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Construction Of Black Identity Essay, Research Paper

America s ethnic groups have been expected to slip quietly into the mainstream of American society for decades. Today these groups loudly and proudly proclaim that they have not yet merged. Indeed, many of America s minorities have found renewed relevance and comfort in asserting their separate ethnic identities. Commonly, immigrant parents ponder whether the opportunities in America are worth sacrificing traditional cultures, before making the move to America. American society seems to be too powerful a magnet for most people born in this country to resist. The forces undermining ethnicity suburbanization, mass education, social mobility, growing tolerance, and the existence of an American culture are strong determinants that no large group in the past has been able to withstand indefinitely. It does not appear likely therefore, that any minority culture, except for small and dedicated groups (such as American Indians on reservations), can sustain all of its own cultural heritage and still fit in. After one or more generations of a family has grown up in America, the alteration of at least some of their native culture is inevitable.

For most people in the immigrant generation, the promises of American life remained unfulfilled. Their offspring, though, do have greater opportunities. Ultimately, this fact serves as proof that most people who immigrate to America come in search of a better life and better opportunities for their children. When the head of a family makes the decision to move to a completely new area, they must be aware that not only their children and family will go through change, but the whole family will. In Julia Alvarez s piece How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, the girls father was torn between giving his girls a better life and losing his girls to America. By saying he may lose his girls to America the father is discussing the fact that there is a thin line, if in fact there is a line at all, between adjusting and completely conforming to the American culture. Some parents in America attempt to maintain old ways by sending their children to ethnic or religious schools. The most successful of these schools continue to grow mostly from the commitment on the part of the children s parents to revive traditional values and commit themselves to perpetuating their native culture (Pozzetta, 147). The largest parochial school system in the United States is run by the Catholic Church. Ironically, only a minority of Catholics attend these institutions. Many of these schools located in highly populated cities often cater to new immigrants and African Americans, some of whom are not Catholic (Reimers, 185). The previous fact speaks to the ideal that children will receive a better education in a Catholic school than they will in certain public schools. Obviously, parents both immigrant and otherwise, are buying into that idea because so many of them are sending their children to these schools. In Julia Alvarez s piece, the girls parents send them all away to the same private all girls school. They said that they wanted them to mix with the right kind of Americans. This quote shows that the girls parents, who are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, know that their daughters are going to be changed by the people they are around. By sending them to this all girls school, they wanted to let them be influenced by who they saw to be upstanding Americans.

Another interesting aspect of Alvarez s story was the fact that the girls parents sent them back to their native country, every summer to ensure that their daughters would not lose too much of their Dominican culture. Surrounded by the American culture in their everyday lives, the girls began to change and their parents would not allow their children to miss out on the Dominican ideals and morals that they themselves grew up with. In analyzing the Garcias purpose for their actions, it is evident that they saw danger in assimilation. The girls parents moved the family to America because it was physically unsafe for them in the Dominican Republic. Interestingly, it seems that the Garcia s saw America to be culturally unsafe for their daughters. If they must send their girls to a special school and then send them back to the Dominican Republic every summer that says that they do not trust their girls would have a proper upbringing in America without their strict direction. As parents, the Garcias saw a problem with their girls growing up attending American public schools and spending all of their time in this country. They felt that without strategic planning, they would have lost their girls to America.

Each ethnic group in America today brings a unique lifestyle to this country. Members of groups whose economic and educational expectations are low, and who therefore lack mobility, are least likely to be assimilated (Colburn, 102). Many members of inner-city minority ghettos fall into this category. Although these people are at a disadvantage as far as their economic and educational opportunities are concerned, some may feel that they have an upper hand over people who do not live in ghettos. In most poor areas of America, one culture dominates. For example, the main character of Sandra Cisneros s The House on Mango Street, named Esperanza, lived in an all Latino neighborhood. By living around only one ethnic group, the people of these neighborhoods can not help but to preserve some common bonds of religion, customs, political interest, family and group life that hold their native country s culture together (Reimers, 192). Esperanza was very unhappy with the area she lived in, though. This is mainly due to the fact that the people who live in her neighborhood are considered to be Second Class Americans, because they are financially needy but also greatly due to these people s refusal to assimilate to the ideals of American society. If all of the people in her neighborhood bought into the American Dream which in Esperanza s case was to prove everybody wrong and be successful, than they would have a better chance of fitting into the mainstream American society. However, since most of these people saw nothing wrong with their condition, they remained outcasts from traditional America. This proves the impracticality of holding on to all of your native culture and still fitting into the American society.

It is widely believed that well-educated members of mobile ethnic groups tend to lose their ethnicity (Colburn, 345). Business and professional people, especially the more highly educated, have joined organizations with mixed memberships. Upward mobility has also been accompanied by direct mobility, with large numbers of descendants of immigrants moving out of old neighborhoods and into the growing suburbs. In suburbia, where social divisions commonly follow class and racial lines, it is more difficult to maintain ethnicity. Common interests such as education and zoning, bring people together (Pozzetta, 210). The difference in factors that bring people together between urban ghettos and suburbia, prove the notion that ghettos preserve native cultures while suburbanization encourages assimilation. This notion is somewhat personified by the situation in Mona in the Promised Land, by Gish Jen. This work illustrates the change that the main character Mona a second generation Chinese immigrant, goes through as she grows up in an upper class predominantly Jewish suburb. Mona begins associating with the Jewish people she lives around more than she does with people of her own native culture. This occurrence can be attributed to the interests that bring people together in the suburbs. Mona identified more with the interests of her neighbors, which happened to call for a religious change for her. Because shared the most common interests and felt most comfortable around the Jewish people she associated with, she decided to conform to their way of life. Mona s family, who were Chinese immigrants, had a big problem with this because they did not want her to lose touch with their native Chinese culture. Mona did not mean to offend her family, however, she felt that where she felt most comfortable is where she belonged. Holding on to the customs, morals, and ideals of her family s native culture was not what Mona saw to be how she identified herself. She knew where she came from, and she recognized her family s past, however, she simply felt that she belonged in another lifestyle.

Assimilation into life in the U.S. has never required the obliteration of ethnic identity. Instead it involves newcomers of differing backgrounds adopting basic concepts of American life-equality under the law , says sociologist Nathan Glazer in the article From Newcomers to New Americans. This is to say that assimilation is not about immigrants rejecting their past, but should be about people of different racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds coming to believe that they are part of an all-encompassing American family. Assimilation is not an instant transformation in which an immigrant suddenly becomes a full-fledged American. To some extent, it is never ending. Almost all Americans carry some of their ethnic past with them. Furthermore, American culture constantly changes and adapts to immigrants, just as immigrants adapt to it. The fact remains that it is virtually impossible for an immigrant to become a part of American society and not adapt to some of its ideals. At the same time, it is evident that it is impossible for American society not to adapt to the needs of its ever-changing members. In conclusion, every individual living in America will at one time or another, embrace at least some American societal ideals in order to live as an active member of society.


www.immigrationforum.org, From Newcomers to New Americans: The

Successful Integration of Immigrants

Colburn, David R. America and the New Ethnicity. National University

Publications: London, 1979

Pozzetta, George E. American Immigration and Ethnicity. Garland

Publishing, Inc: New York & London, 1991

Reimers, David M. Ethnic Americans Columbia University Press:

New York, 1999

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