Assimilation Into American Society Essay, Research Paper
Several years ago, America was taught to be a ‘melting pot,’ a place where immigrants of different cultures or races form an integrated society, but now America is more of a ‘salad bowl’ where instead of forming an incorporated entity the people who make up the bowl are unwilling to unite as one. America started as an immigrant nation and has continued to be so. People all over the world come to America for several reasons. Most people come to America voluntarily, but very few come unwillingly. For whatever reasons they may have for coming they all have to face exposure to American society. When exposed to this ‘new’ society they choose whether to assimilate or not. Assimilation in any society is complex. Since assimilation is not simple, people will have negative experiences when assimilating into American society.
In American society, learning to speak English properly is a crucial factor in assimilation. People who have decided to come to America have found it rather difficult to assimilate into American society for several reasons. One reason being that learning a new language is or can be considerably difficult depending on your age. This is so because the act of learning a new language such as English, is much more difficult for an elderly person than for one who has not reached adolescence. According to Grognet, for elderly people there are several factors that affect their willingness to learn. Among those factors are, physical health, mental health, cultural expectations, attitude, motivation and finally the ability to acquire the correct diction, and to suitable articulation (Grognet 296-297). For a person who has not reached the prepubescent age, it is easier to acclimatize into a new society for various reasons. As a child, one is not fully habituated to a certain culture or society. Another reason is that children learn a language by imitating the sounds they hear (mimicry) without an accent. This enables children to obtain a correct diction. Here a child has a positive experience and is able to assimilate with ease. On the other hand, an elderly person will find the learning process a challenge and to a certain extent the situation might even be so burdensome that one loses interest in learning. In Amy Tan’s speech My Mother’s English, she explains the difficulties her mother faced because she (Tan’s mother) was unable to clearly express herself. She (Tan) also felt the effects of this as a child. Not only did Tan’s mother find speaking English a barrier in the process of assimilation, but Tan herself felt her mother limited her perception (Tan 45). Since Tan’s mother was unable to speak English properly people would not give her good service and would not treat her seriously even to the extant that people “pretended not to understand her or even acted as if they did not hear her,”(Tan 45). This is just one example of many that shows how some people have had negative experiences assimilating into American society.
Language is not the only factor affecting the assimilation of people into American society, but one’s traditions also have an effect on the willingness and on the degree to which one assimilates. Some people have found that certain customs they have are not accepted in American culture and might even be condemned. According to Richard Rodriguez, America is a place where people are joined by a common culture, but also are reluctant to exalt the assimilation process (Rodriguez 184). As a result of this, people have negative experiences. An example of such an experience is a person who has different traditions than Americans is frowned upon and may be discriminated against because of the difference. In Curanderismo: A Healing Art by Cynthia Lopez, curanderismo is herbal medicine, which is used to heal people’s ails. Since curanderismo is neither accepted nor understood in the U.S., people characterize it as witchcraft, although it is far from witchcraft. On the account that curanderismo has no scientific justification physicians reject it. A practitioner of curanderismo might even be blamed for misdiagnosing a person who has a serious illness; this can rouse more speculation about the healing art. When American society is reluctant to accept the traditions of the person who is trying to assimilate, it creates an imbalance in the person. This imbalance makes it difficult for a person to completely assimilate, thus the person partially assimilates. By “incorporating the new with the traditional,” a person might be able to assimilate with more ease (Lopez 336). This alienation of people’s traditions is a negative experience for anyone who is trying to assimilate.
Furthermore, one’s ethnicity might jeopardize a person’s progression in assimilation. Throughout the history of America there has been racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is probably the worst type of oppression one might face while trying to assimilate into any society. An example of when one’s ethnicity jeopardized one’s incorporation into American society was during World War II (1939-1945). Since America was in combat with Japan and found Japanese to be extremely militant, people of Japanese descent residing in America were put into internment camps. In Arrival At Manzanar, Jeanne and James Houston describe the way Japanese people were relocated to an internment camp and how Japanese aliens (men) were imprisoned until the end of the war. At this time, being Japanese was thought to mean that you would betray America by sabotaging the war effort. To prevent this the Japanese were treated with belligerence. Not only were other Americans extremely hostile to Japanese people, but also they were ignorant of Japanese tradition and culture. For example, Japanese people are accustomed to eating steamed rice with salty foods and at Manzanar the Japanese there were served rice with apricot syrup as topping. Not only was the food meager but also their living quarters, which actually were inadequate barracks. The Japanese had to live in involuntary destitute conditions, which is an awful experience for people who are trying to adapt to American society. When Jeanne Houston wrote, “…Papa’s disappearance didn’t bother me nearly so much as the world I soon found myself in,” it described the severity of the situation the Japanese found themselves in during World War II (Houston 308).
Nonetheless, assimilation seems to be a process where one will encounter negative experiences. People have and will continue to emigrate. They will also face assimilation. Although America has not accomplished the assimilation into one race, it consists of people sharing a similar identity. In the words of Richard Rodriguez, “We are gathered together-but as individuals…we stand together, alone,” thus people will assimilate but as individual ‘Americans’.
1. Grognet, Allene. “Elderly Refugees and Language Learning.” Hillard, Piro, and
2. Houston, Jeanne. “Arrival at Manzanar.” Hillard, Piro, and Warner. 307-314.
3. Lopez, Cynthia. “Cranderismo: A Healing Art.” Hillard, Piro, and Warner. 334-336.
4. Rodriguez, Richard. “Does America Still Exist?” Hillard, Piro, and Warner. 183-186.
5. Tan, Amy. “My Mother’s English.” Hillard, Piro, and Warner. 42-46.
6. Hillard, Judith, Vincent, Piro, and J. Sterling Warner, Eds. Visions Across The Americas.
Orlando, Fl: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998.