The Battle of Identity: Assimilation vs Integration

By Cynthia Ramos, Sociology ’14

I will start off by saying that the National Immigrant Integration Conference was one of the most amazing conferences I have ever attended.  The fact that it was full of such wonderful and passionate people, who desire and strive to make a change in the world, was amazing.  Being able to hear and see such enthusiasm to achieve equal opportunities for all is mind blowing and motivates me to follow their footsteps.  My eyes have been opened to see a wider range of issues immigrants struggle through on daily bases.

The event that made the biggest impact on me was the second lunch plenary called “Integration Across the Globe.” The panelist spoke about the notion of integration vs. assimilation.  Assimilation, in most occasions, can be taken as a negative term mainly because many see it as a way of losing or even rejecting a part of you and becoming “Anglicized.” To an extent, as one of the panelists said, it’s a way of making people less human, less worthy – as if their culture were of no value.  As a Mexican who belongs to the first generation living in the US, I find this perspective very valuable.  In the past I have said that I considered myself an “Americanized Mexican,” but honestly whenever I said such a thing I felt that it didn’t encompass me as a whole. It was as if I were denying a vital part of my own identity. The plenary evoked a huge realization, for me. It is not assimilation that immigrants need, but rather integration. That means the ability to incorporate into a new society without the necessity of losing a culture, a language, or one’s self-identity. We need the opportunity to incorporate who we are without feeling marginalized or the obligation to renounce who we are.

Having realized this will help me shape my interview research questions, and also will enable me to see the bigger picture of the immigrant experience.  The fact that immigrant integration is so vital for the growth of our society is motivating for me, especially when it comes to education. There are about 5.3 million English Language Learner (ELL) students enrolled in public schools, many of whom lag behind due to the lack of resources. We need ELL programs to be culturally competent and to make sure our priority is doing what is best for the student’s success.  ELL students face an abundance of educational disadvantages, yet they should be given the equal opportunity to succeed. However, for that to proceed, we need  change to happen in the schools, in the classrooms, and most importantly in the programs. We need to help ELL students integrate into  the American culture, a  system that is completely foreign to them, and help them reach and achieve success.

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One Response to “The Battle of Identity: Assimilation vs Integration”

  1. I definitely wish that the meaning of “integration” had been discussed more during the conference because I think it’s a really tough issue.

    One of the plenary speakers (I don’t remember his name) made the excellent point that often times integration isn’t just about finding a job and being “American” 8 hours a day, you need to watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music, use the same mannerisms, etc. in order to fit in.

    It would have been great to talk more about how these cultural norms can cause people to be marginalized – I think it’s something that immigration programs often gloss over.