The article “The New Immigrant and The Issue of Assimilation” by Tamar Jacoby in The Aims of Argument 7th ed.; Crusius and Channell (Eds.) 2009; McGraw Hill is a detailed account of the comparative scenario of immigrant prospect in US in terms of its economy, society, nation and an intriguing future of the generations to come. Developed more based on statistics and general empirical observation and trends, Jacoby, however, seems to have over generalized the issue in some respects. Let us take a tour delving deeper into what the article represents.
The article seems to have a target audience of socio- economic analysts and even of aspiring future immigrants who are aware of the social factors prevailing in the US social context. The article sets off with the mention of a data based account of how immigrants today are different in terms of number, origin, prospect, skill, qualification, general features, settling location and impact. Then he proceeds on to explore how the comparative success rate of immigrants of both low and high ends is greater over a period of time than that of the native- born. He also relates general market patterns as Barbell Pattern and Hourglass Economy as an impact of the developing immigrant prospect on the national economy. Soon he gets so far as to delve into the very mindset of immigrants like Eddie Liu who display certain reaction to the very term “Assimilate”. He also relates how a sense of belonging and actual placement in a foreign social context in conflict with immigrant expectation explains the discomfort. Soon after, he moves further to conclude exploring the three views prevailing regarding the process of assimilation today, and tries to end in an optimistic note. In the complete attempt, however, the claims seem mostly based on general trends which may be no doubt factual but in no way seems comprehensive enough to depict the total scenario.
“1The immigrant influx of the last forty years is a demographic shift of historic proportions at the beginning of the twentieth century: 11 percent now compared to 15 percent then. ”
It starts with the mention of a fluctuating number of immigrants over decades, with an air of alarm in the tone of the expression. Then he goes on with the nationality of the immigrants and the ratio in which they appear in US and has equal impact on various phases of its economy. While at the outset, the author speaks of how the varying educational levels give rise to the trend called Barbell Pattern, by the late middle of the essay, he mentions how eventually the success rate of immigrants in both lowest and high ends of the ladder exceeds that of the native born:
“Indeed while most brand-new arrivals make considerably less than the native-born, by the time they have been in the United States for ten or fifteen years, they are usually making more.”
In making the above comment, he considers the varying educational levels and consequent available occupational levels of the immigrants in US. This seems at one point too generalized. Indeed, there is always a common pattern which can be traced. But in this respect, there are factors other than only educational qualification, like dedication, honest labour, innovativeness and the like which are often equally effective in case of establishing one in the new country. Though on a personal level, these are the personal factors that are equally significant when it comes to researching in this magnitude. While he explores, hovering between two generations of immigrants, the rise of a new lower class in the market, he seems to ignore the fact that it would only present a restrictive scenario in terms of economic angle. Notably, the prospect of an immigrant in the new milieu is way more than just the socio- economic; even in terms of establishment as the immigrant.
The tension of assimilation is a section which uses the beautiful case of the internal conflict among settled immigrants in a very subtle way but again in a generalized way. The way in which it digs deep into the psyche of Eddie Liu, in triggering to his reaction to the very word Assimilation, is more of an expedition into the Personal than into the average or commonplace. However, he puts it forth as the example and seems to suggest a general trend out of it. Being a victim of identity politics at some point at college or school is very common on one hand leading to all sort of own cultural and social forums more and more. But that also happens on a personal level. While some trace back to own people and cultural or social forums around, others keep trying to place themselves in the new culture and social structure but eventually in vain like Eddie. The discomfort of not being able to effectively place oneself in the new structure gives rise to either identity crises in the new social matrix or stronger recognition of own national identity, culture or heritage and a consequent tendency of nurturing them living in the middle of the very new country which presumably undermines it. Still, either of these or even some other course of action is taken depending on how the immigrant interprets his/ her experience in the new country which is again through the filter of his/ her personal perception:
“10By the time I met him, he was twenty-five, and his life reflected both of these younger selves. He lived in a comfortable Los Angeles suburb, drove an expensive late-model car, dated both Asian and white women and, though he worked for an internet company that targeted Asian-Americans, knew more about American popular culture than I did.”
“when asked about the word ‘assimilation,’ he was plainly uncomfortable. ‘I don’t know,’ he mused, ‘not if it’s a one-way street. Not if you’re asking me to give up who I am and fit into some 1950s ‘Leave It To Beaver’ America. Of course, I’m American. But I’m not sure I’m assimilated—or want to be.’”
As the above words about and of Eddie suggest, he took even dating white women as a very natural choice on his part without any grudge whereas he again personally chose to see himself as who he originally is based on what discomforting experience he got; a completely personalized angle of considering experience in life. While common patterns are undeniably there, such choices are more a result of perceptions on personal level and are too full of the influence of the impact of other factors than only how the experience of the immigrant goes after arrival in the new country. So, they practically remain less generalizable anyway. Such as, the demographic allocation of the immigrants shifting to suburbs or gateway cities may have reasons other than economic at the root of the choice. Besides the ease of settling or the prospect of easy earning, such settling at specific areas might be prompted by some personal preference as well, such as pleasant and simple lifestyle, already living relatives, beauty of the place, ease of transportation and the like. Being less dependent on the US benefits and trying to settle based more on individual labor or money brought from own country are all personal choices. Indeed, such personal choices have profound impact on the economy of the host country which has recognizable patterns, but when it comes to studying in terms of assimilation, they can hardly be generalized as such.
Then comes the issue of making it into the mainstream where indeed the author conducts a beautiful analysis of how the external and internal factors or forces create hindrance on the way of making it to the mainstream of the host country and culture. However, there again remain some generalizations too indecisive to be true commonly. As the author explores, the new flow of immigrants –middle class, poor, skilled but too uneducated to join the knowledge ladder- result in the Hourglass Economy eventually. Surly, this is based on his observation of again the educational level. But while he is mentioning the high skill level of the immigrants, he is denying the strong possibility of their constant personal development which always remains a regular course after arrival of immigrants. The 9/11 mishap, the colour-coded politics, and other ethnocentric tease, the suburban ethnic practice of communicating only among own community deeming approaching the mainstream unnecessary, pressure of activists sensitive to the whites’ being white; all are forces that are viewed from a personal angle and are reacted to again through the filter of individual perception. Again, surly in such cases there are common recognizable patterns as the author rightly traces, but they are more on the basis of personal interpretation and way of response. Truly, it results in a sense of aggrieving minority but again it depends on the individual as to eventually how he/ she reacts to it on the long run; as we observe in the enlightening case of Eddie. As we see the reaction of Eddie, he remains happy as long as the discomfort of the term does not bother him; a completely subjective approach to life and context which could not be traced unless researched on a Personal level.
Whether the new immigrant influx is deemed a hypothetical threat, a force to be watched over constantly or guided occasionally are factors of consideration indeed but the question remains how far only the economic and political analysis of the impact of immigrants relate to the issue of assimilation. As mentioned by the author, in a general view about immigrants, the present and exclusive ethnical difference, the descent of multiculturalism or dreadful concern for the unassimilated in the midst of all; all contribute to the view that assimilation is not possible or a risky affair at this point. Then again other researchers find it still desirable and possible on every level. As a matter of fact, the very process of assimilation works on a purely personal and psychological level where the said factors by the author are very effective indeed but the ultimate interpretation of them all still remains on the individual’s choice of how he/ she prefers to view them. Even dissolving in the unique American ethos to be a part of it one day is also a subjective choice, as was that of not doing so by the unassimilated.
As mentioned at the end, according to researchers assimilation is still desirable and possible and they should absorb everyone coming to their shores, it contradicts with the idea of tending the immigrants and watching over them; be it coming from author or the prevailing view. As long as this is happening, there is no such possibility that the sense of belonging that the author wishes to create among the immigrants will be ever possible. Since that will also be a matter of how the individual immigrants will view and interpret it; as is clearly observed in Eddie’s words:
“’not if it’s a one-way street. Not if you’re asking me to give up who I am and fit into some 1950s ‘Leave It To Beaver’ America. Of course, I’m American. But I’m not sure I’m assimilated—or want to be.’”