By Nivedita Nambrath ’23
Assimilation is the phenomenon of one population being absorbed into the culture of another, larger population. This is something that all minorities experience. For immigrants especially, assimilation can be a good way of becoming a part of a new country and gaining a sense of belonging. However, it also challenges one’s own cultural identity and the validity of a cultural group. There is a phenomenon of Asian immigrants assimilating into American culture, in such a way that often causes them to be viewed as privileged and above discrimination. However, I don’t think these people are as privileged as the white people whom they are often equated with in terms of monetary success. The social mechanisms that Asian immigrants have developed are survival tools to succeed in a society in which they are a minority. Although certain Asians seem to be more integrated into the mainstream society, this does not mean that they are as privileged as they may appear.
Asian immigration into the United States increased exponentially after 1965 with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which abolished the nation-of-origin quotas set in 1921 that barred immigration from Asian and Arab countries. In 1960, the number of Asian immigrants was around 400,000, whereas in 2014, it rose to 12.8 million — a 2,597 percent increase.
My parents came in the early 90s, and even as late as then it was difficult to find a strong community that shared the same culture. Although a strong Asian community had not been established yet, the small communities that they did find became their backbone of support during their integration into this country. My mom has told me about how a white Christian host family was also a great support during her first years in the United States. This family helped my mom by introducing her to American culture. In many college towns, the local community welcomed Asians students by showing them how to assimilate. Many Asians have indeed integrated themselves into American society by blending into the mainstream, while maintaining their culture and traditions in private. It is only recently that Asians have started showcasing their cultures more publicly. It has taken social progress for Asians, and especially the children of Asian immigrants, to be public and proud of their cultures and to feel comfortable wearing their Asian-ness on their sleeves.
In my childhood, I remember lying to people about my race and trying to disassociate myself from my Indian culture out of the pressure to assimilate. None of my classmates knew what Hinduism was, and most of them had the most absurd misconceptions about Indian culture. Assimilation was a survival mechanism. Again, it is only recently that Asian culture has started to be included in the cultural blend of American culture. It is only recently that we have started appearing in movies alongside other people of color. It has taken some time for us to be recognized in a positive way.
Therefore, I don’t believe that Asians who assimilate into white-American culture should be blamed. But as we move forward, I am glad that Asians, like other cultural groups, are gradually being more vocal about their culture. Milestones like the movie Crazy Rich Asians and the success of musicians like Monsune and Raveena are only the beginning of the flowering of Asian culture within America. My hope is that young Asian Americans will no longer feel the need to subsume their identity, and will feel able to bring their own cultural richness to the rich tapestry of the diverse American experience.