Assimilation is a term used in regard to immigrants adapting into a culture, namely the United States culture, which is a culture well-known for being a melting pot of people from every region of the world. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines assimilation as, “To adopt the ways of another culture: to fully become part of a different society, country, etc.” (“Assimilate”). However, we are not chameleons externally or internally, and our ability to change is not synchronous with a change in territory. Culture to a large extent defines a person, and it usually develops in childhood. Our parents or caregivers teach us right from wrong not only in a moral sense but also a cultural sense. As we grow, we learn the acceptable ways to communicate and achieve success in society, and it becomes innate. To assimilate to another culture is to change the foundations a person has relied upon for social interaction and acceptability in one society. The benefits of assimilation are a broadened prospective and an ability to travel to another region without any cultural barriers. However, assimilation often involves discarding long held beliefs and instincts that become a hindrance. While there are obvious benefits, successful assimilation by an immigrant or visitor to the United States includes many challenges. The biggest challenge to assimilation is ignoring or acclimating to subjectively offensive behavior. The “American way” is independent and has traded many polite formalities for efficiency and directness. In her article, “Growing up American: Doing the Right Thing,” Amparo Ojeda writes about her experiences coming to America (54-56). When she first arrives, her host family brings their children who complain about being thirsty and hungry, usually interrupting their parents’ conversation. At a restaurant, the children order their own food and don’t finish all of it. This directly opposes her Filipino culture, and when Ojeda returns to America seven years later, she struggles to balance her culture with American culture while raising her child (A. Ojeda, 54-56).
Ojeda’s struggle exists among most immigrants trying to assimilate to American culture, which is often perceived as rude. However, Ojeda’s host family was not being rude. They were simply abiding by their own cultural norms. Despite America being a melting pot, the dominant society is white, Anglo-sexton Protestant, and different religions, races, and ethnicities have trouble assimilating (McDonald & Balgopal, 15). Their diverse norms and customs differ and conflict with the American culture, which causes negative consequences, like the feeling that Americans are disrespectful.
Dealing with cultural differences is not solely an internal struggle. Americans criticize or misunderstand the assimilation process. Ojeda notes this when she walks her daughter to school every day. The Americans tell her how much easier it would be to have her walk on her own and state it will give her independence. They neglect to consider the benefits of Ojeda’s walk (A. Ojeda, 56). They essentially want to force their values on Ojeda, but they are only trying to help. Americans have trouble seeing the differences in cultures as a positive thing, and this provides additional challenges to those trying to assimilate but retain some of their own cultural values.
Finding a balance between assimilation and cultural retention is a benefit. Assimilation is necessary to maneuver through life in America, but to lose one’s cultural identity is to alter one’s existence. Time is likely the only factor that can lead to total assimilation as exposure increases desensitization, and American values are truly adopted rather than being forced. One can only force themselves to accept cultural difference until they live among that culture for a long enough time period that the differences become second-nature. In the case of Ojeda and many others, the resistance to assimilate is a constant struggle to be overcome but also to balance with identity.
- “Assimilate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 9 May 2016.
- McDonald, Hellen & Balgopal, Pallassana. “Conflicts of American immigrants: assimilate or retain ethnic identity.” Migration World Magazine 26.4 (1998): 14-19. Web. 9 May 2016.
- Ojeda, Amparo. Growing up American: Doing the Right Thing. Distant Mirrors: America as a Foreign Culture. 1993. DeVita, P.R. and Armstrong, J.D. (eds.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 54-49. Web. 9 May 2016.