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Assimilation or Multi-culturalism: That is the Question

Maybe we need a combination of the two.

What does it mean to be American? Does it mean everyone talks the same and looks the same and believes the same things? Does it mean forgetting everything that our parents and grandparents had to go through to get to this country? Does it mean forgetting all the customs and foods and stories they were raised with?

Wouldn't that be awfully hard to do? And wouldn't this be a boring place to live?

This country was a huge land with very few inhabitants and then people from all parts of the world left their own homes and troubles and came here with one goal: to make a better life for their families than they could have in their homeland. They were the entrepreneurs, the hard working, stubborn, brave people who came with nothing and made something of themselves. In the process they built a great country for us.

George Washington said in 1783 that our borders were open for the wealthy and educated and oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions, who were free to participate in all our rights and privileges if these newcomers followed American standards of decency and proper conduct. He wanted them to assimilate to their new country's values. And most of them did. Most of these European immigrants considered themselves Americans and never saw their homelands or families again. This was mainly because travel to Europe was difficult, not because the new country insisted on it, although it made assimilation easier to accomplish.

The goal used to be for all immigrants of different backgrounds to "melt" into a new race of people. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, this ideal was challenged when we were encouraged to celebrate diversity and move beyond this melting pot. Assimilation was changed to multi-culturalism.

Multi-culturalism is promoted by many, but it doesn't give the people a common goal, belief or even language anymore. Many of the immigrants here now have no knowledge of the history of this country and no interest in learning it. They have no loyalty to any common idea or belief, and often don't consider themselves Americans. A large number never learn English and never learn their rights or responsibilities and never become a part of this country. What can we do to help them become Americans?

The task of assimilating into a new culture doesn't rest with the people already there, it is the responsibility of the immigrants to take advantage of the opportunities that are offered to them in their new home. They must try to adapt to life in this country. It doesn't mean they should forget their own customs, it doesn't mean they should change entirely, but it does mean they should do their best to learn the language and the rules.

When Americans look back at their history of immigration, they assume that assimilation is a relatively easy process, since their parents and grandparents did it. But it is very hard for immigrants to give up old languages, customs and practices so they can be absorbed into their new society. Most people possess a strong, passionate attachment to their own culture and way of life and in most cases, they are emigrating because of poverty in their own country. If their country offered them a good life for their families, most of them would stay home.

We need the immigrants who are here and will need more all the time. We should find a way to combine the assimilation we used to strive for and the multi-culturalism that so many want now. We have to convince these new people to become Americans without giving up all of the customs from their former homes.

We need more Americans, not just citizens (or non-citizens) living here who never fit in.

Submitted by:

Donna Poisl

Donna Poisl is President of Live & Thrive Press and the author of "How to Live & Thrive in the U.S. / Como Vivir y Prosperar en Estados Unidos". She understands the problems immigrants face when moving to a new country and culture and wrote this reference guide to help them learn our system and succeed in this country. Contact Donna at http://www.howtoliveandthrive.com.





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