Multicultural diversity could be defined as the presence of several cultures in a particular geographical area each of whom is able to maintain its unique cultural identity and features. Cultural assimilation could be defined as losing certain characteristics of one’s own culture and replacing them with cultural characteristics of another group (Farlex). Globalization has been increasing cultural interaction among people from all over the world and there is no dearth of self-help books or internet articles that provide guidance to Americans regarding accepted behaviors and norms in other countries. The common idea behind these books and articles is often that one should blend in with the locals as much as possible which might have given birth to the saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. As far as America is concerned, it is often called the land of immigrants. While America should celebrate its multicultural diversity, it doesn’t mean that the country should not be more of a melting pot with people assimilating into American culture. One cannot escape the messages in print and electronic media regarding the benefits of cultural diversity but being a melting pot will result in greater benefits to the society. The positive thing about American culture is that it evolves at relatively faster pace than monotonous cultures because it is continuously being influenced by all of the different nationalities residing in the country. Thus, even if the country becomes a melting pot, different ethnic groups will still be able to practice their individuality. Being a melting pot will increase interaction among people from different cultural backgrounds and result in numerous economic and social benefits to the society.
Elizabeth Wong tells us how she was forced to go to Chinese school as a young girl because her mother wanted her children to maintain distinct Chinese identity. This made it difficult for Wong to carve out a personal identity because she felt trapped between two cultures. Wong’s mother was forcing Wong to be someone she was not, “I preferred tacos to egg rolls; I enjoyed Cinco de Mayo more than Chinese New Year.” Wong also felt that her mother was making it difficult for her to be part of the society she was in, “When I spoke English, people nodded at me, smiled sweetly, and said encouraging words.” (Wong). It seems Wong’s mother’s actions had ethnocentric elements. Her actions might have been motivated by the idea that Chinese culture is superior to the American culture and her children should maintain their distinct Chinese identity. If every immigrant adopts Wong’s mother’s mentality, it will only harm them socially and economically. Such individuals will not make efforts to interact with people from other cultures and develop mutually beneficial economic and social ties with them. Wong’s story makes it obvious that her mother and grandmother rarely ventured out of Chinatown or interacted with non Chinese people. Had they assimilated into American culture, they would have reaped numerous economic and social benefits. A study found that about a quarter of all science & technology companies were founded by foreign-born individuals in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005. The number was even higher in Silicon Valley where the immigrants were responsible for 52 percent of all startups (Wadhwa). While many may reason that these startups are due to the fact that America celebrates cultural diversity, a better explanation may be that immigrants acquire characteristics valued in American culture such as risk taking, out-of-the-box thinking, and individualism which encourages them to try to realize their true potential. If we think about countries like India and China, the emphasis in these culture is still on collectivism as opposed to individualism and conversation with many Indians and Chinese will reveal that attitudes towards failure are more positive in American culture than Chinese and Indian cultures.
Diversity gets widespread coverage in both electronic and print media due to the assumption that it carries tremendous economic benefits for the businesses. But it is possible that many of these assumptions may be faulty. The diverse workforce in America probably doesn’t produce better results because everyone maintains unique cultural identity and characteristics but because everyone has assimilated into American culture which makes it easier for them to work together. It is usually assumed that cultural groups such as African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, or Chinese Americans in New York have more in common with their ancestral groups living in their native countries than with native New Yorkers who are White, “They (multiculturalists) presume that skin color and national origin, which are immutable traits, determine values, mores, language, and other cultural attributes, which, of course, are learned.” (Chavez). This could not have been farther from the truth as Elizabeth Wong’s experiences demonstrate. Our personalities are not formed as much by our cultural origins as they are by the environment we live in and the people with interact with. As Chavez points out, a person should not be judged by the color of his/her skin but by his/her character. Too much focus on maintaining cultural diversity and opposing assimilation may only lead to cultural isolation among those from minority groups as the Hispanic and Asian students discovered after arriving at University of California, Berkeley (Chavez). Cultural assimilation will also help prevent the waste of limited resources in addition to cultural isolation. The Los Angeles Unified School District offers school instruction in several languages including Russian, Armenian, Hispanic, Korean, and Cantonese which cost the federal and state governments billions of dollars (Chavez). Cultural assimilation will result in instruction in one language or may be two languages (English and Hispanic) which will not only result in more efficient use of limited public funds but will also increase interaction among children from diverse cultural backgrounds. When individuals from different cultures speak same language, they are more likely to interact with each other. In addition, English language skills will also help educated individuals from minority groups gain access to high-income jobs and close achievement gap with White Americans. The focus on distinct cultural diversity makes life complicated for those who have lived in America most of their lives.
As Sabaa Saleem, a Pakistani-American, reminds us that she doesn’t want to go for arranged marriage because she really wants to but instead out of respect for parents who have taken good care of her. Sabaa marvels how she can marry someone she would barely get to know, “My American instincts tell me that love comes before marriage, not a few years after — if I am lucky” yet she is also aware of the social pressure her parents will face should she opt for love marriage (Saleem). Sabaa’s story is a reminder that assimilation into host cultures makes life simpler for minority groups because their children do not have to deal with conflicting values and expectations. Sabaa claims she has grown up as an American but her parents retain the cultural characteristics of their native Pakistan. She has often made a resolve to honor her parent’s wish of arranged marriage but her determination weakens soon though she is still committed to making her parents happy.
Assimilation into American culture should also be encouraged because it will help improve the economic and social status of minatory groups. If we ponder over Martin Luther King’s messages, it is clear that he didn’t ask White Americans to recognize distinct African American culture but to let their black fellow citizens assimilate into the mainstream American culture. King knew that African Americans will benefit both socially and economically through assimilation into American culture. America is the land of immigrants which is why it is important for people from different cultural backgrounds to assimilate into American culture so that they interact with each other more frequently. American culture continues to evolve over time, reflecting the influence of various cultural groups, thus, assimilation into American culture may actually help promote and celebrate the country’s diversity. Elizabeth Wong is Chinese-American yet she enjoys Cinco de Mayo because assimilation into American culture has allowed her to interact more with non-Chinese Americans and discover the beauty of foreign cultures. It is now clear that being a melting pot will increase interaction among people from different cultural backgrounds in America and yield numerous economic and social benefits to the society.
Chavez, Linda. Demystifying Multiculturalism. 27 December 2004. 5 March 2013 <http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1309153/posts>.
Farlex. Cultural Assimilation. 10 March 2013 <http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/cultural+assimilation>.
Saleem, Sabaa. A Proposal I Never Thought I’d Consider. 17 August 2003. 5 March 2013 <http://www.lubnaa.com/article.php?id=385>.
Wadhwa, Vivek. Foreign-Born Entrepreneurs: An Underestimated American Resource. 2009. 5 March 2013 <http://www.kauffman.org/entrepreneurship/foreign-born-entrepreneurs.aspx>.
Wong, Elizabeth. The Struggle to Be an All American Girl. 5 March 2013 <http://www.sabri.org/All-American-Girl.htm>.