NOTE: “Stop Saying That” is a blog series written to make us think about phrases we say without giving them much thought. It is hoped that knowing the broader context behind these sayings will cause us to stop mindlessly repeating them.
Stop Saying That: Immigrants have to assimilate into American culture.
Assimilation is not a good thing. Saying that all newcomers must assimilate to their new place means they must become similar to everyone else, to blend in, to lose their distinctiveness. In my work, I advocate for Acculturation instead.
Acculturation means newcomers can learn the operating rules of the new culture, all the while keeping their original values. They can learn the new language, but they will still speak and embrace their native tongue in the home because that is the language of their heart and soul, the representation of their homeland and heritage. No human being should be forced to give up who they are in order to live somewhere else. It is possible to accommodate new ways of talking and behaving without being forced to *be* someone they are not.
Assimilation in the U.S. is an archaic form of oppression inflicted on newcomers by white, Christian, Western European colonizers of North America. It was propped up by the racist ideology of Israel Zangwill in his 1909 play, The Melting Pot, which birthed the mindlessly repeated phrase of the same name. If we are to honor all newcomers as unique individuals with diverse skills to share, we must not demand a molten sameness. Homogeneity, to the extent that it’s helpful in a society, evolves with future generations. Unlike their immigrant forebears, second and third generations learn the dominant language fluently and become flexibly bicultural. If we let nature take its course, we become organically stronger and, at the same time, less fearful of difference. Assimilation, like xenophobic Official-English legislation, is bad policy and just plain wrong.