Immigration is a tale as old as time. Since the very beginning, when all the continents were joined together by thick ice bridges, human beings were nomads. The humans from that traveled great distances on foot from one place to another. They went from place to place searching for better food, more excellent weather, and overall, a better life.
But in modern times, we often have heated debates about immigration. Many people believe that immigrants shouldn’t be allowed in certain countries. They are obligated to assimilate (or become part of) the dominant culture in their situation. But is this such a good idea? And are these people’s opinions the main reason why immigrants choose to assimilate?
Let’s dig more profound as we learn about cultural assimilation, its causes, and its effects! We’re also going to give you some examples to understand better what cultural assimilation looks like. Anyway, without further ado, let’s talk about cultural assimilation!
What is Cultural Assimilation?
Before we dive deep into what something looks like and its effects, we first need to define our terms. For starters, cultural assimilation is when people from a foreign nature settle down in another country. Throughout their stay there, they assimilate (or take up) the dominant culture in the country. We can see this every day when Mexican immigrants travel to America. Immigrants start speaking English all the time or take more significant interest in things like American movies and baseball.
This isn’t to say that as soon as a person immigrates to another country, they lose their entire cultural identity. In fact, studies show that while immigrants may take up things like language and hobbies from the dominant culture, they still maintain their religion, food, and some cultural customs. This type of assimilation isn’t only seen in immigrants traveling from a less developed country like Mexico to a more developed one like the United States. People from the United States also emigrate, taking up homes in China, Venezuela, or Australia. Once they do so, cultural assimilation is almost inevitable.
For example, American people who immigrate to Latin American countries report feeling happier and becoming more open to expressing their emotions in ways they hadn’t before. As you’ve probably guessed by now, this is a complex topic, so let’s try to explain things better with some examples!
What Are Some Examples of Cultural Assimilation?
The truth is that examples of cultural assimilation are not that hard to find. You’ve probably already seen one or eaten one without knowing it!
- TexMex: If you’ve ever had this kind of food before, then congratulations, you’ve eaten an excellent example of cultural assimilation! TexMex cuisine comes from combining Mexican cuisines like burritos and tortillas with traditional Southern cuisine like cornbread, shrimp, and chili. This type of cuisine takes elements from both cultural expressions to create a blend of unique flavors!
- Clothes: As we mentioned earlier, immigrants don’t always come from underdeveloped nations. Sometimes Westerns travel to the East! This is the case for many Western women who travel to Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. In these countries, it is customary for women to wear a particular type of headdress. Because of this, some western women also wear similar headdresses to show their respect and better assimilate into the culture.
- Lifestyle: Sometimes, cultural assimilation can be a no-brainer. Such is the case for high-level executives who leave busy lives in Manhattan to live more peaceful ones in places like Bali or Aruba. In this case, people who used to live a very hectic lifestyle adopt a more easy-going one, where they spend most of their time lounging around the beach in Hawaiian shirts, sipping margaritas. Isn’t that the dream?
What Causes This Assimilation?
Alright, now that we know what we’re talking about and we’ve given you some examples, let’s dive deeper into why people assimilate into the dominant culture when they immigrate to another country.
- Perceived advantage: When people immigrate to a different nation, they believe they should assimilate to the dominant culture to get particular perks and avoid misunderstandings. This could be as simple as learning the country’s primary language to better communicate with natives to as complex as trying to dress and act more like natives to fit in. The truth is that since the beginning of time, most humans don’t like strangers. They don’t like people they’re not used to, and they can sometimes even be hostile. This is why many immigrants adopt many things from the dominant culture to fit in and get ahead.
- Political relevance: Some immigrants may find political advantages in adopting the country’s dominant culture. For example, a Mexican immigrant who interns at a big firm may find advantages in talking more like his coworkers and participating in activities that they enjoy to network his way to the top. This is just simple economics; if you blend in, you have a higher chance of making allies and moving up.
- No choice: In some cases, people haven’t even had a choice as to whether they wanted to assimilate or not. Such was the case of Native Americans in the early eighteenth century who had to adapt their conquerors’ religious habits to survive. These types of cultural assimilation are forceful and cruel. They have long-lasting traumatic effects on the ethnic group that is affected.
Speaking of consequences, let’s dive deeper into the effects of cultural assimilation.
What Are the Effects of Cultural Assimilation?
Well, it turns out that while some immigrants may harmlessly assimilate to the dominant culture, others may not be so lucky. According to recent studies, cultural assimilation can lead to depression and other mental health-related issues for people trying to assimilate into the dominant culture. This is especially true for fresh immigrants who have just arrived in the country and have the monumental task of starting a whole new life for themselves.
Dealing with such heavy challenges as finding a new job, learning a new language from scratch, and adopting other people’s subtle mannerisms can cause anxiety in the people who have to assimilate.
There is also the matter of cultural erasure. This can be pretty damaging to the people who have to assimilate since trying to fit in. They may also lose contact with their cultural identity and feel stripped of such. But what is cultural erasure, and what causes it? Let’s dive deeper into these questions now as we look at what happens when people completely lose their cultural identity.
What is Cultural Erasure?
Academics define cultural erasure as how cultural traditions are gradually erased from society. As more and more people assimilate into the dominant culture. While this process happens slowly, it can have massive effects on the later generations of immigrants.
Some of these traditions have been erased not by a conscious effort to destroy another person’s culture but by modernity itself. For example, the practice of using donkeys to carry goods from one place to another and setting up camp in different places hasn’t so much been erased as become obsolete. After humans invented faster means of transport like cars, donkeys just didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.
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However, other cases of cultural erasure can be more drastic. A good example would be the case of native Americans. The cultural erasure of native Americans comes from years of battle with people who wanted to conquer them. This is why Native American people today are often split. Some live-in reserves where they’re more in tune with their culture of origin. Others choose to live in big cities and completely assimilate into the dominant culture.
Such drastic cases are most present in countries that were former colonies, like India, for example. While Indian culture is still in tune with its ancestors, the English occupation changed it forever. Indian culture has forever changed, taking up aspects of western culture. Colorism is not so wonderful, where Indian people seek to lighten their skin to look more Western. Some of these methods can be very painful, like putting mustard on the skin. Colorism can also lead to self-hatred in people since it sets up unrealistic and often racist beauty standards.
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Cultural assimilation can be a good thing where people adopt customs from the dominant culture. Sadly, cultural assimilation can also be very dangerous. It also has its downsides. This is the case, especially when assimilation becomes erasure. This is why it’s essential to be respectful of all cultures and understand before passing judgment. It is essential to know that there is a high chance cultural assimilation will occur naturally. People should also be conscious of where certain traditions or customs come from and their significance.