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Posts Tagged ‘assimilation’

First names matter, experimental research has shown. If job resumes are sent to employers or student profiles presented to teachers, identical except for racially-tinged first names–say, Greg vs. Jamal–“white” names more often get positive responses than do “black” names. If students evaluate presidential candidates on paper, identical except for the gender of the presumed candidate–say, Brian vs. Karen–the “male” candidate gets higher approval than the “female” one.

Italian Immig

Italian Immigrants

In a recent study of historical data, “From Patrick to John F.: Ethnic Names and Occupational Success in the Last Era of Mass Migration,” Joshua R. Goldstein and Guy Stecklov found that immigrants a century or so ago who gave their sons less ethnic-sounding and more mainstream-sounding names added, on average, a few percentage points a year to their sons’ incomes–although one immigrant group was an exception. (more…)

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Immig Cartoon

Cartoon re Irish and Chinese Immigrants, S.F., 1860s

The 1965 Immigration Act literally changed the face of America, creating a much more diverse society and bringing the proportion of foreign-born in the country back to levels not seen since about 1910. Today, roughly 13 percent of the population was born elsewhere; add in their children and close to one in four residents are immigrants or second-generation. In this 50th-anniversary year for the Hart-Cellar Act, the National Academy of Sciences–our nation’s official authority on matters scientific–is issuing two reports summarizing years of research on what followed from that act. The first report, focusing on the social implications of recent immigration, is out; another, focusing on the economic implications, will be issued soon.

The Integration of Immigrants into American Society (pdf) presents no dramatic revelations for those who have followed the accumulating research. (That Mexican immigration has so sharply tailed off recently that Asian newcomers now outnumber Latin ones may be a revelation to some.) The short story is that immigrants and their children seem to be assimilating, becoming American, at about the same rate and in about the same ways as earlier generations of immigrants. Becoming more American, however, is not always a good thing.

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Hanukkah or Vanish?

Hanukkah: a perfect example of how America absorbs and transforms ethnic traditions. A minor sectarian holiday becomes reinterpreted and inflated into a celebration of “freedom.” And it delivers a Christmas-like cornucopia for kids. Hanukkah comes early this year. But not too early for many Jewish-Americans to worry about the fate of the Jewish in Jewish-American. Well, actually, the community has been worrying itself into a state about this for many decades. That worry partly explains the popularity of Hanukkah in America. (More college students report lighting Hanukkah candles than performing any other Jewish ritual [see p. 14, here].)

One sociologist titled an article, “Are American Jews Vanishing Again?,” expressing his skepticism about all the hand-wringing. Still, with high and rising intermarriage rates, low birth rates, and general acceptance in the wider society, the perennial question of whether Jews in America will survive as Jews presses more and more on its community leaders and rabbis.

The factors that will determine the answer are in part specific to the Jewish community, but in large part are common to all ethnic communities in America, a nation that has done a remarkable job of melding, changing, and Anglo-Protestanizing all sorts of cultures.

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The city in which I live is probably the national capital of multiculturalism. Its logo (shown here) displays four races in profile. (For sources of the logo, see this and that.)  An October holiday is officially listed as “Indigenous People’s Day” (aka Columbus Day). The University of California, Berkeley, where I teach, is probably the multiculturalism leader among the nation’s major research universities. For example, to graduate, a student must have taken an “American Cultures” course, one which presents the diversity of America and which explicitly reviews the experiences of three particular groups. (When I taught an American Cultures version of urban sociology, I included two-week modules on African-, Jewish-, and Mexican-Americans.) In class discussion, students display considerable sensitivity about and respect for multiculturalist ideas.

In the end, the commitment to multiculturalism here – and, I think, in most settings around the nation – is important, sincere, and commendable. But it is not that real nor very deep. It is multiculturalism lite, which is just about right.

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It’s an “Only in America” anecdote with a greater lesson: The May 9 Sunday New York Times Magazine carries a profile of San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, an up-and-coming Latino politician who does not speak Spanish:

Early in his administration, Castro assigned his chief of staff, Robbie Greenblum – a Jewish lawyer from the border town of Laredo whose own Spanish is impeccable – to discreetly find him a tutor. Rosie Castro’s son is now being taught Spanish by a woman named Marta Bronstein. Greenblum met her in shul.

Author Zev Chafetz points out, “A lack of Spanish fluency isn’t unusual in San Antonio, especially among Castro’s generation.”

Indeed, among all the controversy about immigration over the southern border, the fact is that the Hispanic population is adopting English more rapidly than the European immigrant population did a century ago.

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