A Whitepaper Asking the Question – Should Mexicans be Expected to Assimilate?
The one consistent argument I always hear about the immigration debate, is that immigrants should assimilate. Unfortunately, like everything else having to do with immigration, the assimilation of immigrants is a complex problem because it involves many dynamics. Cultural assimilation is the fusion, or the integration of an ethnic minority into the dominant culture. The argument normally postured is that immigrants are expected to resemble the majority in behavior, values and social mores. Not normally included in the classical definition of sociology is language. However, it is a significant part of the debate about the assimilation of immigrants into the US system. Perhaps, this is because the assimilation of social mores assumes that a common language is part of that requirement. Whether language is part of the sociological definition of assimilation, or not; for this paper, we will include language as a requirement for an immigrant to be considered assimilated into the US.
There are many perspectives of what an assimilated immigrant looks like. For example, there are many individuals that believe an assimilated immigrant is one that is comfortable eating Mexican foods and enjoying piñatas at the birthday parties, but speaks English as their primary language. Some individuals believe that immigrants must embrace the ethical standards of the dominant culture in order to be assimilated. Others are not satisfied until all vestiges of the foreign culture is erased from the assimilated immigrants.
Then there is the issue of assimilating political culture. Political culture involves political dictums of a nation. For example, it is acceptable in some countries that a woman is not allowed to drive, or that an adulterer must be stoned to death. Other political ideologies believe it is acceptable to sacrifice animals as part of religious or social activities. Others believe that some animals may be consumed by humans, for example cats or dogs, while in other countries this is reprehensible.
Because of the innumerable types of what an assimilated immigrant looks like to different perspectives, it would be impossible to delve into each of them in order to define what an assimilated immigrant looks like. Therefore, we are going to focus this discussion on what is the predominant demand for the assimilated immigrants into the value-system of the United States; language and the core social mores of the dominant culture, i.e., that they speak English and hold the value system of the perceived dominant culture.
We are going to ignore the political assimilation issue because it does not matter in the global debate about assimilated immigrants into the United States. For example, the grand majority of immigrants, from Muslin countries, do not demand that women be prohibited from driving. In many ways, through the generations, they assimilate as the debate of women driving in the US is extremely rare. Eating cats and dogs is not acceptable in the vast majority of the United States. Immigrants, who would have eaten them in their home countries, have assimilated enough to not include them in their meals, at least publicly. Political dictums, are for the most part, not part of the general discussion, notwithstanding the recent debate over Sharia law in some communities.
By the very definition of what an assimilated immigrant is, we must first define the dominant culture so that we can continue the discussion about immigrants assimilating. Many, wrongly, assume that the Anglo-Saxon Protestants, or the WASPS, are the dominant culture of the United States. This is because the vast majority of the original thirteen colonies were predominantly Anglo-Saxon. Because of this, they tend to be viewed as the dominant culture of the country. The thirteen colonies were mostly unified in their language and in their culture because they mostly came from the same background. This history has created an idealized image of what an assimilated immigrant is. The common narrative is that immigrants must act and speak, like Anglo-Saxons, in order to be assimilated. Although uncomfortable for many, this is the nexus for the whole debate about assimilated immigrants.
An example of this notion is Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” When asked about his song, Greenwood replied; “if America changes to the point that it is no longer a Christian nation, and no longer protects itself from aliens who come and go, then it won’t be America anymore.” [In Partial Defense of Lee Greenwood’s Grammatically Challenged ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’, Golberg, Jeffrey; The Atlantic; January 2, 2015]
Greenwood wraps the debate within religion. His song represents the generalized notion that the US will cease to exist if it continues to change. This is the fundamental fear that many have about immigrants. Interestingly, Lee Greenwood throws in another aspect of the debate that is mostly missed by many – the immigrant that comes to work and then returns home. Are they truly an immigrant, or are they a contract worker here to work for a finite period of time and then leave the country? If so, should they be part of the debate about assimilated immigrants?
To continue the discussion, let us look at history to answer the question of whether the Anglo-Saxon Protestant is the dominant culture. The original inhabitants of what is now the United States, the Native Americans, and the subsequent inhabitants that occupied the rest of the country, prior to joining the original thirteen colonies, were diversified in language, culture and values. Each cultural unit was influenced by its own cultural identity as it was swept into the US. Almost all Native Americans were forcefully required to assimilate, through forced education and assimilation programs. Although they resisted the assimilation, their cultural identity was forced to morph, as the United States absorbed them into the union.
This was not true for the Hispanics that occupied most of the westward territories that were eventually incorporated into the United States by the original colonies. They, for the most part, were allowed to keep their cultural identities somewhat intact. The vast majority spoke Spanish and still do today. There are many reasons for this, but much of it can be attributed to the focus on Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny was the notion that the United States was destined to expand across the North American continent. Manifest Destiny focused on expanding across the continent by adding territory, including the existing occupants into the nation. Because it was focused on expansion and not on assimilating the existing cultures it absorbed, many of the cultural aspects of the absorbed cultures remained intact. It was about expansion and not assimilation, except for the Native Americans that were subjected by both the Anglo-Saxons and the Hispanics of the time.
The race to expand the nation led to the inclusion of different cultures but not the assimilation of them. This is best seen in the predominance of the Spanish language in many parts of the country, making it the second most spoken language in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2013 over 38 million residents in the US speak Spanish. This was about 12% of the population in 2013. Interestingly, the trend is that Spanish use is increasing, instead of diminishing. Although assimilation is about adopting the culture, the unspoken reality is that many advocates of assimilation do not fear the culture, but rather the Spanish language.
Remember that Spanish was the dominant language in the majority of what is now the United States. It was the native language of the inhabitants that were absorbed into the United States as it grew. Spanish was not introduced into the United States by immigrants, but rather it was absorbed as part of Manifest Destiny. This is an important detail that must be part of the assimilation discussion. Advocates of assimilation will argue that the original inhabitants of the lands west of the original thirteen colonies were out populated by those leading the charge for Manifest Destiny. That may be true, but it does not negate the fact that Spanish was the language of the land.
This now leads us to the fundamental problem about the assimilation of immigrants.
As discussed at the start of the essay, cultural assimilation is the integration of an ethnic minority into the dominant culture. Many argue that the dominant culture is the Anglo-Saxon one. But is it really? Related to the debate is the issue of speaking English. As if that wasn’t enough to complicate the discussion, it is also important to discuss the issue of immigrants versus the existing inhabitants that make up the nation today. This complicates matters more than most are willing to acknowledge because many of those assumed to be immigrants are actually long-term residents who have kept their language and their culture from the time they were incorporated into the nation. In other words, “the border crossed them, they did not cross the border.”
Because of these complexities and in order to make this more readable the rest of this paper will be divided into four parts. The first three-parts – what is the dominant culture, is English required for assimilation and should existing cultures assimilate as well – are intended to set the foundation to demonstrate that Mexicans are already assimilated into the United States. Tomorrow, we will look at what is the dominant culture.