Patterns of Cultural Integration

This module is an analysis of research on the cultural integration of second-generation youth from researchers Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut (2001).

Legacies

In an outstandingly thorough and clearly written book by Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut (2001) titled "Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation" these sociologists fully describe the experiences of immigrant youth in the acculturation process.  In addition, Wayne Cornelius and Ruben Rumbaut, researchers with the UCSD Center for U.S.-Mexico studies (1995) found three distinct patterns of assimilation for new arrivals from Mexico and Latin American. One out of every four foreign-born Americans is from Mexico.

Patterns of Integration

One pattern (Group 1) is comprised of new arrivals to the United States who join the large Latino communities in the urban areas like Los Angeles, often prospering there as part of the community's economic and social life. These Latinos tend to become bilingual, but often learn English only to the extent that it serves their instrumental and practical needs. The bulk of their lives are lived within the Spanish-speaking community. Their children tend to also become bilingual in school and remain so, not losing their Spanish because it has enormous practical benefits and is constantly being refreshed by new arrivals. 

The second pattern (Group 2) is comprised of Latinos who become part of the Anglo middle class, usually a gradual process that is completed by the second or third generation. These Latinos tend to lose their Spanish and severe their ties to their parents’ homeland. 

The third pattern (Group 3) is the most worrisome–assimilation into an almost permanent underclass. These Latino youths tend to reject their Mexican roots and rebel against their parents' cultural and linguistic values. They become monolingual English speakers, but not proficient enough or well enough educated in English to advance into the middle class. They get the poorest level of schooling and often live in separate ghetto-like communities, often isolated from both the vibrant Latino community and the Anglo community.

Assimilation

Assimilation means something very different to each of these groups. This explains the range of opinion on issues such as bilingual education among Latinos. Many of the members of Group 2 (middle-class, assimilated) tend to say, "We did it. Why can't they?" The answer is that strong economic and educational factors determine which group the new arrivals fall into. For Group 1, the idea of assimilation, certainly as conservatives understand it, is almost beside the point. They distrust the concept and its supporters out of fear that it means pressure to give up their ties to Latin America and their Spanish as a resource for economic advancement. For Group 3, the concept of assimilation is an empty promise. They got the brutal end of the "brutal bargain" by sacrificing their cultural identity and ties to the Spanish-speaking community, getting nothing in return.

Bilingualism

Portes and Rumbaut (2001) document the clear advantages in school achievement among "fluent bilinguals" as opposed to immigrant children who are "English-dominant" or "limited bilinguals." They describe the negative impact of policies that seek to promote English fluency at any cost, including the stigmatization and loss of other languages and the sacrifice of valuable linguistic skills, as well as an increasing distance from parents because of the implicit message to children that they are carriers of an inferior culture. According to Portes and Rumbaut (2001), "…forced English immersion promotes dissonant acculturation with negative consequences that can far exceed the alleged benefits of such programs."

These authors explain three distinct patterns of social integration among first and second generation immigrants based on background factors, intergenerational patterns and external obstacles. Each of these patterns yields different expected outcomes. Dissonant acculturation occurs when immigrants confront discrimination where the messages about one's culture and language are negative and demeaning. It leads to "downward assimilation" where immigrants become "trapped" into lower socio-economic, often segregated, communities and may lead to adversarial attitudes and lifestyles.  Dissonant acculturation results in a pessimistic view of the individual's opportunities for upward mobility and diminished ambition and aspirations to become part of mainstream society. 

Contrarily, consonant and selective acculturation each occur when external obstacles to assimilation are met with family support and countervailing messages about the value of the individual and his or her language and culture. Selective acculturation occurs when messages of exclusion and discrimination are filtered through ethnic networks and confronted with the help of family and community resources and support that are enhance ambition and higher aspirations through various modes of social incorporation. Selective acculturation results in upward assimilation combined with biculturalism.

Forced March Assimilation

"Forced march assimilation" policies that attempt to use the public schools to wipe out bilingualism such as California's Proposition 227 and Arizona's Proposition 203 produce resistance and resentment from ethnic communities that result in more segregation and encapsulation, and thus more "dissonant acculturation." Today's immigrants from Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean are very different from the immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island in the early part of the century. The social and economic motivations for immigrants to become integrated into American society and to learn English are very strong. These will not be weakened by acceptance of bilingualism and biculturalism in our society. However, prejudice and discrimination against immigrants who choose bilingualism over English monolingualism is damaging because it results in policies that are exclusionary and counterproductive. We must as a nation be open to new modes of acculturation or risk exacerbating rather than ameliorating the challenges of our diversity.

The authors point out that "…from a long-term perspective, policies toward Mexican immigration advocated by the two mainstream ideologies…verge on the suicidal" because of the demand for Mexican labor and the heavy discrimination that result in impoverished barrios of the major urban areas. They speak eloquently about the need to enlighten the "white middle-class electorate", the "dominant majority" as to "where its real self-interests lie in the long run and thus, build a constituency for an alternative set of policies." Portes and Rumbaut make an excellent case for the urgency of this effort for the future of our urban centers where immigrants concentrate and for American society as a whole. The authors point out that "…from a long-term perspective, policies toward Mexican immigration advocated by the two mainstream ideologies…verge on the suicidal" because of the demand for Mexican labor and the heavy discrimination that result in impoverished barrios of the major urban areas. They speak eloquently about the need to enlighten the "white middle-class electorate", the "dominant majority" as to "where its real self-interests lie in the long run and thus, build a constituency for an alternative set of policies."

Portes and Rumbaut discuss the contrasts between the ideology underlying Proposition 187, which they describe as "intransigent nativism" in contrast with proponents of "forceful assimilation" embodied in Proposition 227. They say this:

 "Despite being grounded on thoughtful reflection on immigration history, Unz's Proposition 227 is designed to accomplish exactly the opposite. Despite its moderation, its vision is ultimately reactionary. It wants an America as it was in the 1920's, a relatively isolated society, not as it must be in the new millennium, after it successfully emerged as the core of the global system. In the process, old-line assimilationism undermines the very forces of parental authority and ambition that can overcome the barriers to successful adaptation and forge productive and self-respecting citizens out of the new second generation." (p. 273)

We language minority educators agree with this assessment of the challenges posed by high levels of immigration. Research on immigrant integration patterns suggests that coercive policies do not increase the rate of acculturation of immigrants and in fact, work against the very kind of consonant and selective acculturation that produce upward assimilation and integration of immigrants with each successive generation. We have much more to fear from policies that send the message that immigrants must renounce their language and culture and that coerce assimilation than we have to fear from immigrant communities that are bilingual and bicultural.

References

Portes, A. (1995). Segmented assimilation among new immigrant youth: A conceptual framework. In R. G. Rumbaut & W.A. Cornelius (Eds.), California's Immigrant Children: Theory, Research, and Implications for Educational Policy, (71-76). San Diego, CA: University of California Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies.

Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R.G. (2001). Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Rumbaut, R.G. & Portes, A. (2001) Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Rumbaut, R. G. (1995). The new Californians: Comparative research findings on the education progress of immigrant children. In R. G. Rumbaut & W.A. Cornelius, California's immigrant children: Theory, research, and implications for educational policy, (p. 17-70). San Diego, CA: University of California, San Diego Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies.