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Assimilation versus Acculturation

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Assimilation versus Acculturation

Assimilation and acculturation, although sharing some similar qualities, are not interchangeable. While acculturation does allow adoption by a minority cultural group of a majority cultural group's customs and attitudes, the minority group manages to stay a distinct, although, altered, society. Assimilation; however, does not leave the minority culture intact as the minority group will gradually adopt the customs and attitudes of the dominant culture until inevitably it becomes completely absorbed by the dominant culture. In the case of the African American versus the Hispanic American, these differences can be clearly seen.

The Hispanic American does, to a degree, acculturate into American society; however, because of language barriers and distinct cultural values has failed to assimilate. This is not only because of the preference by Anglo-America of white immigrants over that of immigrants of color, as the African American has become "Americanized." Because the Hispanic communities fight to remain a distinct culture, maintaining its language and rituals, complete assimilation can never occur. During the 1800's, when immigrants entering the United States had no alternative but to adopt the language of their new country and swear allegiance to its flag, the acculturation process was inevitable. However, the Hispanic immigrant of today is not obliged to adopt the ways of Anglo-America; thus, they remain a distinct and separate culture within the American culture. By sheer force of numbers, the Hispanic person now possesses the power to enforce, at best, an assimilation whereby Anglo-America will eventually need to accept the Hispanic customs and language as part of the framework for the new America. As the debate rages over bi-lingual education, slowly that which was considered the "native tongue" of America (English) will have to adjust for the new minority/majority of Hispanic immigrants.

Two countries which give rise to interesting questions regarding the debate over bilingualism and cultural rights are Mexico and Puerto Rico. Mexico, our border neighbor, provides the Hispanic community with its greatest number of immigrants. Mexico was, until the Mexican/American war, the proud owner of Arizona, California, western Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah; however, following the war the United States took possession of this land. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo contained provisions stating that the culture and language of the Mexican people would remain intact; however, this honorable intention was quickly abandoned in favor of Anglo-American customs of the already formed United States. Puerto Rico is also unique in that although the native language of the Puerto Rican peoples is Spanish, the Puerto Rican is legally an American. When the Puerto Rican migrates to the United States he does so as a citizen; however, upon arrival he is treated as though he were an immigrant. As long as he presents himself as culturally and linguistically different, the legality of his citizenship does not include him as part of the melting pot. Although language provides a barrier against assimilation, the dual citizenship also encourages the "them" syndrome that precludes assimilation by the Hispanic immigrant.

The African American, although, apparently not Anglo-American, has assimilated into the American society and culture. His people wee brought to this country in chains and disassociated from their culture by force. In order to survive, the black American had to fully assimilate into the American culture and adopt the customs and ways of the dominant society. Assimilation for the African American was a slow process, but not due to the adherence to customs and rituals. Anglo-America's bias against the "other" was based on ethnocentrism. Need for survival and fear of the dominant culture forced the African American to attempt assimilation; however, white America did not believe that the "inferior" black race should or could ever become as "civilized" as they. Thus, assimilation into society occurred long after the African American had fully acculturated. The fight for rights of survival allowed "Americanization" to occur much more rapidly in this group who, because of the span of time in which slavery was occurring, had no homeland to return to and no native tongue which remained.

Thus, acculturation, such as with the Hispanic American; and assimilation, such as with the African American, both require the minority group to abandon a part of themselves in favor of their new homeland; however, it is to what degree the minority group will sacrifice that distinguishes which path to choose. America, a country of immigrants, has an expectation, whether right or wrong, that to be American one must cease being part of the culture that has make people who they are. Acculturation allows the immigrant to hold on to that light within themselves that allows them to see who they are and where they came from, while also allowing them to become part of the culture that is around them. Assimilation, on the other hand, absorbs the minority group into the dominant group until the minority no longer exists as a separate cultural identity. Complete assimilation requires the immigrant to barter away his past for a future, however, without that past the immigrant cannot remain whole. The premise of this country was freedom - freedom to practice and choose what life the immigrant wishes to live; however, the melting pot often forces only one color to rise to the top while the other burns away on the bottom. This loss of group cultural identity robs not only the immigrant, but all of us.


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