America For Beginners

Bringing American culture closer to new immigrants

ABC’s of Assimilation in the USA. Not that Simple

  • Person A has been living in the US for 16 years. His English is perfect; he has a good job and has long ago figured out how to succeed in the American society. Proud of himself, this person likes to think about how he managed “to conquer” America, having climbed the career ladder from a construction worker to a respectful lawyer. He is not explicitly condescending, but you can sense that he still differentiates between “his” people and Americans.
  • Person B has immigrated 8 years ago. His social skills are quite fine. He has some American friends. He believes that “American women have too much independence” and occasionally sounds racist and homophobic in conversations.
  • Person C is a recent immigrant. Her English is a work in progress as well as her career. She can appear socially awkward because she’s not familiar with all behavioral scripts. Her American friends have become her family. This person is dreaming of a career in medicine but for now she’s ready to settle down for what she can have – and that is people who understand her better than her former compatriots.

Who is better assimilated? Who’s better culturally assimilated?

If you, as an American,  meet person A at the bar, you probably won’t even detect an accent. Person B will probably leave you somewhere between unimpressed and neutral. Person C, however,  will probably have to deal with all stereotypes and assumptions you have about immigrants/immigrants from her country.

Job/education, language, connections, and material wealth are often thought of as a measure of assimilation. When, in fact, they represent just the top of the iceberg.  Sometimes there is no direct correlation between time spent in the country and the degree of assimilation. Especially when it comes to the assimilation of the heart.

Surprisingly often illegal immigrants (those who supposedly steal jobs and don’t want to americanize) care SO MUCH MORE about America and their American friends/neighbors than legal immigrants.  Surprisingly often, they get the worst judgement.


3 comments on “ABC’s of Assimilation in the USA. Not that Simple

  1. Great post! I am probably between person C and B and I agree it does not really matter how long you have been in the country if you carry your stereotypes with you such as your accent (if you did not listen to a language before age of 20 you will always have an accent in most cases). Accents are tricky in America,, some are considered as “sexy” like French or “British” others are assimilated as non-trustworthy or low education. I agree that fresh immigrants or “expats” are usually more positive about the American culture, as you said we don’t have family here except our American neighbors and friends.

    As far as assimilation is concerned I feel I will always be an outsider even in my own country, Being a serial expat for 20 years changed me deeply and I cannot say where I am from anymore. I am “me” wherever I live and I am open to new experiences and meeting great people but be flexible and tolerant about some American cultural values I do not share but respect.

  2. Hi, again, Anna. Great work on this post! I love reading perceptive assessments and views of “The American”, and especially what it’s like for an ‘outsider’ to move toward becoming an ‘insider’ in my homeland. In Latin America, my physical appearance (blond) always preconditioned everyone toward a whole boat-load of assumptions, and made it tough to ever break into the “insider” camp when among strangers. Now in India, my appearance, once again, won’t ever allow me to be perceived as “belonging”.

    So there’s this other phenomenon that we ought to explore: that inner sense of belonging that can’t be seen at first (because appearance actually hides it), but which local people will, over time, come to “see” in you as they have time to interact with you. Seems like we could distinguish between “first-sight insiderness” and “if-you-only-knew-me insiderness”. Some people (like in your sketches) come across as quite the insiders at first glance; but as you get to know them, it becomes more obvious that they don’t even WANT to be considered a local. Others, at first glance, appear to be clearly outsiders, but as you get to know them, they’re quite comfortable, effective, socially connected and ‘at home’ (yes, even with their accent!).

  3. Vera
    December 2, 2011

    Anna, this post is great, it made me think.

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