July 4th is just around the corner, people! While you’re trying to decide where to spend the holiday and how to get there I thought it might be important to acknowledge a question that, although never asked as bluntly as I’m posing it, nonetheless, permeates the history of our Independence Day: To Assimilate or Not to Assimilate. That is the question.
E Pluribus Unum: out of many comes one. America is born and bred on the concept of stirring up the melting pot of many cultures, religions, ideologies, creeds, and ethnicities and creating an American, one whose foundational concept of respect for each other’s differences is reflected in the law that we follow. That is our hope anyway.
A Little History
In the early 1900’s immigration in the United States nearly tripled! “Why”, you might ask? Well, people wanted to come here to escape persecution and poverty mainly from Eastern Europe, and America’s doors were wide open, ready to accept those who wanted to cultivate this land with new businesses and lots of babies.
Although immigration policies were much more relaxed during this time in history there was still the formality of the Naturalization Ceremony. Before immigrants could be Naturalized they had to attend a series of classes on what it meant to hold American Citizenship. (Today, we call this a Naturalization Test.) During the early 1900’s the INS (now USCIS) had a rather elaborate naturalization ceremony that often included a little skit to illustrate the melting pot concept, whereby a representative from each country would hop into a life-size pot and when they emerged they carried with them an American flag. Yep, I know. Kinda ridiculous. I gotta hand it to our government though as it was certainly a creative way to get the point across.
Although obtaining US Citizenship is much harder these days due to the in-fighting by our elected representatives and even our neighbors, it is important to remember that all Americans carry with them blood lines that lead back to an immigrant. It doesn’t really matter whether you have a Great-Great Grandmother from Italy or a Mom from Trinidad; we’re all the same–thrown into a great big pot, stirred up with (sometimes questionable) cultural values, and definitely mixed with a lot of patriotic pride to create a truly unique American.
Will My Child Be Better Off If They Assimilate?
I for one am happy I’m a mutt of Scottish, English, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, and Russian descent. And I feel privileged to live in one of the of the most diverse cities in the nation (Los Angeles). Because I do so I have the opportunity to work with many types of families, including immigrants. Assimilation is a big topic of discussion, especially when it comes to a child’s education. Do I send them to a school where the isolationist viewpoint is part of their education? Do I allow my child to mix with people different from myself? If I do, will my heritage, culture, religion, and language be set aside in favor of the American Way, however that is defined at the moment. The bigger question that is never asked but always wondered is, “Will my child be better off if they assimilate?”
If we take a look back at the reasons our family members came to this country we’ll understand that the gist of this argument rests on equality. I firmly believe that Education Is Still The Great Equalizer. Although money and power will take you far in this country, education will sustain you. In America, we value education because it can transcend race, culture, religion, and language. Education allows us to stir up debates about who is right and who is wrong, creating conflict and angst, hopefully with the end result of becoming more accepting of another’s view even if it doesn’t remotely comport with our own. Parents wrestling with this question are right to worry though because things can get a little uneasy when those views lead to persecution. Although no one should be chastised for their beliefs, and in an ideal America we should be able to have a respectful round-table discussion about our differences, our frustrations and alienations often manifest themselves in unhealthy ways. But we are not a risk averse people. The concept of an American is premised on an unknown figure of hope, one by where if she just reaches a little higher and walks a little farther she can climb out of her station in life and make a new one for herself and her family. I think it’s important, then, to acknowledge the risk in assimilating but more importantly it’s when we stop asking these tough questions that we should all be worried. America is, after all, a nation built on differences and one that continues to strive for tolerance, and that is a risky endeavor; one with a great payoff.
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Christine Terry, B.A., J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com. We think we’re pretty awesome! Go on, check us out.