The future of American national identity

 

The Hispanic immigration shows no signs of letting down as it seems like it will persist for a long time. The only reason that might deter this large influx of Hispanics is if the living conditions and work opportunities in their home country improve to almost the level that the United States is at right now. Even then, there is no guarantee that the immigration will slow down, because “when Europe was rapidly industrializing and per capita incomes were rising, 50 million Europeans emigrated to the Americas, Asia, and Africa” (Huntington 5).

There is also historical precedence that the Mexican Americans have for immigrating into the states. They used to inhabit the American southwest before the Americans were able to defeat them in war and take away their land. The Mexicans feel that they do have a right to inhabit these lands because of their previous ownership of them. The assimilation of Mexicans into the U. S. culture has been very difficult and another reason is the “failure of third- and fourth-generation people of Mexican origin to approximate U. S.norms in education, economics status, and intermarriage rates” (Huntington 6).

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The Mexicans have not been able to sustain equal level of education and money, and they fail to assimilate culturally enough as their intermarriage rates are low. Another problem that Mexicans have in assimilating is the language barrier. Most of the earlier immigrants from Mexico were forced to be fluent in English because that was the only way they could survive in the nation. That was their only way of communication to the people around them.

Now recently, because of the huge influx of Mexican immigrations and their regional concentration, “people of Mexican origin would have less incentive to become fluent in and to use English in 2000 than they had in 1970” (Huntington 6). Because of the size of the Mexican communities, there is no need for them to learn English to communicate to the people around them. Also, Mexican-Americans try to keep their culture alive by speaking Spanish in the home and making sure that their children speak Spanish. Mexican children were then asked how they identified themselves.

Whether they were born in Mexico or in the United States, most of them did not choose American as their answer. Most of them chose their cultural origin as their answer. One great example of non-assimilation is the city of Miami, Florida. Over the past few decades, the Cubans have taken over Miami. Instead of creating an enclave neighborhood, “they created an enclave city with its own culture and economy, in which assimilation and Americanization were unnecessary and in some measure undesired” (Huntington 10). Spanish was spoken in the homes, but it was also the language of commerce, business, and politics.

There were also many Spanish television stations that broadcasted in Miami. Basically, there was no motivation to be American or to speak English. The politics of Miami and even Florida were becoming more diverse with Latinos make up a good percentage of the seats. As the number of Mexican immigrants increase, they will feel more comfortable with their own culture and despise the American culture. They will end up being more committed to their own ethnic identity and culture. David Sears also finds that the new immigrants are unlike immigrants of the past in that they do have a hard time assimilating and forming a national identity.

In terms of ethnic identity, Tajfel suggest a social identity theory, which suggests a “basic need for a specifically social identity, as a key to self-esteem, and with it, a universal tendency to form solidary groups, and to allocate resources selectively in an ‘ingroup favoritism'” (Sears 6). People have tendencies to claim a group identity. It does not specific which identity is preferred, and people could have more than one identity. We would usually expect that the whites would fear the emergence of the minority group and would demand more resources to benefit their group to try to maintain power.

One reason for such a strong sense of ethnic identity is because of politicized collective identity, which is when “people perceive themselves as ‘self-conscious group members in a power struggle on behalf of their group'” (Sears 7). This is an example of in-group bias, as people try to identify with their group and protect their interests. The experiment Sears performed was a longitudinal study of two-thirds of the freshman class entering UCLA in 1996. The first wave was given written questionnaires while the waves afterwards would be contacted by telephone interviews.

The study found that the Asian and Latino students are “mostly the products of quite recent immigration rather than being descendants of ethnic minorities that have long resided in the United States” (Sears 15). These students did not have a long ancestry living in the United States as most were first generation. Theories of assimilation say that the first step in assimilation is the adoption of the culture’s language. The students have passed the first step, because they have to know enough English to gain entry into UCLA but about half of the Asian and Latino students come from homes that primarily speak a different language.

Thus, people still hold onto their cultural roots even though they passed the first stage of assimilation. They also found that people “showed substantial ingroup preference in their closest high school friends” (Sears 16). People tend to feel more comfortable and confident being friends with people of the same ethnicity, and most of them have few friends outside of their own ethnicity. The students were then asked an open-ended question of which ethnic/racial group did they identify with.

Most of the students from the new immigrant group identified with the ethnicity of their national origin rather than with the pan-ethnic political labels. An example of this is someone saying that he is Chinese instead of someone referring to himself as an Asian-American. People still hold value their roots and thus are not ready to fall into society’s generalizations. This helps correlate with the fact that minorities have a stronger sense of ethnic identity that the majority whites. The result might come from the fact that the minority culture is different from the mainstream and that gives people something to be proud of.

The other factor is that the Latinos are recent immigrants and still “speak Spanish, in the home, have their own ethnic friends, and poorly educated parents” (Sears 20). They have not had time to adapt to the American culture and therefore still have their values in check. The study was longitudinal, so students were asked throughout their college lives to see if their opinions would change because of the college experience. They asked the same question of what ethnicity fifth wave students would identify with. The results were the same as the students still identified with their national origins instead of the pan-ethnic labels.

This shows that the college experience does not change the ethnic feelings that students have toward their own ethnic pride and culture. Because of this, there is no chance of ethnic balkanization, strong communal violence, which was fear by some theorists. The Mexican-Americans therefore did not get to assimilate into the American culture and there is a danger of two different cultures clashing. The definition of national identity is that is it the “citizen’s overriding group loyalty, superseding other foci of affiliation such as race, religion, language, gender, and occupation” (Citrin 286).

The national identity is the overall group identity that the person will identify with. It is greater than the smaller groups and characteristics that people usually identify with. There are two competing conceptions of American identity. One is the nativism response in which “newcomers should undergo a program of ‘Americanization’ that speeds the shedding of their native customs and imparts knowledge of the prevailing language, social habits, and political values” (Citrin 287). This means that people should be able to adapt to the culture of the majority and lose their own culture.

They should be comfortable with the language, with people socially and with the political attitudes of the country. The alternative theory is Liberal Nationalism, in which “anyone, regardless of ancestry, can become American merely through adherence to the national creed of democracy, equality, and individualism” (Citrin 287). This is a little looser than the nativism theory because it just says that a person just needs to adhere to some of the national ideas that the country follows. It does not need the person to completely cleanse himself of his or her own culture.

National identity also “refers to feelings of closeness to and pride in one’s country and its collective symbols and should be assessed separately from self-categorization” (Citrin 293). National identity is when people love their country and have pride being a member of that group. When minorities are asked about national identity or being American, many of them opted for a dual identity instead of being exclusively American. They decide to keep their cultural identity by referring themselves as being both American and of their national origin.

Studies have shown that recent immigrants do tend to identify themselves as part of their ethnicity over nationality. When talking about national identity and pride, “Hispanic respondents in the Los Angeles surveys were less likely than whites to express pride in being an American” (Citrin 297). This supports the idea that Latinos are not expressing national identity because they have not assimilated enough into the culture to feel pride and love toward the nation. The evidence shows that the recent immigration of the Hispanics and the Asians has been very tremendous during the past few decades.

They are current occupying different regions of the country and are clustered. Because most of these immigrants are first-generation and just value their cultural roots, they have not assimilated to the American culture. Because of their non-assimilation, they have not taken on a national identity because they are proud of their own ethnic identity and state it. The future of American national identity will decrease as there are more immigrants entering the nation and not fully assimilating to the American culture.

The new immigrants will not equate themselves solely with the American culture and there is danger that there will be two languages spoken around our nation, two different cultures being expressed, and just two different type of people. I do expect these new immigrants to acknowledge that they are part of a dual identity, their ethnic culture and the American culture, and that they are also part of a superordinate identity (of being an American). The superordinate identity does not equal national identity because there is no verbal acknowledgement or outward pride involved.

It is just the mental status of being American living in this country. This superordinate identity will reduce intergroup prejudice because “common ingroup membership can initiate more personalized interactions between former outgroup members” (Gaertner 201 in reader). Thus, ingroup bias will be reduced because more outgroup members are being included. The larger superordinate identity which will function as larger group identity for more people and this will foster a better relationship among more people of different ethnic descents.

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