The Common Hour: Immigration and Identity

On Tuesday, April 11, I had the opportunity to share with the Wilson Community my thoughts and research on immigration and identity. When I first heard about this round of academic discussion, I immediately became interested immediately. When I asked if I could be a speaker and was accepted, I felt grateful and glad because I knew this talk was going to be one more stepping stone in my career development.

The purpose of my presentation was not entirely seeking answers, but rather to raise awareness, raise more questions and encourage reflection and empathy concerning immigration and identity. My talk did not involve discussing authorized or unauthorized immigrants and did not include any political opinions. My interest was purely rooted in identity, culture and language issues. I find it particularly fascinating to observe what happens to people once they leave their homelands and decide to start life afresh in another country. Throughout the talk, I referred to immigrants’ experiences in the U.S. but I clarified that this could be also transferred to any other country and culture.

When a person arrives in a new country, s/he goes through the process of acculturation which may or may not lead to the naturalization of the new culture and eventually to the loss of his/her cultural roots. According to sociologist Herbert Gans, acculturation is the newcomers’ adoption of the culture of the host society. These attitudes and behaviors towards acculturation are called strategies. These are assimilation (which is commonly used interchangeably with acculturation), separation, integration and marginalization.

Gans continues to state that immigrants begin to acculturate fairly quickly, sometimes even in the first generation, but they assimilate more slowly. By the third generation, descendants of the newcomers are almost entirely Americanized and often lack interest in or even knowledge of their ancestral origins. American culture is a powerfully attractive force for immigrants, particularly those coming from societies that lack their own commercial cultures. Everyone is attracted to the American Dream yet problems may arise while trying to attain it. For example, assimilation is not possible unless the immigrant is given permission to enter the “American” group or institution.

During the acculturation process an individual’s identity is (re)constructed. I used thinking that maybe an immigrant’s identity is deconstructed initial upon contact with the new culture and then an identity has to be constructed again. Observing this process is exciting from an outsider’s point of view. However, if you try to put yourself in the immigrants’ shoes, rest assured that the task is going to feel more challenging. I spoke of my own personal experience as an immigrant and said that in my case it was not difficult because I love this country, its culture and its language. However, I recognized the fact that I miss my family and friends from Argentina as well as some of my country’s aspects. I also mentioned that I thought it fascinating to see how an individual can have a love-hate relationship with his/her country of origin and how, when you migrate, your sense of nationalism is heightened.

I concluded that acculturation and assimilation will eventually lead to adaptation which is, hopefully, the acceptance of the acculturating individual into the dominant society and the success of the assimilation or integration strategies that s/he used. However, if the opposite happens, separation, marginalization and segregation take place resulting in acculturative stress or psychopathology.

At the end of my presentation, I recommended some fictional works related to the theme of identity and immigration and a TED talk titled, “The Danger of a Single Story” by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Afterwords, there was a Q&A session that triggered fascinating discussions about the topic. I learned from other immigrants’ experience as well as from Americans and their stance on this topic. The Common Hour Talk was a place for me to share my interest in the issue of immigration and identity while also trying to involve the audience in an immigrant’s inner and outer journey in a new country.


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