they considered unworthy—Italians, Jews, Greeks, Poles, Irish Catholics, Catholics or non-Protestants in general, and all non-whites which included, among people traditionally classified as non-white, Italians, Greeks, Turks, and other residents of the southern European, Mediterranean coast, and eastern European, mostly Catholic or Muslim, peoples. Congress vacillates between restricting and encouraging migration from various regions of the planet. Nevertheless, we were a nation of immigrants at our inception and remain a nation of immigrants to this day.
In 2010 there are still anti-immigration groups. PublicEye.org and the Southern Poverty Law Center each publish a list of about a dozen anti-immigrant groups that ranges from think tanks to the Christian right. In February 2010, former US House of Representatives member Tom Tancredo (R-CO), gave the keynote address to the first Tea Party convention arguing that we need “a civics literacy test” before anyone in this country can vote. He also stated that if John McCain had been elected president in 2009,
President Calderon and President McCain would be toasting the elimination of those pesky things called borders and major steps taken toward creation of a North American Union (Tancredo, 2010). In other words, there are those today who would block all immigration into this country legal and illegal because they are afraid of the changes that immigrants make to the culture of the United States. The question then becomes, how have other immigrants changed America and has America changed them more than they have changed it? Most of the literature on this question would suggest that it is a reciprocal process but that the American ideology and the American constitution remain strong.
With regards with more contemporary anti-immigrant groups and the anti-immigrant movement, we will begin with Minutemen Project. Meredith Hoffman (2016) writes,
Between 2004 and 2009, Gilchrist's Minutemen were a powerful force in the anti-immigration movement, drawing in thousands of members who believed the government was doing too little to stop border crossings, and subsequently felt they should take enforcement into their own hands. The coalition against the Establishment—composed largely of veterans and retirees—tried to cover the border with 'outposts,' sometimes as barebones as lawn chairs, to block immigrants from coming into the US from Mexico.
Due to internal strife, the Minutemen Project eventually fell apart with some of its members joining other militias, like Arizona Border Recon (Hoffman 2016; Carranza, 2017). It is not surprising that anti-immigrant militias that patrol, like the Minutemen and Arizona Border Recon, have previously discussed and promoted border security, like building a wall. Thus, anti-immigrant groups were supportive of Donald Trump's proposed Wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and other austere immigration policies from his administration (Grandin, 2019). Unfortunately, with the increasing xenophobia and nativism (actions and/or the promotion of policies usually from citizens that benefit citizens to the detriment of non-citizens like immigrants) displayed openly by political leaders, the anti-immigrant movement is on the rise. As reported by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL, 2018),
Anti-immigrant fervor, once relegated to more extreme quarters, has been increasingly mainstreamed over the last ten years. Over the last two years, with the advent of a new administration focused on much stricter immigration policies and complementary executive actions, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment has made life substantially more difficult for all immigrants.
Among the anti-immigrant groups profiled by the ADL (2018) report were Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR), Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Numbers USA, The Remembrance Project, and San Diegans for Secure Borders. In order to successfully halt the anti-immigrant movement and its nativistic groups, the ADL (2018) suggests the following:
the government, media and general public must take the necessary steps to make sure that the demonization of immigrants and the bigotry that underlie it do not become further entrenched in our society. These ideas should not become part of the acceptable discourse in America’s diverse and pluralistic society.
Contributors and Attributions
Content on this page has multiple licenses. Everything is CC BY-NC other than Armenian Genocide which is CC BY-SA.
- Alba, R. (1999). Immigration and the American realities of assimilation and multiculturalism. Sociological Forum, 14(1), 3-25.
- Alba, R. & Nee, V. (2009). Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Alexander, J.C. (2001). Theorizing the 'modes of incorporation': Assimilation, hyphenation, and multiculturalism as varieties of civil participation. Sociological Theory, 19(3), 237-249.
- Anti-Defamation League. (2018). Mainstreaming hate: The anti-immigrant movement in the U.S. Anti-Defamation League.
- Bernal, M.E. (1993). Ethnic Identity: Formation and Transmission Among Latinx and Other Minorities. New York, NY: SUNY Press.
- Berry, J.W. (1990). Psychology of acculturation. In R. N. Dienstbier & J. J. Berman (Eds.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: Vol. 37. Cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 201–234). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
- Berry, J.W. (1997). Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Applied Psychology 46(1), 5-34.
- Berry, J.W., Kim. U., Minde, T., & Mok, D. (1987). Comparative studies of acculturative stress. International Migration Review, 21(1), 491-451.
- Boyd, M. (2002). Educational attainment of immigrant offspring: Success or segmented assimilation. International Migration Review, 36, 1037–1060.
- Carrranza, R. (2017). Border vigilantes, and the wall they might be watching. USA Today.
- Chan, S. (2015, September 3). Cambodians in the united states: refugees, immigrants, american ethnic minority. Oxford Research Encyclopedia.
- Current, R.N., Williams, T.H., Freidel, F, & Brinkley, A. (1987). American History: A Survey. 6th ed. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
- Danso, R. (1999, June 7). Hosting the ‘Unwanted’ Guests: Public Reaction and Print Media Portrayal of Cross- border Migration in the New South Africa. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Association of African Studies. Lennoxville, Québec.
- Danso R., & Grant, M. (2000). Access to housing as an adaptive strategy for immigrant groups: Africans in Calgary. Canadian Ethnic Studies 32(3) ,19–43.
- Esses, V.M., Dovidio, J.F., Jackson, L.M., & Armstrong, T.L. (2001). The immigration dilemma: The role of perceived group competition, ethnic prejudice, and national identity. Journal of Social Issues 57(3), 389-412.
- Glazer, N. (1993). Is assimilation dead? The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 530(1), 122-136.
- Gordon, M.M. (1964). Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion and National Origins. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Grandin, G. (2019). How violent American vigilantes at the border led to Trump’s wall. The Guardian.
- Harrison, R.J. & Bennett, C.E. (1995). Racial and Ethnic Diversity in State of the Union: America in the 1990s Volume Two: Social Trends. Reynolds Farley, Ed. New York, NY: Russell Sage, 141-210.
- Hoffman, M. (2016). Whatever happened to Arizona's minutemen? VICE.
- Kazal, R.A. (1995). Revisiting assimilation: The rise, fall, and reappraisal of a concept in American ethnic history. American Historical Review 100:2, 437-471.
- Lazarus. R.S. & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal and coping. New York, NY: Springer.
- Marger, M. (1996). Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
- Park, R.E., Burgess, E.W., & McKenzie, R.D. (1925). The City. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Phinney, J.S. (1991). Ethnic identity and self-esteem: a review and integration. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 13(2), 193-208.
- Portes, A. & Zhou, M. (1993).The new second generation: segmented assimilation and its variants. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 530, 74–96.
- Rumbaut, R.G. (1994). The crucible within: Ethnic identity, self-esteem, and segmented assimilation among children of immigrants. International Migration Review 28:4, 748-794.
- Scholten, P. (2011). Framing Immigrant Integration: Dutch Research-Policy Dialogues in Comparative Perspective. Amsterdamm, Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.
- Tancredo, T. (2010). Tom Tancredo's feb. 4 tea party speech in Nashville. Free Republic.
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.) How Many Refugees Came to the United States from 1933-1945? Retrieved from https://exhibitions.ushmm.org/americ...from-1933-1945
- van Tubergen, F. (2006). Immigrant Integration: A Cross-National Study. New York, NY: LBF Scholarly Publishing LLC.
- Warner, W.L. & Srole, L. (1945). The Social Systems of American Ethnic Groups. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Waters, M.C., Van, V.C., Kasinitz, P., & Mollenkopf, J.H. (2010). Segmented assimilation revisited: types of acculturation and socioeconomic mobility in young adulthood. Ethnic and Racial Studies 33(7), 1168-1193.
- Waters, M.C., & Jiménez, T.R. (2005). Assessing immigrant assimilation: new empirical and theoretical challenges. Annual Review of Sociology 31, 105-125.
- Xie, Y. & Greenman, E. (2010). The social context of assimilation: testing implications of segmented assimilation theory. Social Science Research 40, 965-984.