Cultural assimilation is complicated


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Among the most divisive and sensitive debates in the first world, arguably more so than
immigration itself, is the assimilation of immigrants into society and what that should look like.
It is generally assumed in every country that new arrivals should learn to be a part of their new
environment, but the enforcement of this can go from societal pressure to outright
discrimination. To see why the division in views is so great, look at two of the starkest examples
in immigrant acceptance: the U.S. and France.

The U.S. has had a very complicated relationship with immigrants (probably the biggest
understatement of the century) and yet for the most part, its history of accepting new arrivals
has created a positive balance between assimilation and freedom of expression.
You’re allowed to practice your own culture as long as you don’t hurt or impose it on other
people. Despite being primarily Christian, converting is not a requirement; no prayer in
schools and even the pledge of allegiance is optional. Even though English is the dominant
language, being multilingual is not only encouraged but is an advantage to those looking for
work. That being said, societal pressure to be part of the “American culture”, discrimination,
and fear of immigrants exists as a point of contention for many people, including immigrants
themselves. American assimilation has never and most likely will never be perfect in the
foreseeable future, and yet might be one of the best examples of mingling cultures in the
modern world.

It is important before describing the French perspective to understand the history
behind it. France has long worked toward erasing all cultural, religious, and linguistic
differences from its population, including back when it owned colonies. This was to prevent
violence and discrimination between different religious groups and create a unified, peaceful
France. This has become a problem in recent years after the mass migration of middle eastern
immigrants into the country following a series of violent conflicts in the region (something the
incredibly tolerant United States avoided by refusing their entry). The French government,
though accepting the displaced people, wanted them assimilated into society as completely and
efficiently as possible. As a result: cracking down on the wearing of religious dress, strict
language programs, immense social pressure to acclimate, and the rising economic inequality of
the first and second generation immigrants with the rest of France. While they are working
towards fixing the financial disparity, the mentality remains the same and isn’t showing signs of
changing anytime soon.

With the France you risk discriminating against different cultures by imposing a national
one, and with the U.S you risk losing a national culture altogether. This raises the question:
which is more important? Should the system change for immigrants, or should immigrants
change for the system?