Advanced Essay #2: Immigration Assimilation Pressure

Introduction -

         The goal of my paper was to exemplify the constant pressure on immigrants to assimilate. I hope to move the readers of my paper and encourage them to be more conscious not to put pressure on immigrants.  When reading my paper one will realize the sacrifices one has to make both when assimilating or choosing not to do so. 

Essay -

         A young brown-skinned Native American man sits with his long sleek black hair streaming over his shoulders. He has quarter-sized gold hoops in his ears and various necklaces decorating his neck. He is covered with a short fur jacket and a white undershirt. The same man later poses, his hair cut short, with a part on the right side, brushed to the left. His neck and ears are free of jewelry. This time he wears a dress jacket, collared shirt, and tie. Although he did not come to the United States from another country, he exhibits what many immigrants must do to reflect mainstream American society, in hopes of maintaining refuge. 

         Cultural assimilation is the process by which someone from a minority group alters their values, beliefs, and behaviors to assume that of a majority group. When immigrants move to different countries the pressure to assimilate is ongoing and if they choose not to alter themselves they may find themselves branded an outsider.  

         The pressure to behave like the majority and follow their beliefs is derived from many different sources that depend on an individual's situation. For adults, it can come from peers in the working world, friends who they see doing so, or the fear of getting deported if they are undocumented. For kids, it often comes from family, peers, school teachers, and many times the media. 

         The media often portrays immigrants and/or the countries they come from in a negative light. Media outlets and journalists do this by focusing on the bad things that have happened in a country and to associate immigrants with the people doing wrong in order to give them a bad reputation. People like President Trump, who are widely covered in the media and therefore play a highly influential role in shaping public opinion, perpetuate negative ideas about immigrant groups. This makes their living in the country even harder since they are not welcomed and people have false preconceived notions about them. Assimilating won’t change ones skin tone; however, it may make it easier for them to live in a new country without attracting as much negative attention. 

         Assimilation often means sacrificing a part of one’s identity. Enuma Okoro, a woman born in Africa and migrating to America stated,  "Coming of age in foreign classrooms, my sister and I slowly shed our native skins. We let teachers mangle our names, then adopted their mispronunciations — introducing ourselves with syllables our own relatives tripped over." (Okoro 1) .  Names are a big part of who people are. Often times, names are unique to someone's culture, region or family. By not correcting her teachers’ mangled pronunciation of her and her sisters’ names, she has allowed her identity to be trampled for the convenience of another, but doing so also lightens the pressure. When she speaks of “shedding our native skin,” she is exemplifying the assimilation process. In her writing, she explains that when she first got to America from Africa she had no good thoughts about her old country.  Many immigrants experience this when trying to disassociate themselves from their past. To be someone else you must also forget who you were. She went on to say that later when she went back to visit, she got in touch with her roots, discovered many things she liked and decided to move back. 

People who choose not to assimilate either find a community where they can avoid it or live a life with the ongoing pressure of harassment. On the other hand, culturally assimilating does not ensure immunity from harassment.

         Once assimilated, one might feel as foreign to their own past and culture as they did when first coming to a new country. In We Need New Names a girl traveled from Africa to America. In Zimbabwe, she peed in the bushes, ate with her hands, played with her friends all day not attending school and spent the majority of her time outside. In America she pees in the toilet, often uses utensils, and spends her time inside and on the internet or talking to friends. In the beginning, she hated America and wanted to go back, but later she stated, “One part is yearning for my friends; the other doesn't know how to connect with them anymore, as if they are people I've never met”(212). This shows how foreign the place and people she once associated with home are. Many immigrants still yearn for their old country, but understand that it was best for them to leave considering the conditions there. The internal conflict she faces of yearning for her Zimbabwe and simultaneously wanting to fit in, in her new country makes this lack of connection hard to repair.

         How do immigrants feel about assimilation? Assimilation can involve changing religion. Adopting a different language, the slang that may come with that and even the accent.  It can also mean breaking one's own traditions and ideals to adopt new ones. Assimilation applies a lot of pressure on immigrants. For example, in We Need New Names, Darling’s Aunt Faustilina in America would practice speaking English in a mirror after she messed up a conversation in English until she spoke precisely and articulately. Aunt Faustalina, is her role model, and from her, Darling learned both what to do and what not to do. For immigrants, learning what to do and what not to do is a continual struggle that may never result in the acceptance they seek while it compels them to sacrifice parts of their identity to do so.

Citations -

Bulawayo, NoViolet. We Need New Names. Vintage Books, 2014.

Okoro, Enuma. “A Return to Nigeria.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Apr. 2014,

“A Tour of 5 Refugee Camps.” This American Life,

“Sea Prayer .” YouTube, YouTube,

“Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee.” This American Life, 19 Apr. 2019,