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ASSIMILATION . In general the sociocultural process in which the sense and consciousness of association with one national and cultural group changes to identification with another such group, so that the merged individual or group may partially or totally lose its original national identity. Assimilation can occur and not only on the unconscious level in primitive societies. It has been shown that even these societies have sometimes developed specific mechanisms to facilitate assimilation, e.g., adoption; mobilization, and absorption into the tribal fighting force; exogamic marriage; the client relationship between the tribal protector and members of another tribe. In more developed societies, where a stronger sense of cultural and historical identification has evolved, the mechanisms, as well as the automatic media of assimilation, become more complicated. The reaction of the assimilator group to the penetration of the assimilated increasingly enters the picture.

Various factors may combine to advance or hinder the assimilation process. Those actively contributing include the position of economic strength held by a group; the political advantages to be gained from adhesion or separation; acknowledged cultural superiority; changes in religious outlook and customs; the disintegration of one group living within another more cohesive group; the development of an "open society" by either group. Added to these are external factors, such as changes in the demographic pattern (mainly migration) or those wrought by revolution and revolutionary attitudes. Sociologists have described the man in process of assimilation as "the marginal man," both attracted and repelled by the social and cultural spheres in which he lives in a state of transition.

Antiquity and Middle Ages

Within its environment in antiquity, as far as known, the Jewish national and social group mainly operated as the assimilator, aided by the attraction of monotheism and exerting the power of its social cohesion and state mechanism. During the period of the conquest of Ereẓ Israel, Jewish society gradually absorbed many of the ethnic elements living there. The process continued well into the reigns of David and Solomon. While the prophets of the time deplored the cultural influence exerted by the assimilated group, they did not reject the end results of the process. The isolated yet striking instance of Naaman the Syrian demonstrates the element of partial assimilation into *Judaism. In Judaism the very concept of *proselytism involves readiness on the part of the Jews to accept and assimilate a group or an individual prepared to adopt the religion and become assimilated. The attitude of *Ezra and *Nehemiah, who opposed the assimilation of other ethnic elements, did not prevail. Some of the *Hasmonean rulers, John *Hyrcanus and Alexander *Yannai – adopted a clear-cut policy of forcible proselytization; the assimilation of the Idumeans was so complete that the last dynasty to rule the Jewish commonwealth in the Second Temple period was the Idumean house of *Herod, and some of the most devoted fighters in the war against Rome were Idumeans. Both Jewish and external sources yield plentiful information about groups and individuals living within the Roman Empire that had totally or partially adopted Judaism and assimilated the Jewish way of life. According to some scholars, the large number of Jews in the later period of the Roman Empire was the result of the assimilation of the Phoenician diaspora into the Jewish communities. On the other hand, sources dating from as early as the reign of *Antiochus Epiphanes (175–164 b.c.e.) mention the Hellenizers, a group wishing to accept the mode of life and culture of *Hellenism. *Tiberius Alexander, the nephew of Philo of *Alexandria, exemplifies assimilation by Jewish individuals of Hellenistic-Roman culture, particularly in the *Diaspora. To some degree the path of early Pauline *Christianity is viewed from the Jewish standpoint as a process of assimilation of the early Jewish Christian apostles and groups into the gentile ethnic identity and way of life.

In the course of Jewish history, processes that began as quasi-assimilatory were later transmuted to become hallmarks of continuing Jewish consciousness and identity. This applied to the adoption of the Greek language in the ancient period and of German and Spanish in the Middle Ages. As the alien language gained acceptance, it became not only a vehicle of Jewish cultural and religious creativity, but also gradually became converted into a specifically Jewish idiom and mark of Jewish identity that even formed barriers to later assimilation. *Yiddish became the idiom of East European Jewry amid a Slavic linguistic environment, and hence of Jewish emigrants from this area in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Similarly the Spanish Jews carried their language of Castile with them after the expulsion from Spain, developing it into *Ladino. During the Middle Ages the strength of Jewish cohesiveness was so powerful that only *apostates from Judaism became assimilated into the adopted environment, and not always even then (see *Anusim; *Marranos).

From the Period of Enlightenment

Assimilation has been a major centrifugal force in Jewish life since the second half of the 18th century. It became an element of increasing magnitude in Jewish thought and society and helped to mold a new image of the Jew in literature and art, in which the problems it posed were reflected. Various factors combined to create this situation. The *Court Jews, their families, and social circle gradually, sometimes imperceptibly, assimilated the mores of the Christian court. The Enlightenment (*Haskalah) movement was accompanied by a certain readiness on the part of groups of Christian and Jewish intellectuals to create an "open society." The grant of civic *emancipation apparently premised that Jews could enter the emancipating society as equals if they relinquished their Jewish national cohesion. In rejecting the medieval system of corporation, the attitude of early capitalistic society militated against a continuance of Jewish *autonomy and its institutions. Similarly, the dictates of the modern state, postulating observance of a single legal code and an undifferentiated legal status for its citizens, militated against Jewish judicial autonomy while assisting Jewish emancipation. All these elements hastened the assimilatory process. As members of the upper strata of Jewish society in Central and Western Europe became assimilated, they left their positions of leadership in the autonomous Jewish body, thereby weakening it further. Other Jews in less influential positions followed their example. Jewish intellectuals who accepted the values and criteria of the Enlightenment and Christian culture and society tended to regard the Jewish counterpart as barren and primitive. Their attitude became devastatingly critical. They measured the Jewish past and culture by alien and historically inimical standards.

The first wave of assimilation carried Jews toward the ahistoric society envisioned by the 18th-century Enlightenment, a society that would not insist on national or religious definitions. For some Jews, assimilation served as a shortcut to attaining individual emancipation and advancement, hence there were many nominal apostates like Heinrich *Heine. Later, their admiration for the modern national state, a growing appreciation of the mores and social structure of the dominant nations, and the idea of progress combined to create the conception that the perpetuation of a Jewish national existence was obsolete. Such Jews also felt that they were guilty of intellectual and emotional dishonesty in cherishing Jewish messianic hopes. The evaluations, way of life, writings – both in German and in Hebrew – and influence of intellectuals like Moses *Mendelssohn and David Friedlaender, although formulating no clear-cut theory of assimilation, furthered the tendency. Socialite assimilation in the salons of Berlin and Vienna, fostering freedom in thought and with their romantic attractions, drew both the gifted and the wealthy away from the Jewish fold to a humanistic, cosmopolitan, and Christian allegiance. Rachel *Varnhagen-Levin saw her life vitiated by the blemish of her Jewish descent. Moses Mendelssohn's daughter, Dorothea *Schlegel, not only left her faith but also developed the feeling of self-hatred typical of many modern assimilated Jews. In 1802 she wrote to Friedrich Schleiermacher:

… according to my own feeling, Protestant Christianity [is] much purer and to be preferred to the Catholic one. Catholicism has for me too much similarity to the old Judaism, which I greatly despise. Protestantism, though, seems to me to be the total religion of Jesus and the religion of civilization. In my heart I am completely, as far as I can understand from the Bible, a Protestant.

The ideology of assimilation gained momentum in the first half of the 19th century as it developed an eschatological message. This trend was part of the new direction which assimilation took when projected on the intense nationalistic society and state that prevailed in Europe with the romantic movement. The former nexus between the Jewish people and its religion and law was rejected; attempts were made to purge the Jewish religion of its nationalistic elements in order to relieve individual Jews in dispersion of the sense of being an alien and an exile. Instead of looking to Ereẓ Israel for redemption, the assimilationists stressed their attachment was to the land in which they and their forefathers had lived for generations. Nevertheless Jewish identity would be preserved in a redefinition as "Germans of Mosaic faith" or "Frenchmen of Mosaic faith," and so on.

The desire for emancipation blended with the will for religious reform and with revolutionary fervor for change at first in the liberal, and later in the socialist sense. The "messiah" envisaged by Leopold *Zunz was civic and political revolution in Germany and Europe, bearing on its wings freedom for mankind and equality for Jews. Derision of the former Jewish messianic hopes was intrinsic to burning faith in the new assimilationist form of existence. Thus in 1848, the year of the "Spring of Nations," Jews of the ancient community of Worms formulated the following program for religious reform, motivated by the ideal of assimilation:

…We have to aspire to truth and dignity in Divine worship, coordination between faith and life, to put away empty concepts and shape new institutions for the spirit of Judaism. We must no longer utter prayers for the return to Palestine while we are wholeheartedly attached to the German fatherland whose fate is indissolubly our fate; all that is beloved and dear to us is contained in this fatherland. We must not mourn in sackcloth and ashes the destruction of the Temple when we long ago came into the possession of a fatherland that has become so dear to us. We may commemorate yearly the destruction of the Temple, but why be in heavy mourning, which no longer comes from feelings of the heart, and sing songs of mourning about an historical fact, for which we praise the loving hand of God? We should not try to enlighten our children in the religious schools with facts that the living Jewish spirit looks upon as dead ballast, to be thrown overboard; no longer teach them to pray in a language that is dead, while the word and sound of our German mother tongue is understandable and dear to us and therefore is the only one fit to be raised in praise to our Creator. It is time to put a stop to this conflict, this sin of dishonesty in our midst.

Attachment to German soil, language, culture, and statehood was the compelling reason for effecting the change in prayer and its language, and for eradicating the hope for redemption in Ereẓ Israel. This attitude continued to persist in some circles; it led the British Liberal rabbi Israel Mattuck in 1939 to the conclusion that "the position which the Jews should seek and the world should give is one which combines separatism in religion with assimilation in all the other elements of national life, political, social, and cultural" (What are the Jews? (1939) 239).

The Late 19th and the 20th Century

Assimilation through the 19th and 20th centuries was not a unified process and was beset with a host of problems and complications. The position taken by assimilationists oscillated between the cosmopolitan and nationalist aspects of assimilation. Their theories clashed with the national spirit of exclusiveness of the assimilator group: Germans, Frenchmen, and others, resented the pollution of their race and culture by alien elements. Jews wishing to assimilate became involved in the array of conflicting assimilating nationalities and cultures within the same territorial arena. With the national awakening of the Czechs, the Jews of Prague, for instance, were confronted simultaneously by German and Czech demands for assimilation into one or the other national camp. The same conflict occurred between the demands of the Magyar and German cultures in Hungary; the Polish, German, and Russian cultures in Polish lands; the German, Polish, and Ukrainian cultures in East Galicia. In many countries the process of assimilation was deliberately assisted by social and educational measures. In Russia, *Nicholasi tried to promote assimilation of the Jewish youth through the mechanism of army mobilization (see *Cantonists). On the other hand the complications of the assimilation process itself necessarily acted to spur Jewish nationalism, and offered it a springboard. At the same time a school of historical thought that viewed each epoch and culture as a distinct phenomenon to be judged by its own system of values was gaining ascendancy. Thus, appreciation of the Jewish culture and history, achievements, values, and criteria strengthened, while the arrogance and ridicule on which the assimilationists based their arguments lost ground.

Assimilation into modern nationalities was described by Solomon *Schechter in 1901 upon viewing the disappointment that was felt when the concept of assimilation intrinsic to the hopes for a humanist, non-nationalistic society was definitively superseded by assimilation into different militarist, nationalist states. Schechter saw "… the ancient chosen people of God going about begging for a nationality – clamoring everywhere 'We are you!'… Using the last crumbs of the sacred language, in which God-Shalom addressed His children, to invoke His blessing upon the 'Mitrailleuse,' the 'Krupp gun,' 'dum-dum' and 'Long Tom,' and other anti-messianic contrivances" ("Epistles to the Jews of England," in Jewish Chronicle, 1901). The disappointment at these developments in European society and the reaction that Jewish assimilation had provoked did not deter assimilationists from their beliefs. Even after World War ii and the experience of the *Holocaust, and after his disillusionment with the Communist revolution, Boris *Pasternak clung to the Christian Orthodox faith and his Russian cultural identity. He dared to call upon Jews to assimilate as salvation from the fate which their nationality imposes. In the wake of the martyred Jews, he denied that there could be any sense in retaining a separate Jewish identity: "In whose interests is this voluntary martyrdom?… Dismiss this army which is forever fighting and being massacred, nobody knows for what?… Say to them: 'That's enough. Stop now. Don't hold on to your identity. Don't all get together in a crowd. Disperse. Be with all the rest.'" (Dr. Zhivago (1958) 117–8).

When this call for assimilation was pronounced, several years had elapsed since the suicide of a man who wrote at the beginning of Nazi rule and the end of the liberal German society of the early 20th century:

Ernst Toller, I Was a German, London, 1934, 280–2">

I thought of my terrible joy when I realized that nobody would recognize me for a Jew; of the first day of the war and my passionate longing to prove that I was a real German by offering my life to my country; of my writing from the front to the authorities to say that they could strike my name from the list of the Jewish community. Had it all been for nothing? Had it all been wrong? Didn't I love Germany with all my heart? Had I not stood in the rich beauty of the Mediterranean landscape and longed for the austere pine woods, for the beauty of the still, secret lakes of north Germany? And wasn't the German language my language, the language in which I felt and thought and spoke, a part of my very being? But wasn't I also a Jew? A member of that great race that for centuries had been persecuted, harried, martyred and slain; whose prophets had called the world to righteousness, had exalted the wretched and the oppressed, then and for all time. A race who had never bowed their heads to their persecutors, who had preferred death to dishonor. I had denied my own mother, and I was ashamed. It is an indictment of society at large that a child should have thus been driven to deception. How much of me was German, how much Jewish? Must I then join the ranks of the bigoted and glorify my Jewish blood now, not my German? Pride and love are not the same thing, and if I were asked where I belonged I should answer that a Jewish mother had borne me, that Germany nourished me, that Europe had formed me, that my home was the earth and the world my fatherland (Ernst Toller, I Was a German, London, 1934, 280–2).

This anguished cry powerfully expresses the dynamics and problems that persisted after the doctrine of assimilation had been tested for over a century and a half. The assimilationist remained torn between his ideals and rejection by the assimilator society, between the allegiance he was seeking and the pride awakened by Jewish nationalism; he oscillated between the choice of assimilation into one nation and internationalist assimilation.

More recently the ideals of assimilation have assumed a different form. This has been determined by the combined impact of the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel and its struggle for survival, and the emergence of a monistic nationalism in Eastern and Central Europe. But if the advocates of assimilation have sometimes changed their formula, the substance of their arguments remains. This viewpoint clearly emerges in the evaluation of Jewish assimilation made by a philosopher of history hostile to Jewish nationalism, Arnold Toynbee. Toynbee regards assimilation and *intermarriage as beneficial and a natural process. By assimilating, a Jew is "deserting the Diaspora individually in order to lose himself in the ranks of a modern, Western, gentile, urban bourgeoisie. The liberal Jew [is]… assimilating himself to a gentile social milieu that had previously gone far, on its side, to assimilate itself socially and psychologically to the Jewish Disapora" (Study of History, 8 (1954), 310). Nevertheless, in volume 12 of the same study, published in 1961, Toynbee describes the solution he proposed for the Jews in 1954 as the fate of the Ten Tribes, who "lost their national identity through being assimilated. The Ten Tribes' way is passive, involuntary, and inglorious, and it is natural that the Jews should be on their guard against meeting the fate of their lost kinsmen." What he proposed in 1961 was that the Jews become "denationalized" without becoming totally assimilated. As an alternative to emigration to Israel he proposes that they "incorporate Gentiles in a Jewish religious community by converting them to the religion of Deutero-Isaiah" (p. 517). Thus, ideationally, the process has turned full circle. An opponent of *Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel, Toynbee proposed to the Jews of the Diaspora in 1961 that they undertake the conversion of the peoples in their environment to a non-national Jewish religion. For all practical purposes, however, the goal is the same: the abolition of Jewish national identity.

[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]

United States

The term "assimilation" or "identification assimilation" is usually taken to mean the process by which members of an ethnic, religious, or national immigrant group takes on the identity of their host country or society, and simultaneously shed the identity of their "home" society. (Other forms of assimilation include "structural assimilation," which is the process by which immigrants enter into the structures – education, employment, political – of the host society; and "marital assimilation," which is intermarriage.) "Assimilation," which is about identity, is often confused with "acculturation" (or "cultural assimilation"), which is the process by which members of an immigrant group adopts aspects of the culture of the host society – modes of dress, language, cuisine, and so on – while retaining their ethnic, religious, or national identity.

The American Jewish community was created by three waves of immigration: the Sephardi-dominated handful of colonial times, several tens of thousands from Central Europe who arrived in the middle of the 19th century, and the mass of almost three million, mostly from Eastern Europe, who came between 1882 and 1914. The later and much smaller immigrations after both world wars and during the Hitler era have added certain colorations to the American Jewish scene, but the history of American Jewry and the changes in its modes of acculturation to the fluctuating composition of American society largely are the tale of these three immigration impulses.

There were so few Jews in the United States during colonial times (perhaps 2,000 at the time of the American Revolution) that they were regarded as exotics. Their acculturation was deep and broad, and their assimilation into the largely English majority population was the result of neither conscious assimilationist pressure nor ideological choice. So small a Jewish population, with fewer women than men among it, inevitably had a considerable rate of intermarriage. A recent study of Jewish marriage before 1840 has shown that at least one in seven colonial Jews and their immediate descendants married unconverted Christians; after that year, in the fourth and fifth generations of colonial Jewish families, intermarriage was so dominant that most of these families disappeared from the Jewish community. Ideological factors were clearly secondary in this situation, for what increased assimilation was the family's length of the residence in a society almost totally open, at that point, to its handful of Jews. Isaac Harby, who led in the creation of a reformed synagogue in Charleston in 1824, wrote two years later that not all who agreed with him had joined his group, but that "the Jews born in Carolina are mostly of our way of thinking" and that the only consideration that kept them in the Orthodox synagogue was "a tender regard for the opinions and feelings of their parents."

The situation of the second major wave of Jewish immigration to the United States, which arrived in the middle of the 19th century, was significantly different. The American majority had crystallized as an assimilating force. Some of the rabbis among the Central European Jews who were then arriving in the United States had participated in the early stirrings of Reform Judaism in Europe; they believed in acculturation, even in religious practices, as a desirable value. Their efforts went unchecked by an entrenched Orthodox establishment. In the first generation after their arrival, many of these new immigrants lived out their secular lives not among the American majority, but in the more accessible environment of the gentile German immigrants; but this soon passed. Their American-born children looked to the world of their economic peers in American business for their social environment. The choice of life styles was not a problem until the 1870s, when the first signs of social antisemitism appeared. The Gentile nouveau riche were establishing their prestige on other than economic grounds, and they began by excluding the quite visible, even more recently enriched German Jews. In 1876 the first known advertisement by a resort hotel that it was barring Jews was printed in the New York Tribune, and in the next year the prominent banker Joseph Seligman was excluded as a Jew from the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga. This kind of discrimination increased in the next several decades. Those Jews who remained identifiable as such turned to creating a network of social and philanthropic institutions within which they could live a life that largely paralleled that of their gentile peers. Their isolation, therefore, was partly willed and partly forced. This social ghetto was dominated by the ideals of middle class liberalism and by a special concern for the latest Jewish arrivals – those from Eastern Europe. The German-Jewish elite continued to dominate and to provide most of the social services for the American Jewish community during the period between 1881 and World War i, when almost three million Jews came to the United States from Eastern Europe. By the 1920s, however, the German group was clearly losing its hold for at least two reasons. The new immigrants and their children were losing their "strangeness," beginning to achieve some power in their own right, and growing ever less willing to accept the tutelage of the German-Jewish "Uptown." Some of the German-Jewish leadership associated itself within the new Jewish masses; larger numbers, however, were following after the pattern of the colonial Jews, so that by the third generation the rate of intermarriage was large enough as to bring into question the continued existence of many of these families as Jews. By the end of the 19th century, a new form of acculturation, leading to secular apostasy, had come into view. Thus it had become possible to vanish as a Jew without accepting any other religious identity.

The Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought with them the identity of a deprived national minority, sustained by great forces of religious, cultural, and communal cohesion. Political action in the name of Jewish interests, Jewish efforts toward social reform, pressure on society at large to regard the Jewish community as by right equal to all other communities, including the majority itself – in short, the total stance of a group fighting to express itself in all its peculiarities and to be accepted by society as such – all this became the new mode of American Jewish life among the immigrants and most of their children in the 20th century. The Yiddish language, socialism, union activities, Zionism, and orthodoxy in religion (locked in combat with other ideologies such as Marxism or atheism) composed the cultural temper of this mass community, which existed in large numbers in specific neighborhoods not only in New York, but also in most major American cities.

There were two contesting views on how to bring this community into the larger American society. Such thinkers as Horace *Kallen and Mordecai M. *Kaplan envisaged the American society of the future as one of cultural pluralism, in which the descendants of various European national traditions would retain their distinctiveness but have the ability to participate in an American society that is informed by many ethnic and religious groups. As such, they would retain and nurture substantial knowledge of their past and loyalty to it. This meant that American Jews would be able to exist as a separate community, as they would not be unique in this aspect; and that any group membership and association would be purely voluntary.

The counter theory was held by the dominant American Protestant cultural and political establishment; their vision was the model of the "melting pot," the notion that the ideal condition was one of complete assimilation in which all ethnic and religious differences would disappear. Upon arrival in the United States the new immigrant was to undergo the process of Americanization as rapidly as possible and surrender his foreignness, that is, he was to learn to behave and live in imitation of the dominant modes. The older American Jewish community was overwhelmingly committed to the second idea, and the institutions that it created to help the Jewish newcomers, such as the Educational Alliance on the lower East Side of New York and the Yiddish newspaper Forverts (Forward), had as their primary purpose the Americanization of the immigrants. In the second generation, some younger Jewish intellectuals tried to live in both American and Jewish cultures with very complicated and often painful results. Because Jews remained in the position of a minority suffering from substantial disabilities until after World War ii, some became an important part of reform and left-wing political movements. The overwhelming bulk of this generation, as was the case with its predecessors in the earlier migrations, simply tried to make their individual way in the American economy and society. In actual fact they had no choice but to adopt the way of life demanded by the "melting pot," while harboring very substantial Jewish emotions and commitments on a more personal level.

The ideal of bicultural existence in America was attacked by some of the American-born children of East European-Jewish immigrants as a form of schizophrenia. Jessie Bernard, writing as late as 1942, said that a child of immigrant parents "can never achieve complete oneness save he deliberately turn his back on one or the other [culture]." Kurt Lewin, a social theorist who arrived in the United States in those very years as a refugee from Hitler, had expressed the same insight in coining the phrase "marginal man" (see above). Both of them, however, offered different prescriptions for this discomfort: Bernard suggested conscious and total assimilation, and Lewin became a passionate believer in Zionism. The American Jewish community of the next generation did not follow either prescription. In the generation that followed after World War ii, there was very little sign of any conscious assimilation. American society became more open to Jews than any country has ever been throughout the whole history of the Diaspora, and this acted to remove the need for any willed assimilation. The creation of the State of Israel and (after 1967) the Holocaust informed a reaffirmation on the part of many American Jews of their Jewish identity. The rapid economic rise of the bulk of the American Jewish community into the middle and upper-middle classes during the postwar period remade the lifestyle of American Jews, so that in many aspects Jews became part of the American establishment. This was particularly true in the realms of academic and artistic endeavor, where Jews became a dominant force during this era. It was thus no longer necessary to play down the fact of one's Jewishness or to make the defensive choice of highlighting it, because the open society, within which older traditions – including the dominant Christian one – were clearly under attrition, was then making no assimilatory demands in the name of an American ideology.

The behavior pattern of this post-World War ii generation has been described in innumerable sociological studies. Jews associate socially overwhelmingly with other Jews, and the great majority of their children, in towns outside New York, receive some minimal amount of Jewish education. On the other hand, the rate of intermarriage has risen steadily, to the point at which it is between 40 and 50 percent for marriages started between 1985 and 2001, especially among the most highly educated. While Yiddish as a spoken language has experienced some measure of renaissance amongst academics, there has not been a revival of the language, and its use as a spoken language is limited to some sectarian Orthodox groups. In point of fact, English (and not Hebrew) has become the lingua franca of the Jewish people. The countertendencies to this pattern of nonideological attrition are to be found in one or two social groups within American Jewry and in some of the work of the organized community as a whole. Jewish parochial schools have become the dominant form of education among the Orthodox and some of the Conservative Jews; such schools now contain a very large number of students. The postwar immigration from Europe reinforced pockets of Hasidic ghetto existence and created a number of new ethnic neighborhoods and enclaves, chiefly in New York. American Zionism had never had the fostering of aliyah to Israel as one of its prime purposes, and the increase in numbers who have chosen to immigrate to Israel from almost nothing in the early 1950s to more than 5,000 in 1969 was nonetheless relatively small. Yet there have been increased efforts on the part of almost every American Jewish body aimed at intensifying Jewish education and increasing the connection between American Jews and Israel.

The worsening of race relations in America in the 1960s and the concomitant tensions between Jews and blacks again posed the question of assimilation in an ideological way. Black emphasis on black identity has evoked much more identification with blacks among some younger Jews than with their own Jewish identity. In the 1960s and early 1970s the New Left tended to align itself with the "Third World," and thus sided with the Arabs against Israel. Many young Jews, heavily represented in these causes, tended to see their inherited Jewish identity as bourgeois and belonging to the camp of the oppressors, and thus need to be exorcised. During the *Six-Day War, however, the overwhelming majority of American Jewish youth were as involved as were their parents. Yet the emphasis on black identity also had a paradoxically important affect on American Jews, who felt free to emphasize their own Jewish experience in public and to proclaim it explicitly. Young Jews felt free to wear a "yarmulke" in public and Jewish stars as jewelry, an explicit affirmation of identity. On the university campuses, the introduction of Black (later Afro-American) Studies paved the way for the explosion of Jewish Studies, which soon became mainstream.

From the perspective of the history of Jewish assimilation in the United States, these ideological issues are quite secondary. The basic undertow continues to be the family's length of residence in the United States in a non-ghetto, middle class, Western educated milieu within a relatively open society. It is far from certain, even with the revived energy for Jewish particularists living in the United States that has recently been evoked, that the process of unreflective assimilation can be seriously checked. The minority of American Jews that is sectarian appears to be successful in surviving; so do those moving toward aliyah to Israel. Some sectarian Jews show remarkable degrees of acculturation. Chabad has mastered the American media and uses a telethon as an important means of fundraising. It also engages in two very American means of organizational management: charismatic leadership was replaced by management and marketing based on the charisma of the founder and local Chabad rabbis are franchises with assigned territories for their work. ArtScroll Publications with its contemporary designs and the emergence of a significant English-language ultra-Orthodox literature also indicates the emergence of English, not Yiddish and Hebrew, as a dominant language even among sectarian Jews.

Substantial numbers of American Jews, however, however, have not yet found an answer to the problem of how to continue to live permanently both within the mainstream of American life and within a Jewish community of their own.

[Arthur Hertzberg /

Jerome A. Chanes (2nd ed.)]

In Other Western Countries

The major Jewish communities in this area, those in England and France, seemed on the surface to be going in different directions. In England an increasing rate of intermarriage, a birth rate so small that it was not adequate to maintain the size of the community, and substantial intellectual defection by the young were the marks of ongoing assimilation. On the other hand, Zionist consciousness remained high and the official establishment of Anglo-Jewry has consistently moved in more Orthodox directions (in the religious sense) for the last generation. In addition, Reform and Liberal judaism increasingly provided a set of Jewish religious institutions for non-Orthodox Jews and those not regarded as halakhichally Jewish by the Orthodox.

The so-called "remote" Jewish communities in the English-speaking world – Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand – all reflect a welcome departure from the picture of increased assimilation in the larger English-speaking communities. In Australia, Jewish numbers have steadily risen since World War ii, and a range of Jewish institutions, especially a large day school system, has grown up since the late 1940s. More than one-half of school age Jews in Australia attend one or another of Australia's 19 Jewish day school, according to most estimates. Support for Israel and Zionism probably remain stronger and more central to Jewish identity among Australian Jewry than among American or British Jews. Intermarriage rates, too, are remarkably low by normal Diaspora standards and show little signs of rising. After many decades of decline, New Zealand Jewry also appears to be increasing in both size and Jewish identity, with the establishment in the recent past of two Jewish day schools. South African Jewry was long a by-word for an intensely committed, Zionistic Diaspora community, with a long-established range of institutions, including a major day school system in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and elsewhere. The traumas associated with the decline phase of the apartheid system and the institutionalization of a black majority government in the early 1990s of course shook South African Jewry to its core, and the community has declined in size by perhaps one-third, thanks to heavy emigration elsewhere, in the post-apartheid period. Nevertheless, the long-established core institutions of the South African Jewish community have remained intact.

In France, assimilation seemed even more advanced in the immediate aftermath of World War ii, for organized Jewish life had been weak even before the Nazi occupation as the assimilating power of French culture had been, and remained, strong. With the end of the Algerian war, Jews were a significant element among the many hundreds of thousands of French citizens who chose to come to France rather than remain in Algeria. This element was far more religious and more consciously identified as Jews than was usual in France at the time. A number of moribund Jewish communities, especially in the south of France, were revived by their presence. The intensified connection with Israel however, was the factor that made the crucial difference in France. For more than a decade, from before the *Sinai Campaign of 1956 until the Six-Day War of 1967, France was Israel's major political and military ally. This relationship served to encourage the involvement of French Jews in affairs concerning Israel. De Gaulle's 1967 turnabout to the policy of arms embargo, followed soon thereafter by his remarks about the particularistic character of the Jews and his anger at their continued involvement with Israel after his policy had changed, acted, contrary to his will, to reinforce that very involvement. Among significant numbers of formerly alienated young people there arose a very visible tendency to study Hebrew, to reassert Jewish identity, and to settle in Israel.

In the ensuing years, the percentage of Jews identifying themselves as Sephardim (70 percent in 2002) continued to increase, indicating a decline through assimilation of the old Ashkenazi population. Though most of these French Jews were now French-born, they still had a strong sense of their Jewishness. According to a survey commissioned by the Fonds Social Juif Unifié and published in 2002, 80 percent of the Jews surveyed would choose to be born Jews, 70 percent had Jewish spouses (60 percent in the under-30 group), 86 percent considered Jewish education important, and 86 percent felt close to Israel. Half lit Sabbath candles and only 30 percent defined themselves as non-practicing Jews.

[Arthur Hertzberg /

William D. Rubenstein and

Fred Skolnik (2nd ed.)]

In the Soviet Union

After the October Revolution (1917), the Soviet government, under the leadership of *Lenin, was faced with a complicated Jewish problem. On the one hand, Bolshevik doctrine regarded the total assimilation of Jews as an essential feature of social progress and an indispensable prerequisite of the socialist order. On the other hand, the revolutionary regime found millions of Jews living in territorial concentration – mainly in the former *Pale of Settlement – with their own language, culture, and, for the most part, a strong sense of Jewish identity, either in its original religious form or in its national, or even "Bundist" variation. Even Jews in the metropolitan centers and the large cities, who had embraced the Russian language and culture, were, in large measure, "Russians outside and Jews in their tents" (to adapt the famous phrase of J.L. Gordon). The new Soviet regime was therefore forced to regard the Jews as a "nationality" with its own linguistic and cultural character, similar to all the other ethnic groups ("nationalities") that the Revolution had promised to liberate from the forced Russification practiced under Czarist rule. Thus, a special Soviet system of Jewish education, press, literature, and theater – almost all in Yiddish – came into being, an "official" Soviet-Jewish culture which sought to dissociate itself from the prerevolutionary sources of the Hebrew language, Jewish culture, and historical consciousness. In spite of its official character, this Soviet-sponsored culture served hundreds of thousands of Jews and their children in the 1920s and early 1930s as the means of preserving their Jewish identity, while in their hearts many of them remained true to Hebrew language and the genuine Jewish culture.

Side by side with these efforts to retain some Jewish identity, many Soviet Jews streamed to the centers of government and constructive action and also sought to enter professions from which they had been barred in the Czarist past. Hundreds of thousands of Jews converged upon Moscow, Leningrad, and other urban centers, and a great many were absorbed in the government administration, the party apparatus, and in the economic, legal, and military professions. Although most of them made no attempt to hide their Jewish origin, they and their families quickly adopted the Russian culture and language, and their Jewish identity soon became devoid of any cultural content. Nevertheless, even these "assimilationists" could not call themselves "Russians," "Ukrainians," etc., for these terms define a person's ethnic origin. The Soviet Union does not use the word "Soviet" as a general term denoting national belonging, (the way "American" is used in the United States). Thus there were two parallel and seemingly contradictory processes at work; one being the development of an official Yiddish culture, and the other a drive toward rapid acculturation, especially among the masses of Jews who had left the Jewish towns for the metropolitan centers. Most of the latter regarded their Jewish "nationality" as a marginal detail, which in the course of time would be superseded by the emerging "supra-national" socialist society. Those who continued to adhere to Yiddish were able to express themselves as Jews, though only within the confines of official Yiddish culture. There was, however, a third kind of Jew, who, by semi-legal or illegal means, gave his children a Jewish religious education (especially among the Ḥasidim in Western Russia and the non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities in the Caucasus and in the Asian republics). Some even made efforts to foster Hebrew language and literature. The number of these Jews, however, was pitifully small, and they had little contact with one another.

The territorialist experiment of *Birobidzhan was too small and of too short a duration to have any effect upon these developments, for the entire project came to an abrupt end when the Jewish leadership of the "Autonomous Region" was liquidated in the great purges. The purges of the late 1930s also brought about the almost-complete liquidation of the institutions and machinery of Soviet Yiddish culture and deprived the great mass of nonassimilated Jews even of this tenuous official framework of Jewish life. Thus a new period was ushered in before World War ii, in which the Jewish population was practically deprived of the last shreds of a legitimate Jewish culture and forced to assimilate to the majority i.e., Russian culture. Jews were, however, denied the possibility of a complete social assimilation and disappearance into the majority population for they continued to be identified as Jews "by nationality," in accordance with the traditional ethnic structure of East European society. The reintroduction at the end of 1932 of the czarist-style "passports" system, under which every Soviet citizen was obliged to have an identity card on his person, meant that every Jew, both of whose parents were Jewish, was marked in his personal documents as a Jew "by nationality." This greatly facilitated the various subtle methods of anti-Jewish discrimination employed by the Soviet authorites since the days of *Stalin; but it also served as a significant factor for the retention of Jewish consciousness by the Jews themselves, notwithstanding their deracination from all roots of Jewish religion and culture. During and after World War ii Soviet Jews had twice a traumatic experience which shattered their belief in genuine equality and security under the Soviet regime, thus renewing and reinforcing their feelings of Jewish solidarity and identity: first, the fact that large segments of the Soviet population, including young people, actively helped the German occupants to exterminate their Jewish fellow citizens and that even army men and anti-German partisans often displayed hostile anti-Jewish attitudes; and later, Stalin's undisguised antisemitic policy in 1948–53, during the "anti-cosmopolitan" campaign and the "*Doctors' Plot" But even in normal times, the paradox between forced deracination and cultural assimilation, on one hand and official identification of Jews "by nationality," on the other, created a peculiar "Marrano" atmosphere among much of Soviet Jewry. This applied in particular to many of the young people who, unlike their parents in their youth, had no faith in any "supra-national" future socialist society. The increasing rebellion of Soviet Jewish youth against the humiliating discrimination contained in this paradox drew more and more upon a positive Jewish consciousness. This in turn, was based upon a profound emotional attachment to the State of Israel, which, for them, represented the "normal" and proud Jewish people. The rebellion expressed itself in a widespread search for the sources of genuine Jewish culture, in attempts to study the Hebrew language, and to acquire knowledge of Jewish history. The mass gatherings of Jewish youth around the synagogues, especially on Simḥat Torah in Moscow and Leningrad, became, in the late Soviet period, a demonstration of their identification with the Jewish people and with Israel and of their protest against the forced assimilation which singled out the Soviet Jew alone among more than 100 Soviet nationalites, to be deprived of his dignity as the son of a historical nation.

[Binyamin Eliav]

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and even before under Gorbachev's liberalization policies, a great exodus of Soviet Jews commenced, paralleled in the former Soviet Union itself by a revival of communal Jewish life. Thus, in the 1990s, around a million immigrants arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union. Large numbers also arrived in the United States, Germany (90,000), and Canada. In 2004, just 395,000 "core" Jews (identifying themselves as Jews in official questionnaires) remained in the former Soviet Union, of whom 243,000 lived in the Russian Federation and 89,000 in Ukraine.

In Israel a process of Israelification has definitely set in, most markedly, as was to be expected, among the young and those born to immigrant parents. Ironically, then, the same processes that have historically worked toward assimilation in other host countries, drawing the second generation of Jews away from its ethnic roots, serve to fortify the sense of Jewishness when the assimilation occurs in a Jewish state. To the extent that Russian immigrants cling to something in their past, it is to Russian culture and the Russian language.

In the former Soviet Union, a full range of community services under the auspices of the Federation of Jewish Communities, including an extensive educational system, has also fortified Jewish identity. In Germany too, active Jewish community life has been revived by the newcomers.

[Fred Skolnik (2nd ed.)]

In the modern era, acculturation of Jews to the dominant society has occurred quite rapidly whenever educational and economic opportunities have been even partially opened. Any prolonged period of such openness has universally produced substantial numbers of almost completely assimilated Jews. The forces which have fostered Jewish identity throughout this period have been the power of the religious tradition, especially of Jewish education; the repeated reappearances of antisemitism, with its climax in the Nazi era; the assertion of a Jewish national identity, through Zionism and its realization in the establishment of Israel in the last generation; and a growing weariness among some younger people at remaining Jews, marginal even under the best of circumstances, to the majority society. The ultimate result of these forces is an increasing polarization, in which part of world Jewry is quietly disappearing into various forms of secular apostasy and another part is evermore consciously affirming its Jewish character in increasing association with Israel. Each of these elements is presently growing at the expense of a rather tepid middle group, which remains very Jewish, especially in times of crisis, but is slowly evaporating. This middle group is still the majority of world Jewry.

[Arthur Hertzberg]


E. Muehlmann, in: Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of Sociology, 2 (1951), 828–74 (Ger.); J. Frankel and S.J. Zipperstein (eds.), Assimilation and Community: the Jews in Nineteenth Century Europe (1991); E.V. Stonequist, The Marginal Man (1937); G. Rosen, Juden und Phoenizier (1929); Th. Lessing, Der juedische Selbsthass (1930); Y. Kaufman, Golah ve-Nekhar, 1 (1929), 171–207; 2 (1930), 5–102; M. Davis, in: jjso, 10 no. 2 (1968), 177–220. in u.s.a.: M.H. Stern, Americans of Jewish Descent (1960); Ch. Reznikoff and U.Z. Engelman, The Jews of Charleston (1950); I. Graeber and S.H. Britt (eds.), Jews in a Gentile World (1942); M. Sklare (ed.), The Jews: Social Patterns of an American Group (1958); C.B. Sherman, The Jew within American Society (1960); N. Glazer and D.P. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot (1963); S. Esh (ed.), Am Yisrael be-Dorenu (1964); E. Rosenthal, in: ajyb, 64 (1963), 3–53; O. Janowsky (ed.), The American Jew: a Reappraisal (1964); M. Sklare, Jewish Identity on the Suburban Frontier (1967). in u.s.s.r.: S.W. Baron, Russian Jew under Tsars and Soviets (1964); Benami (A. Eliav), Between Hammer and Sickle (1967); E. Wiesel, Jews of Silence (1966). add. bibliography: M. Tolts, "The Post-Soviet Jewish Population in Russia and the World," in: Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe, no. 1 (2004), 37–63. See also the ongoing annual accounts of all the Jewish communities in the world in the American Jewish Year Book.


views updated May 11 2018






Assimilation is the process by which individuals or groups adopt (either voluntarily or forcedly) the language and cultural norms and values of another group. In most cases, it is the minority group that is expected to conform to the normative practices and ideals associated with the majority group. Additionally the issue of assimilation is often an issue of racial supremacy. That is, who is allowed to assimilate into the dominant culture largely depends on the whether that group will fit into the political, social, and economic desires of the dominant group, a group that historically has been (and continues to be) comprised of European white ethnic groups. In the United States, for example, Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans have lived in the United States much longer than most European American groups, but instead of being viewed as the normative culture (or part of the normative culture), these groups are viewed as others outside the American culture.


There are three main factors that explain why some racial and ethnic groups tend to assimilate more quickly than others. The first explanation, which is especially relevant for understanding assimilation in the United States but also instrumental for understanding assimilation in countries that have faced European colonialism, can be summed up as having to do with racial discrimination and in particular white supremacy. For instance, although many European ethnic groups that immigrated to the United States in the 1800s faced racial and ethnic discrimination and prejudice, eventually they were able to integrate into American society as whites. Groups that were unable to pass as whites because of skin color, phenotype, or even accent remained largely excluded from full assimilation into American society.

Much research has been conducted on the relationship between minority group size and racial prejudice and discrimination. Some scholars have suggested that a perceived racialized threat to the dominant group from a minority group, even if the threat is unfounded, leads to increased prejudice against the minority group (Quillian 1995; Burr, Galle, and Fossett 1991; Fossett and Kiecolt 1989; Blumer 1958; Blalock 1967).

The second factor involves socioeconomic status or class. Groups that have economic resources tend to assimilate into society more quickly than groups that have few or limited resources. Groups with large financial resources are able to have greater access to education, jobs, and even politics. In the United States, for example, Cubans have achieved a greater level of assimilation compared to Mexicans (Saenz 2004). Although skin color is a factor explaining the relatively higher success of assimilation for Cubans (they tend to have lighter skin tones compared to Mexicans), the fact that Cuban Americans tend to be better off economically allows them greater mobility and access to good jobs and better education.

Finally, a third factor has to do with the historical context of a society. A number of scholars have argued that prejudice against immigrant groups is higher during economic downturns than in times when the economy is prosperous (Becker 1971). During economic difficulties, there is a tendency for the majority group to blame minority groups for a perceived loss of jobs, economic insecurities, and threat of job competition, and the level of hostility toward racial and ethnic minorities tends to rise. In other words, there is an inverse relationship between a societys economic prosperity and discrimination against minority groups.

Although all three factors provide plausible explanations for understanding why some groups are more likely than others to assimilate, more contemporary analysis of assimilation reveals that a complex intersectionality exists between race, class, and the economy. However, many scholars have argued pointedly that race and colorism continue to be the most salient reasons why many minority groups are still referred to as hyphenated Americans (e.g., African Americans or Mexican Americans) rather than simply Americans (Bonilla-Silva 2001).


Robert Erza Park (1864-1944), one of the first American sociologists and scholars to focus on ethnic relations, is considered a founding father of early assimilation theories, although his take on assimilation can be traced to the works of earlier social scientists, such as Herbert Spencer, Hermann Schneider, William Sumner, Franz Boas, and Ruth Benedict, among others. Indeed it was Herbert Spencers analysis and explanation of how larger societies capture and integrate other peripheral cultures and societies into their own, often forcing them to adapt to the larger and more powerful societys normative climate and values, that enticed Park into thinking more about the role race and ethnicity played in the larger equation. Other influential scholars who helped to shape Parks sociological imagination were John Dewey, George Simmel, and Booker T. Washington.

Before Park, racial implications of assimilation were minimally discussed at best, but there were models centered on cultural or national levels of assimilation. For example, Hermann Schneider in his two-volume book World Civilizations (1931) developed (albeit on a very macro-level) one of the earliest models of assimilation, though he never used that term. According to Schneider, as civilizations advance technologically, they grow larger and begin to incorporate other cultures in a three-stage process. At stage one it is through migration, invasion, or conquest that civilizations progress. At stage two, a period of miscegenation and amalgamation takes place in which the two cultures physically mix with one another. Finally, stage three begets a period of internal conflict in which class dynamics are restratified and there is a re-creation of new cultural symbols in the form of art, music, literature. Schneider never envisioned this process as a linear one but rather as a cycle that repeated itself every time a civilization progressed.

Parks assimilation theory, widely referred to as the race relations cycle, was one of the first to incorporate the term assimilation into a model. Park suggested that immigrants are incorporated into a given society in four stages: contact, conflict, acculturation, and assimilation. His theory was that all immigrants face hostility and struggles initially, but gradually they are able to shed their ethnic identities and conform to the normative climate of the dominant group in society. Eventually, then, the group melts right in with the dominant group (i.e., A + B = A). At the time that Park was conceptualizing his cycle of race relations theory, a massive number of immigrants from European countries (e.g., Irish, Italians, Jews) were slowly being incorporated into the social, economic, and political spheres of the United States. However, it remained unclear whether African Americans and other non-European groups would be able to do the same. Park assumed that, given time, non-European groups would be able to assimilate into the dominant culture in the same manner that European groups were already doing.

Parks theory was widely accepted (Duncan and Duncan 1955; Burgess 1928), but not everyone agreed with the simplicity of his model. For instance, Emory Bogardus developed his own model in which he proposed seven steps toward assimilation, including the native populations curiosity about immigrants, followed by an economic welcoming, then competition, legislative antagonism, fair play, quiescence, and finally partial second- and third-generation assimilation (Bogardus 1930). The last stage of Bogarduss model is worthy of attention because he never claimed that immigrants would be able to assimilate fully into the receiving society but rather that second and succeeding generations would be accepted partially yet still sometimes scrutinized depending on their country of origin (i.e., A + B = A + b). Here the little b represents the partial acceptance of certain second-and third-generation immigrants and their cultures. This is different from the concept of cultural pluralism, or the salad bowl theory, which suggests that both cultures remain intact and get along with each other. Bogarduss model has some of the same problems as Parks in that he made too many assumptions, particularly in regard to the initial acceptance of immigrants as mostly favorable. Bogardus is better known for his social distance scale (the Bogardus scale) used to measure the preferred distance between two groups of people. Although Bogarduss model of assimilation has remained relatively unknown, especially in comparison to the works of other assimilation scholars of his time, his social distance scale has been widely adopted as a measurement tool for racial and ethnic attitudes and levels of intimacy between groups, and both of these factors have been used as indicators of assimilation.

Milton Gordon dramatically overhauled and expanded Parks theory in the 1960s with a more complex model of two main stages along a mostly linear path to assimilation: acculturation and social assimilation. Stage one, acculturation, deals with the initial contact and the conflicts experienced by immigrants coming into another society. Stage two, social assimilation, is the interaction and slow process of developing friends, social networks, and intermarriage within the dominant culture, eventually leading to total assimilation, which is broken down into seven substages: cultural (acculturation), structural (participating in education, church, etc.), marital (amalgamation), identificational (self-identifying and shedding of ethnic background), attitudinal changes (prejudice), behavioral changes (discrimination), and finally civic assimilation.

As minority groups went through these stages, Gordon theorized three possible assimilation outcomes: Anglo conformity, cultural pluralism, and the melting pot. Anglo conformity, which Gordon dealt with in Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins (1964), refers to the idea that the assimilation of the minority group into the majority group (i.e., Anglos) results in a loss of the norms, values, language, and culture of the minority group (i.e., A + B = A). Outcome two, cultural pluralism (also referred to as the salad bowl theory or multiculturalism), refers to the idea that minority groups are able to assimilate into the dominant groups social structures (e.g., schools) while continuing to maintain their own cultures, traditions, and languages (i.e., A + B = A + B). Finally, Gordons notion of the melting pot theory refers to idea that the culture of a society changes as elements of minority groups are taken and incorporated into the values, norms, and institutions of the dominant group (i.e., A + B = C).


Assimilation theorists took a beating in the 1960s and 1970s from scholars who argued that many racial and ethnic groups remained unassimilated in the United States, even though in some cases they had been in the country for three generations (Glazer and Moynihan 1963; Novak 1972). However, starting in the middle to late 1980s and continuing in the early twenty-first century, research on assimilation has been picked up and expanded upon by a whole new group of scholars. Changing the notion of what it means to be assimilated into the dominant culture, scholars such as Lisa Neidert and Reynolds Farley (1985) argued that although they have not achieved assimilation as defined by Park in his race relations cycle model, newer immigrant groups in the United States have achieved some level of socioeconomic success. Edward Murguia (1975) has suggested that anti-Anglo-conformity practices, such as those initiated by the Chicano movement in the 1960s, could also have drastic consequences for Mexicans and other immigrants who were seen as troublemakers and discriminated against because of their culture and heritage. A groundbreaking article by Richard Alba and Victor Nee (1997) offered a staunch counterargument to scholars critical of the assimilation concept. Their basic argument was that it is unnecessary to abandon the concept of assimilation in favor of new terminology, especially considering that the assimilation model is still useful in studying contemporary immigration in the United States.

One the best known assimilation theories, introduced in the early 1990s by Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou (1993), was segmented assimilation. Segmented assimilation refers to the idea that there are multiple routes to assimilation and that these routes are not necessarily positive in their outcomes. Depending on their national origins, wealth, skin colors, phenotypes, accents, social networks, and opportunities, some groups may be able to assimilate more quickly or easily than other groups. Historically western European and other lighter-skinned immigrants have been more successful in assimilating into mainstream American society compared to their darker-skinned counterparts. Mary Waterss Black Identities (1999) rocked assimilation theorists still using methods derived from Park and Gordon by suggesting that there are some immigrants (e.g., English-speaking Caribbeans) who are doing better than native-born Americans. Other authors, such as Portes and Ruben Rumbaut (1996), suggested that some second- and third-generation immigrants, because they are losing their cultural identities, fare less well compared to their parents and grandparents, who are viewed, for example, as hard workers.

Although Parks assimilation model has proven unsuccessful at predicting assimilation of groups such as African Americans or Mexican Americans, it remains debatable whether assimilation theories have outlived their usefulness in the social sciences. Nonetheless, for many immigration experts, such as Richard Alba and Reynolds Farley, assimilation models are still a good predictor of future outcomes, because many social scientists predict that the United States will one day have a majority minority, which will change the pattern of who gets assimilated into the system and who does not.

SEE ALSO African Americans; Benedict, Ruth; Boas, Franz; Business Cycles, Theories; Class; Colorism; Discrimination, Racial; Immigrants to North America; Immigrants, European; Immigrants, Latin American; Immigration; Mexican Americans; Minorities; Native Americans; Park School, The; Park, Robert E.; Race Relations; Race Relations Cycle; Spencer, Herbert; White Supremacy


Alba, Richard, and Victor Nee. 1997. Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration. International Migration Review 31 (4): 826-874.

Becker, Gary S. 1971. The Economics of Discrimination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Blalock, Hubert. 1967. Toward a Theory of Minority-Group Relations. New York: Capricorn.

Blumer, Herbert. 1958. Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position. Pacific Sociological Review 1: 3-7.

Bogardus, Emory S. 1930. A Race-Relations Cycle. American Journal of Sociology 35 (4): 612-617.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2001. White Supremacy and Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Burgess, Ernest W. 1928. Residential Segregation in American Cities. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 140: 105-115.

Burr, Jeffrey A., Omer R. Galle, and Mark A. Fossett. 1991. Racial Occupational Inequality in Southern Metropolitan Areas, 1940-1980: Revisiting the Visibility-Discrimination Hypothesis. Social Forces 69 (3): 831-850.

Duncan, Otis D., and Beverly Duncan. 1955. Residential Distribution and Occupational Stratification. American Journal of Sociology 60: 493-503.

Fossett, Mark A., and K. J. Kiecolt. 1989. The Relative Size of Minority Populations and White Racial Attitudes. Social Science Quarterly 70: 820-835.

Glazer, Nathan, and Daniel P. Moynihan. 1963. Beyond the Melting Pot. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gordon, Milton M. 1964. Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins. New York: Oxford University Press.

Murguia, Edward. 1975. Assimilation, Colonialism, and the Mexican American People. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Neidert, Lisa J., and Reynolds Farley. 1985. Assimilation in the United States: An Analysis of Ethnic and Generation Differences in Status and Achievement. American Sociological Review 50 (6): 840-850.

Novak, Michael. 1972. The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics. New York: Macmillan.

Park, Robert E. 1923. A Race Relations Survey. Journal of Applied Sociology 8: 195-205.

Park, Robert E. 1924. Experience and Race Relations. Journal of Applied Sociology 9: 18-24.

Park, Robert E. 1950. Race and Culture. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Portes, Alejandro, and Ruben Rumbaut. 1996. Immigrant America: A Portrait. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Portes, Alejandro, and Min Zhou. 1993. The New Second Generation: Segmented Assimilation and Its Variants. Annuals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 530: 74-96.

Quillian, Lincoln. 1995. Prejudice as a Response to Perceived Group Threat: Population Composition and Anti-Immigrant and Racial Prejudice in Europe. American Sociological Review 60: 586-611.

Saenz, Rogelio. 2004. Latinos and the Changing Face of America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation and Population Reference Bureau.

Schneider, Hermann. 1931. The History of World Civilization from Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages. London: Routledge.

Waters, Mary. 1999. Black Identities: West Indian Immigrant Dreams and American Reality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

David G. Embrick


views updated May 29 2018


Variables affecting assimilation

Studies of intermarriage

Assimilation of American Negroes


Assimilation is a process in which persons of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds come to interact, free of these constraints, in the life of the larger community. Wherever representatives of different racial and cultural groups live together, some individuals of subordinate status (whether or not they constitute a numerical minority) become assimilated. Complete assimilation would mean that no separate social structures based on racial or ethnic concepts remained.

Assimilation may be distinguished from accommodation, a process of compromise characterized by toleration, and from acculturation, or cultural change that is initiated by the conjunction of two or more cultural systems or the transference of individuals from their original societies and cultural settings to new sociocultural environments. Assimilation is to be distinguished also from amalgamation, or biological fusion.

Complete segregation and total assimilation of a group are opposite ends of a continuum along which may be located: varying degrees of limited desegregation; the substantial pluralism found in many communities in the United States, Canada, and Switzerland; a hypothetical integration which values structural and cultural differences, while insisting upon equal life opportunities for the members of all groups; partial assimilation (e.g., small-town Jews, who tend to be bicultural rather than marginal; see Williams 1964, pp. 303–304); individual assimilation; and group assimilation.

History of the concept . The history of the “melting pot” theory can be traced from J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur’s 1782 volume, Letters From an American Farmer, through Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis of 1893 concerning the fusion of immigrants in the crucible of the Western frontier into a composite American people, and Israel Zangwill’s The Melting Pot of 1909, to Ruby Jo Reeves Kennedy’s “Single or Triple Melting-pot” studies of 1944 and 1952 (see Gordon 1964, chapter 5).

As a concept in American sociology, assimilation has had various meanings. Henry Pratt Fairchild (1913, p. 396 in 1925 edition) equated assimilation with Americanization. For some scholars assimilation and acculturation are synonymous (Berry 1951, p. 217; Bierstedt [1957] 1963, p. 176). More often assimilation has included acculturation. According to a widely quoted point of view: “Assimilation is a process of interpenetration and fusion in which persons or groups acquire the memories, sentiments, and attitudes of other persons or groups, and, by sharing their experience and history, are incorporated with them in a common cultural life” (Park & Burgess 1921, p. 735). Park’s (1926) “race relations cycle” (contacts, competition, accommodation, and eventual assimilation) has been criticized for its assumptions of the inevitability and irreversibility of the process. Vander Zanden (1963, p. 269) distinguishes unilateral assimilation, the process in which one group relinquishes its own beliefs and behavior patterns and takes over the culture of another, from reciprocal fusion, in which a third culture emerges from the blending of two or more cultures, and, also, from various intermediary levels of assimilation.

Gordon (1964, p. 71) sees the assimilation process and its subprocesses as a matter of degree, but complete assimilation would cover seven variables: change of cultural patterns to those of the host society; large-scale entrance into cliques, clubs, and institutions of the host society on the primarygroup level; large-scale intermarriage; development of a sense of peoplehood based exclusively on the host society; absence of prejudice; absence of discrimination; and absence of value and power conflict. This conceptual scheme provides the most satisfactory criteria yet proposed for measuring assimilation and for determining to what extent it is taking place.

Variables affecting assimilation

The process of assimilation is affected by the interaction of several classes of variables: demographic, ecological, racial, structural, psychological, and cultural. There is at present no systematic comparative analysis of the variables that are most significant in different types of situations.

The importance of group size can be seen in the case of Hawaii, where there is a stronger tendency for members of the smaller ethnic and racial groups to marry outside their own groups than for those of larger groups; also, women from groups with a more balanced sex ratio outmarry to a greater extent than women from groups with a less balanced sex ratio (Cheng & Yamamura 1957, p. 81). Ecological factors have been important in the United States, where “cultural islands” created by immigrant groups often provide security but also isolate newcomers from the mainstream of American life and arouse distaste in the eyes of Old Americans. Likewise, demographic and ecological factors apparently affect the likelihood of Negro assimilation in Great Britain; Collins (1955, p. 90) attributes the more amicable interaction between Negroes and whites in London’s northeast dockland, in contrast to the west and northwest dockland, in part to the size and pattern of Negro settlement in the former area.

Relative importance of racial factors

Park (1930, p. 281) held that assimilation might, in some senses and to a certain degree, be described as a function of visibility, and he attributed the Negro’s lack of assimilation in the United States, during three hundred years, to physical rather than cultural traits. This oversimplified explanation has been replaced by one that stresses the interaction of racial, ecological, historical, structural, and other variables. For example, physical characteristics were an important factor, but by no means the only variable involved, in the decision made by more than 670,000 persons (Stuckert 1958) to “pass” from the Negro group to the white group in the period 1861 to 1960. Other variables of importance in “passing” are age and socioeconomic status; people who are well established in the Negro community and older people seldom pass socially and completely. However, color continues to be an important factor; for example, a study of Chicago’s Negro community shows that color affects choice of marriage partners, recruitment into the professions, social relations, and other aspects of life (Wilson 1960, p. 171). Recent studies have shown that color and social class are not the only variables affecting the differential assimilation of Negroes. In a study of New Orleans Negroes, primary role identifications occasioned by conditioning in one of four “social worlds” (the middle class, the matriarchy, the male gang, the isolated family, and a residual group of the culturally marginal) were found to play a larger part in the selfconceptions and the experiences of individuals than any identification with the Negro race in general (Rohrer & Edmonson 1960, pp. 51–55, 71–74, 80–83).

For overseas students in London, finding a room depends largely on color: approximately 70 per cent of the landladies were unwilling to accept colored students and, in the case of very dark Africans or West Indians, the figure was 85 per cent (Senior 1957, p. 306). By virtue of sharing halls of residence and dining rooms, as well as having more opportunities for participation in university societies, the social life of colored students is fuller in Oxford and Cambridge than in London (Coloured Immigrants … 1960, pp. 79–80).

Assimilation in Latin America

When slavery was abolished in Brazil toward the end of the nineteenth century, the population increased and changed in composition with the influx of more than a million Italians, thousands of Polish and German settlers, and many Portuguese, Spanish, and Syrian immigrants. These nationalities continued to migrate to Brazil in the twentieth century, together with some 200,000 Japanese, who have multiplied to about 500,000 persons. Most of those entering the middle sectors of the economy have been of European origin; but mestizos, mulattoes, and Negroes in substantial numbers also have found opportunities to improve their status. Persons of dark color are not barred from assimilation into the national society, but the preto’s attempts to advance are made more difficult because he lacks one determinant of status—light color. Some of the residents of German, Italian, and Japanese colonies have not been assimilated into Luso-Brazilian life, in part because of language differences and their physical separation from other Brazilians (see Smith [1946] 1963, p. 62; James [1942] 1959, p. 522; Johnson 1958, p. 4). The interaction of cultural and ecological factors in the process of assimilation can also be seen in the conditions for accepting “recognized Indians” into the national societies of Latin America: learning to speak the national language (Spanish or Portuguese) fluently; adopting Europeantype clothing; and moving from a recognized Indian community to a city or town that is regarded as national in its culture (Gillin 1960, pp. 19–20).

Ideology and culture

Psychological variables play an important role in the process of assimilation. For example, Banton emphasizes that much of British conduct toward colored people and Jews is a form of avoidance of strangers that is found in nearly all societies, adding that if groups are to be respected they must to some extent be exclusive (Banton 1959, pp. 112–113, 181–182). On the part of newcomers, aspirations and responses to settlement in Britain vary considerably. Asians constitute an accommodating group trying to live alongside the local community, while west Africans and West Indians seek acceptance within the community (Banton 1959, pp. 182–183).

Attention should be called to attitudinal factors that have retarded assimilation in specific historical situations, particularly the belief that the members of one or another racial or ethnic group are unassimilable. Practices and policies of segregation, mass expulsion, and even genocide have been rationalized on the ground that some groups are unassimilable because of their innate inferiority. For example, the Nazi “racial” policies were based on the doctrine of the unassimilability of the Jews. South Africa’s policy of apartheid derives from the belief that differences between Europeans and Africans require social, political, and economic separation to permit each group to attain its fullest development. In the United States, a recrudescence of the belief in the innate inferiority of the Negro and, consequently, the necessity of opposing steps toward integration characterized the “race and reason” movement in the early 1960s (Comas 1961). The French colonial policy of “assimilationism” during the first half of the twentieth century was supported, like the continuing colonial policy of the Portuguese (Herskovits 1962, pp. 288–289), by the belief that for a long time only a select few among a non-Western people are capable of being absorbed into the metropolitan system.

In contrast to the policy of forced separation of racial and cultural minorities, antipathy toward minority groups has also taken the form of forced assimilation. In 1917 the communists promised freedom for the customs and institutions of Russia’s numerous cultural and national minorities; Stalin was instrumental in formulating the policy of separating statehood from nationality, and cultural autonomy was permitted within the framework of Soviet economics and politics. However, since 1940 the reinstitution of some aspects of the tsarist policy of Russification has dispersed some minorities. Jews have been labeled “cosmopolitans,” and since 1957 a campaign against the remaining aspects of Jewish communal life has been carried on. The goal of this program appears to be the “total assimilation” of Jews (Goldhagen 1960, pp. 42–43).

Opposition to assimilation also may be shown by members of a minority group. In the United States the Old Order Amish and numerous other religio-ethnic groupings have sought to preserve their separateness and distinctiveness (Williams 1964, pp. 302–303). Among Negro Americans a small but militant group known as the Black Muslims is virtually alone in not seeking complete assimilation. Black nationalists perceive white society as united in rejecting Negroes as full citizens. Thus, feelings of alienation and powerlessness cause these persons to reject American society and culture, and the leaders of the movement strive to develop an awareness of group identity among the urban masses of Negroes (Essien-Udom 1962, pp. 54–59, 325–329; Lincoln 1961, chapter 2). Among the group’s objectives are the establishment of a Negro homeland and a postapocalyptic Black Nation, goals that are only vaguely defined. Another new nationalist movement in North America calls for a revision of the relationship between French and English Canadians: Some French Canadians envision the “separation of the State, not Province, of Quebec from Canada; if not separation, then a new constitution giving Quebec a special status” (Hughes 1963, p. 884). The history of these and many other minorities in the New World is discussed by Wagley and Harris (1958, pp. 285–289), who analyze the different strategies for working toward the opposite goals of assimilation and pluralism.

Assimilation of immigrants in Israel

The interaction of structural, cultural, and psychological variables is clearly seen in the assimilation of immigrants to Israel (Eisenstadt 1954). The basic motivation of settlers during the mandatory period (1920–1948) was rooted in the decline of traditional Jewish society amidst the modern, universalistic societies. Their aims were mainly solidary and cultural rather than adaptive and instrumental. Unlike many who came during the mass migration to Israel after 1948, the earlier immigrants, in general, showed a relatively strong predisposition to change and a lack of adherence to the social patterns of their countries of origin.

The new immigrants came from four main types of communities. The traditional sector (Yemenite Jews and some north African Jews) was characterized by a relatively high degree of social autonomy and orientation toward particularist Jewish values and traditions and a cultural view of the out-group that was mainly negative. In contrast, the insecure transitional sector, made up of large parts of urban north African Jewish communities and most of the central and eastern European communities, showed a very low degree of social autonomy and relatively strong aspirations toward entrance into the Gentile society. The secure transitional sector, composed of Jewish communities settled within and approved by Gentile society (Serbian and Bulgarian Jewries in Eisenstadt’s sample), was marked by a small degree of social autonomy, strong primary identification with the general community, and acceptance of their Jewishness by the Gentile community as a subsystem within the general social structure. They had immigrated as a result of general upheavals; there was no question of deportation. In the sector consisting of exinmates of DP camps, their experience in those places overshadowed other social traditions. Among these new immigrants a positive predisposition to change was found mostly in the traditional sector and the secure transitional sector, while a negative predisposition occurred mostly in the other two sectors.

Among the structural factors that had a strong bearing on the incorporation of newcomers into Israeli life were the various bureaucratic agencies that defined the immigrant’s initial situation and, later, the army and the educational system, which took the lead in transmitting universal roles and the common orientation of the absorbing society. Finally, the values and roles of the immigrants were transformed through mobility of groups and individuals in the larger society and through leadership selection and development [seeRefugees].

Chinese and Japanese Americans

Ecological, racial, cultural, and structural variables have affected the assimilation of the Chinese in the United States. In earlier years, racial-cultural barriers threw Chinese-American young people back upon their own group. However, wars and depressions gradually weakened the economic and social structures of Chinatowns and helped to bring about a redistribution of their populations. As the process of acculturation has continued, upward mobility has increased. Moreover, as persons of Chinese ancestry become more acculturated, intermarriage will increase; evidence of the increased tolerance of white-Mongoloid marriages is seen in the growing number of marriages between American servicemen and Japanese or Korean wives (Lee 1960, p. 251).

Although the economic integration of Japanese Americans has steadily increased, assimilation in other respects has been slower, except for those whose education and broad interests have made possible contacts in the larger community. The interaction of psychological, cultural, and structural factors in the assimilative process is shown in a study of Japanese Americans in Chicago. The compatibility of the Japanese and the American middle classes, in terms of their value systems and personality structures (Caudill 1952, p. 29), will facilitate the acculturation, as well as the eventual assimilation, of Japanese Americans.

Studies of intermarriage

Interrelationships among ecological, demographic, racial, and cultural variables are revealed in studies of marriages among American Catholics. Considerably higher percentages of intermarriage occur in middle, upper, and suburban rental areas than in lower or in mixed lower and middle areas. With the exception of groups characterized by marked color differences, the rate of assimilation tends to be correlated inversely with the group’s size.

Surveys taken in the 1930s revealed that approximately 6 per cent of Jewish families in the United States were intermarried; in 1957 the federal government’s survey of religious composition showed that 7.2 per cent of all Jewish families had a non-Jewish partner. Marriage licenses in Iowa in 1953 showed that 31 per cent of the Jewish marriages were mixed. A 1960 survey of the Jewish population in Washington, D.C., indicated an intermarriage rate of 12.2 per cent, and the intermarriage rate in 1959 in San Francisco was 17.2 per cent. According to Rosenthal (1960, p. 288), if the national intermarriage rate of 7.2 per cent found in 1957 is accepted and if it is assumed that the Iowa and San Francisco rates are simply regional variations, Jews may be justified in concluding that the current “survival” formula (a modicum of Jewish education; voluntary segregation; and residence in a high-status area) is adequate for group preservation. Kennedy (1963) calls the high degree of endogamy in the Jewish group “selective assimilation” and emphasizes that the important point on the intermarriage of Jews is not the fact that it is increasing, but the very slight extent to which it has increased.

It should be pointed out, however, that available data on the intermarriages of Jews and non-Jews in the United States are minimal figures, because they do not include the cases where the spouse was converted to the religion of the other prior to marriage. Furthermore, certain developments in contemporary life contribute to the further individual assimilation of Jews. Of the Jewish population between the ages of 18 and 25 years, 62 per cent are attending colleges or graduate schools, as compared with 22 per cent in their parents’ generation (Fishman 1963, p. 147). Moreover, twothirds of American Jews live in suburban counties of metropolitan areas, and this dispersion of Jewish urban concentration may have marked effects on attempts at Jewish retentionism. For example, Cahnman (1963, pp. 179–180) reports that the intermarriage rate of Jews tends to be higher in high-status neighborhoods and among college graduates.

Popular belief holds that Negroes in the United States desire to marry white persons, but in a Chicago study (Bogue & Dizard 1964, p. 7) almost no respondents, including middle-class Negroes living in mixed neighborhoods, said they would encourage their child to marry a white person. Despite this lack of desire for intermarriage, at least on a conscious level, increasing desegregation and integration will inevitably raise the rate of Negro-white marriage.

In southeast Asia structural separation and cultural differences prevent intermarriage from promoting further group assimilation. The indigenous women who marry Chinese in Indonesia contribute Chinese children to a Chinese subsociety, but they do not form a bridge from one subsociety to another. Likewise, although intermediate social and cultural types have been produced by intermarriage in Thailand and Indochina, a Chinese subsociety has continued in these countries (Freedman 1955, p. 411).

Assimilation of American Negroes

Although the incorporation of minority peoples into American life over time presents a mixed picture, the general trend has been toward greater integration and assimilation of these groups. Some indications of this change with respect to Negroes are cited here (for more complete information see Simpson & Yinger 1965). Slight gains in employment opportunities have been made during the postwar period, but these have been offset to some extent by higher rates of unemployment among Negroes as compared with whites. The average Negro family’s income, as a percentage of the average white family’s income, has fluctuated during the 1950s and 1960s, but Negroes now receive approximately 5 per cent of the gross national income, as compared with less than 1 per cent in 1935. The proportion of Negro pupils in the 17 southern and border states and the District of Columbia attending biracial schools rose from 6 per cent in May 1960 to 10.8 per cent in the fall of 1964. Although only 2 per cent of all the Negro public school children in the 11 southern states were attending school with whites in 1964, the number of these pupils almost doubled in the fall of that year. At that time slightly over half of the 513 colleges and universities in the 11 southern states accepted both white and Negro students. By the early 1960s discriminatory policies on the admission of Negroes to medical schools had declined greatly, and a marked improvement had occurred in the availability of internships and residencies, mostly in white hospitals.

Negro voting registration in the South increased from an estimated 70,000 in the 1920s to more than 1.5 million in 1964. Between 1943 and 1958 virtually complete integration was achieved in the armed forces of the United States. One-third of the Negro Roman Catholics in the United States attend racially mixed churches. However, integration in Protestant churches is increasing slowly; presently from 10 to 15 per cent of the “white” Protestant churches in the North and West are interracial to some degree, but not more than 2 per cent of Negro Protestants attend interracial churches. Widespread segregation in housing remains a key factor in the total Negro-white situation, especially as it relates to the problem of school segregation; in some areas housing segregation has increased as an unanticipated consequence of publicly assisted urban-renewal programs. In the period 1945-1965 resistance to Negro-white intermarriage remained at a very high level, while resistance to all other types of intermarriage (interfaith, international, and interracial) declined.

In addition to legislation, litigation, and intergroup education aimed at increasing integration, a significant development in the 1960s is the “Negro revolt” (Simpson & Yinger 1965, pp. 533-535), which has actually included persons of diverse racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds. The emergence of organized protest groups and skilled leaders who are capable of articulate and determined opposition to patterns of segregation is important among the factors facilitating assimilation.

Future prospects. Among the practical consequences of a greater degree of integration in American economic life is the likelihood that business and professional people in racial and ethnic groups who have benefited economically from segregation will be forced to take a more active part in the attack on discrimination. An example is the picketing of the American Medical Association by young Negro physicians because of the inclusion of an increasing number of Negro patients in insurance schemes that give them access to clinics or hospitals that are not open to Negro physicians (Hughes 1963, p. 886). Reduction of discrimination in places of public accommodation undermines the protected economic position of the older Negro middle class. Within another generation, or sooner, increases in intermarriage and individual assimilation rates will force organizations that depend upon ethnic group support to consider the problems of membership, funds, and program.

If the ultimate test of complete assimilation is large-scale intermarriage, that state will not be reached in the United States in the near future. Changes will occur in the relations between members of diverse racial and ethnic groups, but these changes will consist mainly in a closer approximation to equal educational and economic opportunities, increased political participation, and an acceleration of desegregation in schools and places of public accommodation. The rate of integration will vary from region to region and from one social institution to another and will be affected by the general trend of events domestically and internationally. As desegregation and integration increase, it is inevitable that assimilation will be furthered.

George Eaton Simpson

[See also Acculturation; Constitutional law, article oncivil rights; Ethnic groups; Minorities; Prejudice; Race; Race relations; Segregation; and the biographies of Frazier; Herskovits; Park; Turner.]


The Statistical Summary of school desegregation, issued annually by the Southern Education Reporting Service (SERS), Nashville, Tennessee, is the best source on educational desegregation in the United States. SERS publishes bimonthly the Southern Education Report, containing information on educational developments, with emphasis on programs for the education of the culturally disadvantaged in the 17 Southern and border states and the District of Columbia. The Southern Regional Council, Atlanta, Georgia, issues reports from time to time on various aspects of race relations in the South. The annual reports and other publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights are valuable. Phylon, The Journal of Negro Education, and Crisis publish useful articles on changing race relations.

The most comprehensive work on American Negroes is Simpson & Yinger 1965. Attention is given in this book to other minorities, but the major emphasis is on the Negro. Pettigrew 1964 and Broom & Glenn 1965 are good briefer books.

Banton, Michael (1959) 1960 White and Coloured: The Behaviour of British People Toward Coloured Immigrants. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press.

Berry, Brewton (1951) 1965 Race and Ethnic Relations. 3d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → First published as Race Relations: The Interaction of Ethnic and Racial Groups.

Bierstedt, Robert (1957) 1963 The Social Order. 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Bogue, Donald J.; and Dizard, Jan E. 1964 Race, Ethnic Prejudice, and Discrimination as Viewed by Subordinate and Superordinate Groups. Unpublished manuscript. Univ. of Chicago, Community and Family Study Center.

Broom, Leonard; and Glenn, Norval D. 1965 The Transformation of the Negro American. New York: Harper.

Cahnman, Werner J. 1963 Intermarriage Against the Background of American Democracy. Pages 173–195 in Werner J. Cahnman (editor), Intermarriage and Jewish Life: A Symposium. Conference on Intermarriage and Jewish Life, New York, 1960. New York: Herzl Press.

Caudill, William 1952 Japanese-American Personality and Acculturation. Genetic Psychology Monographs, Vol. 45, 1st half. Provincetown, Mass.: Journal Press.

Cheng, C. K.; and Yamamura, Douglas S. 1957 Interracial Marriage and Divorce in Hawaii. Social Forces 36: 77–84.

Clark, Kenneth B. 1965 Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power. New York: Harper & Row.

Collins, Sydney 1955 The British-born Coloured. Sociological Review New Series 3: 777ndash;92.

Coloured Immigrants in Britain. By J. A. G. Griffith et al. 1960 London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press. COMAS, JUAN 1961 “Scientific” Racism Again? Current Anthropology 2:303–340. → A review of recent instances of “scientific” racism, with critical comment. Crisis. → Published since 1910 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. (1954) 1955 The Absorption of Immigrants. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Essien-Udom, E. U. 1962 Black Nationalism: A Search for an Identity in America. Univ. of Chicago Press. → A sociological analysis of the Black Muslim movement. FAIRCHILD, HENRY P. (1913) 1933 Immigration: A World Movement and Its American Significance. Rev. ed. New York: Macmillan.

Fishman, Joshua A. 1963 Moving to the Suburbs: Its Possible Impact on the Role of the Jewish Minority in American Community Life. Phylon 24: 146–153.

Freedman, Maurice 1955 The Chinese in Southeast Asia. Pages 388–411 in Andrew W. Lind (editor), Race Relations in World Perspective. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.

Gillin, John P. 1960 Some Signposts for Policy. Pages 14–62 in Richard N. Adams et al., Social Change in Latin America Today: Its Implications for United States Policy. New York: Harper.

Goldhagen, Erich 1960 Communism and Anti-Semitism. Problems of Communism 9:35–43.

Gordon, Milton M. 1964 Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origin. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Herskovits, Melville J. 1962 The Human Factor in Changing Africa. New York: Knopf.

Hughes, Everett C. 1963 Race Relations and the Sociological Imagination. American Sociological Review 28: 879–890.

James, Preston E. (1942) 1959 Latin America. 3d ed. New York: Odyssey.

Johnson, John J. 1958 Political Change in Latin America: The Emergence of the Middle Sectors. Stanford (Calif.) Univ. Press.

Journal of Negro Education. → Published since 1932 by Howard University, Bureau of Educational Research.

Kennedy, Ruby J. R. 1963 What Has Social Science to Say About Intermarriage? Pages 19–37 in Werner J. Cahnman (editor), Intermarriage and Jewish Life: A Symposium. Conference on Intermarriage and Jewish Life, New York, 1960. New York: Herzl Press.

Lee, Rose Hum 1960 The Chinese in the United States of America. Hong Kong Univ. Press; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Lincoln, Charles Eric 1961 The Black Muslims in America. Boston: Beacon. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Beacon Press.

Park, Robert E. 1926 Our Racial Frontier on the Pacific. Survey 66: 192–196.

Park, Robert E. 1930 Assimilation, Social. Volume 2, pages 281–283 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.

Park, Robert E.; and Burgess, Ernest W. (1921) 1929 Introduction to the Science of Sociology. 2d ed. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1964 A Profile of the Negro American. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Phylon. → Published since 1940 by Atlanta University.

Rohrer, John H.; and Edmonson, Munro S. (editors) 1960 The Eighth Generation: Cultures and Personalities of New Orleans Negroes. New York: Harper.

Rosenthal, Erich 1960 Acculturation Without Assimilation: The Jewish Community of Chicago, Illinois. American Journal of Sociology 66: 275–288.

Rosenthal, Erich 1963 Studies of Jewish Intermarriage in the United States. Volume 64, pages 3–53 in American Jewish Year Book. New York: The American Jewish Committee.

Senior, Clarence 1957 Race Relations and Labor Supply in Great Britain. Social Problems 4: 302–312.

Simpson, George E.; and Yinger, J. Milton 1965 Racial and Cultural Minorities: An Analysis of Prejudice and Discrimination. 3d ed., rev. New York: Harper. Ω The first edition was published in 1953.

Smith, T. Lynn (1946) 1963 Brazil: People and Institutions. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press.

Statistical Summary. → Issued annually by the Southern Educational Reporting Service, Nashville, Tennessee. The best source on educational desegregation.

Stuckert, Robert P. 1958 The African Ancestry of the White American Population. Ohio Journal of Science 58: 155–160.

Vander Zanden, James W. 1963 American Minority Relations: The Sociology of Race and Ethnic Groups. New York: Ronald Press.

Wagley, Charles; and Harris, Marvin 1958 Minorities in the New World. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → A comparative analysis of six minority groups.

Williams, Robin M. Jr. 1964 Strangers Next Door: Ethnic Relations in American Communities. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Wilson, James Q. 1960 Negro Politics: The Search for Leadership. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Yinger, J. Milton; and Simpson, George E. 1956 The Integration of Americans of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Oriental Descent. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 304: 124–131.


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According to the hero of Israel Zangwill's (1864–1926) 1909 British play The Melting-Pot, "America is God's crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming" (p. 33). Exemplifying the influence of this melting-pot ideal, the liberal Reform minister John Dietrich literally preached it to his Pittsburgh congregation in 1910, celebrating "people of every race, of every color, of every religion to be melted and tried, and out of which shall come a race superior to any the world has thus far known" (p. 4). While assimilating immigrants in an American "melting pot" might suggest wondrous new combinations, it also could imply homogenizing all Americans. In 1915 the immigrant intellectual Horace M. Kallen (1882–1974) condemned the melting-pot concept as an attempt to make immigrants conform to "the qualities and ideals of the contemporary American of British ancestry" and offered "pluralism" (p. 193) as an alternative. Likewise, in his immigration history From Many Lands (1940), the Slovenian-American writer Louis Adamic (born Alojzij Adamic, 1899–1951) describes "melting pot," as "a poor phrase and concept" because it implies that "everybody is to be turned into something else with heat" (p. 301).

Despite its detractors, the melting-pot idea did help to counteract one major obstacle to immigration: the fear that different immigrant "races" were incompatible with America, even dangerous to its progress. Belief that newer immigrants could not assimilate fueled the anti-immigrant legislation that excluded most Chinese in 1882 as well as the laws that severely restricted eastern and southern Europeans from entering in the 1920s. As Matthew Frye Jacobson notes, passing these laws decreased the perceived immigration "risk" (p. 95). In addition, Jacobson points out that "cultural and environmental explanations" were "replacing biological understandings of race" overall (p. 99). There had initially been a widespread belief that intermarriage between the native born and the immigrant would cause degeneration of the "Anglo-Saxon race," but gradually the idea that such inter-marriage might rather improve and help to assimilate immigrants gained ground. With racial and cultural "whiteness" a measure of qualification for citizenship, some immigrants assumed what Jacobson terms a "probationary white" status, gradually gaining acceptance in society (p. 103). As racial fears diminished, reformers focused on cultural assimilation of immigrants, often referred to as Americanization.


Peaking in the 1920s, the Americanization movement aimed to assimilate immigrants through programs such as civics and English classes, employment training, and settlement-house activities. According to the historian Edward George Hartmann, unlike immigration restriction, Americanization "outlined a positive program of education and guidance" to produce "a patriotic, loyal, and intelligent supporter of the great body of principles and practices which the leaders of the movement chose to consider 'America's priceless heritage'" (p. 8). As Hartmann's synopsis indicates, the movement had somewhat vague and changeable goals, and the various organizations developed different methods and priorities. The literary critic Priscilla Wald has characterized Americanization programs as combining "benevolence with bigotry" (p. 196). In a 1920 collection that provides guidelines for Americanization, Winthrop Talbot criticizes Americanizers who would homogenize all citizens; instead, he upholds a vision of a "glorious garden" where "cross fertilization and intensive cultivation develop large variety and wonderful fruitage" (p. 59). Yet in this same volume, Grover Huebner takes a more aggressive stance on neutralizing immigrant culture, remaining particularly apprehensive about Catholic immigrants. Despite these disparities, Royal Dixon (1885–1962), vice president of the League of Foreign-Born Citizens, praised Americanization's potential:

For it is, indeed, every man's chance, if he will grasp it, to serve his country definitely and fruitfully, if he does no more than urge on the work of Americanization. If he takes an active hand, as he can readily do, he is assisting not merely this or the other foreigner to a higher level of understanding, but he is strengthening the nation as well. (P. 51)

Potential for such cross-fertilization existed in settlement houses, which promoted interaction between native-born residents and immigrants in classes, lectures, and social events at a neighborhood community center. In her autobiography The Promised Land (1912), the writer Mary Antin (1881–1949), who emigrated from the Jewish Pale region in Russia, describes a stimulating environment at Boston's Hale House settlement, where she joined a natural-history club that started her lifelong interest in science. However, as the historian Mina Carson notes, an element of "feudalism" infused the rhetoric and activities of settlement work. For instance, even Jane Addams (1860–1935), the founder of Chicago's Hull-House who aided immigrants while encouraging them to maintain some ethnic traditions, also articulates the settlement's paternalistic goals: "to develop whatever of social life its neighborhood may afford, to focus and give form to that life, to bring to bear upon it the results of cultivation and training" (p. 125) and "to preserve and keep whatever of value [immigrants'] past life contained and to bring them in contact with a better type of Americans" (pp. 231–232). While accepting immigrant cultural diversity, Addams asserts that "model" citizens must improve immigrants. To settlement workers and other Americanizers, immigrants presented unrefined, unformed clay to be molded.

The Polish immigrant writer Anzia Yezierska (c. 1885–1970) perceived the negative side of settlements and sharply criticizes them in her novel Salome of the Tenements (1923). As Gay Wilentz notes, in this novel, Yezierska "radically critiques the settlement education projects that aimed at Americanization through the melting pot theory" (p. ix). The immigrant protagonist, Sonya, quickly grows disillusioned with her husband's settlement house, where instructors teach immigrants to bake "milkless, butterless, eggless cake" (p. 134), instructing them to do without and effectively denying their right to a more comfortable lifestyle. For Sonya, it is evident that the settlement fails to acknowledge the full humanity of immigrants; even when it helps to meet their material needs, it neglects their dignity. She finds settlement employees manipulating attendance figures to please the founder. Sonya ultimately describes the settlement as "reason forced down the throats of the people! Hireling telling lies to hireling!" (p. 138). She witnesses the good intentions of the settlement gone awry through misguided programs and services. Yezierska suggests that statistics and formulas take precedence over people, and Americanization swerves from helping immigrants to become its own end.


Independently of any Americanization agency or program, many immigrants felt a strong desire to assimilate, and they explored many means to accomplish this goal. In Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture, the literary critic Werner Sollors describes American ethnicity as a combination of "descent"—inheritance—and "consent"—active selection of one's identity. Arriving with a variety of descent identities, many American immigrants pursued the possibilities of consent almost immediately, exploring opportunities to redefine themselves.

In his autobiography, A Far Journey (1914), the Syrian immigrant Abraham Rihbany discusses the pros and cons of insulated immigrant "colonies" (p. 245) made up of new arrivals from the same country. While he finds his New York Syrian colony invaluable in establishing him in America, he becomes anxious since he speaks no English and encounters no new customs. Rihbany remarks, "I often asked myself, in those days, where and how do the real Americans live?" (p. 246). He determines that leaving the colony, and even the city, is necessary in order to mingle with other, non-Syrian, Americans and broaden his knowledge.

Overturning the stereotype of inassimilable Chinese, Sui Sin Far (the pen name of Edith Maude Eaton, 1865–1914) portrays Chinese families in an integrated suburb abandoning the tradition of arranged marriages in the title story of collection Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912). In his 1923 autobiography From Immigrant to Inventor, the Serbian immigrant Michael Pupin (1858–1935), who became a successful engineering professor and inventor, relates his unique process of assimilation. He describes undergoing an "apprenticeship as greenhorn" (p. 126) while a new immigrant, with unavoidable misunderstandings and awkwardness. Through college at Columbia, he learns how to "play the game" (p. 115) of American life, balancing work, study, and entertainment while building a network of friends and mentors who aid his Americanization.

As an immediate step to assimilation, Mary Antin's father gives each family member a non-Russian name that is common in America. Antin herself praises the American public schools as instrumental in forming "good Americans" who will be "workers, thinkers, and leaders" (Promised Land, p. 175). Along with the settlement house and school, she embraced numerous opportunities through mentors, lectures, and libraries to gradually adjust herself to America. The writings of Antin, Rihbany, Sui Sin Far, and Pupin represent the experiences of immigrants who actively sought assimilation and found a variety of organizations and individuals to facilitate it.

Assimilation could create tension within immigrant families, especially when family members immigrated at different times. In Abraham Cahan's novella Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto (1896), the thoroughly Americanized Yekl feels alienated from his newly arrived wife:

All the way to the island he had been in a flurry of joyous anticipation. The prospect of meeting his dear wife and child, and, incidentally, of showing off his swell attire to her, had thrown him into a fever of impatience. But on entering the big shed he had caught a glimpse of Gitl and Yosseléthrough the railing separating the detained immigrants from their visitors, and his heart had sunk at the sight of his wife's uncouth and un-American appearance.

Abraham Cahan, Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto, in Yekl and the Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories of the New York Ghetto, pp. 33–34.

The Russian immigrant Abraham Cahan (1860–1951) examines contrasting strategies of assimilation in his novella Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto (1896). Yekl Americanizes his name to Jake and strives to assimilate by immersing himself in the American popular culture of baseball, boxing, and dance halls. After working hard to shed a "greenhorn" image, he cannot accept his traditional Jewish wife, Gitl, who follows him to America three years after his immigration. In contrast, Bernstein, a coworker who boards with Jake's family, approaches Americanization very differently, synthesizing Old World traditions with New World success. Like Antin, Bernstein focuses on education, painstakingly studying both the English language and Jewish holy books. Like Pupin, he achieves a balance of Old and New World priorities, retaining his religious practices, valuing family life, and pursuing business entrepreneurship. At the story's conclusion, Bernstein emerges triumphant to "a future bright with joy" (p. 89), marrying Gitl and opening a new grocery store. Meanwhile, Jake, who had been so determined to shed all vestiges of his European life, including his wife, faces an uncertain future. He will marry his more Americanized lover and open a dance school, but he feels like a "A Defeated Victor" whose future "loomed dark and impenetrable" (p. 89). Cahan affirms that immigrants make very conscious choices in directing their own assimilation, and he also suggests that immigrants who abandon all past associations experience discontent in America.


Whether they explored assimilation on their own or through a formal Americanizing program, immigrants found need for caution. As Wald notes, many immigrants experienced ambivalence over assimilation. For instance, while Mary Antin celebrates American opportunity in The Promised Land, she also confronts the anti-Semitism that prevents her father from obtaining work. In her pro-immigration treatise They Who Knock at Our Gates: A Complete Gospel of Immigration (1914), Antin remarks, "a man has to have a country before he can prove himself a good citizen" (p. 38). Racism and other troubling features of the American cultural landscape caused immigrants to question whether they could assimilate or to what degree they wanted to assimilate. In his autobiography The Soul of an Immigrant (1921), the Italian immigrant Constantine M. Panunzio remembers that the greatest incentive to assimilate came from a desire to be accepted by an employer's family and by his school rather than from the "cruel" methods and "spirit of compulsion" he finds in "our so-called Americanization program" (p. 194). Even Americanization agencies that discounted racial differences often posed difficulties, proving so constrictive that immigrants resented or rebelled against them. Many immigrants who wished to assimilate wanted to do so on their own terms.

Louis Adamic warns of the dangers of uncritical or rushed assimilation in Laughing in the Jungle: The Autobiography of an Immigrant in America (1932), explaining that he "'played it safe,' as a sensible adventurer should do in a jungle" (p. 327). In The Americanization of Edward Bok (1920), Edward W. Bok (1863–1930), who became editor of the Ladies Home Journal, observes many unappealing aspects of America, complaining of wastefulness, low productivity, and inadequate English education for foreigners in the public schools. Most disturbing for Bok was that native-born citizens did not seem to value their voting rights. He argues that by avoiding these less-attractive characteristics, an immigrant can in some ways become more American than those born in the United States. The German immigrant Edward A. Steiner (1866–1956) encountered dangerous influences soon after his arrival. In his autobiography From Alien to Citizen: The Story of My Life in America (1914), he reports being mugged and then thrown into jail on his first day in Chicago. Steiner also discovered that saloons provide the most immediate influence over many immigrants, not only encouraging vices such as alcoholism and prostitution but also operating exploitative employment agencies. Many unscrupulous Americans, some of them immigrants themselves, waited to take advantage of those newly arrived in the United States. Yet Steiner admires the work of more reputable Americanizing institutions such as the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and the Immigrant Protective League, which shielded immigrants from victimization.

Unfortunately, even those who professed to aid and uplift the immigrant might also prove untrustworthy, as Anzia Yezierska often observes in her works. In her story "Wings" from the collection Hungry Hearts (1920), a young sociologist named John Barnes comes to live in the ghetto to study "Educational Problems of the Russian Jews" (How I Found America, p. 5). Shenah Pessah, the tenement's cleaning person, appears "a splendid type for his research" but one whose "lack of contact with Americanizing agencies appalled him" (pp. 5, 6). In an essay on Yezierska's work, JoAnn Pavletich comments that "as a scientist, [Barnes's] powerful, culturally authorized gaze fixes Pessah in the position of interesting, but ultimately inferior primitive object of study" (p. 90). Mary V. Dearborn likewise notes that what Yezierska "clearly hated most was being the subject of scientific study," as "Wings" and other stories show (p. 125). While Shenah envisions a romantic relationship developing with Barnes, he considers her merely an object to study and to reform. Yezierska demonstrates the dehumanizing condescension inherent in this type of study, as Barnes feels "the enthusiasm of the scientist for the specimen of his experimentation—of the sculptor for the clay that would take form under his touch" and marvels that "out of the thousands of needy, immigrant girls whom he might have befriended, this eager young being at his side was ordained by some peculiar providence to come under his personal protection" (pp. 6, 14). Approaching Shenah as a study object seems to encourage a cavalier attitude toward her feelings. After taking her to the library to introduce her to new books, Barnes kisses Shenah, throwing her into emotional turmoil. What he dubs a "passing moment of forgetfulness" (p. 15) means much more to Shenah, who experiences great distress when he leaves her. She remembers that he had characterized her as a "poor lonely little immigrant!" a label that later becomes a "cruel mockery" (p. 15). In this case, the Americanizer abuses his influence over the immigrant, confirming that he views her as inferior through both his impersonal scientific study and his disrespectful sexual imposition. Ironically, in this case, the immigrant survives despite the Americanizer's intervention rather than because of it.


In 1920 Julius Drachsler, a professor of economics and sociology at Smith College, argued that Americanization's "ethnic fusion" ideal usually amounted to a "radical fusion" that attempted to Anglicize new immigrants (p. 161). Anxious to assimilate successfully but wary of many Americanization techniques, immigrants also asserted a less-expected formula for assimilation: immigrants Americanizing the country's native-born inhabitants. Immigrant writers illustrate that Americanization could and should be more than a one-sided process and that they resisted such a "radical fusion."

Yezierska's story "America and I," from Children of Loneliness (1923), presents an immigrant gradually uncovering this part of the assimilation process. Constantly searching for her niche in her new country, the story's narrator finds that Americanizing agencies—her employer's "English class for foreigners," the "Women's Association," the "Vocational Guidance Center"—cannot bring satisfaction (How I Found America, pp. 149–150). The narrator believes that being American means being "a creator, a giver, a human being!" (p. 145). Working as servant and seamstress does not fulfill her, but there is also an overarching problem regarding America that the narrator finally recognizes: "I wanted to find it ready made" (p. 152). She has been expecting to assimilate herself into America as it is. However, this narrator experiences a "revelation" that America is "a world still in the making. I saw that it was the glory of America that it was not yet finished. And I, the last comer, had her share to give, small or great, to the making of America, like those Pilgrims who came in the Mayflower" (pp. 152–153). She decides to help build America by opening up "my life and the lives of my people" to other Americans, writing about the immigrant ghetto to form a "bridge of understanding" (p. 153). Rather than simply being assimilated, this immigrant helps to assimilate America to the culture of the immigrants and to become American by easing the intercultural tensions stimulated by immigration.

In his autobiography, Edward Bok expresses a similar sense that America itself needs "Americanization" through the immigrant (p. 445). He cites influential figures in the Americanization movement who pay only "lip-service" (p. 446) to American ideals, such as a speaker who emphasizes the importance of teaching immigrants to respect American institutions but in conversation condemns the president, the cabinet, and Congress. As Bok observes, "There are thousands of the American-born who need Americanization just as much as do the foreign-born" (p. 445). Immigrant perspectives, traditions, and appreciation for American liberties can help renew America, according to Bok.

Adopting this theme of immigrants influencing America rather than vice versa, the native-born intellectual Randolph Bourne (1886–1918) introduced the idea of a "trans-national America" in 1916, remarking, "there is no distinctively American culture. It is apparently our lot rather to be a federation of cultures" (p. 91). Pointing out the limits of the melting-pot concept, Bourne instead proposes a "transnationality, a weaving back and forth, with the other lands, of many threads of all colors and sizes" (p. 96). For Bourne, immigration and its cultural infusion make America stronger, forming a multicultural, textured fabric and, thus, a multidirectional assimilation. Similarly, elaborating on his pluralism ideal, Horace Kallen envisions America as a symphony in which "each ethnic group is the natural instrument, its spirit and culture are its theme and melody, and the harmony and dissonances and discords of them all make the symphony of civilization" (p. 220). Written and played simultaneously, this symphony includes "nothing so fixed and inevitable" but ranges ever "wider and richer and more beautiful" (p. 220). More recently, the cultural critic Homi K. Bhabha has proposed the term "hybridity," which signifies "difference without an assumed hierarchy" (p. 3), a useful entrée into immigrant experience. Hybridity captures the different contributions immigrants may bring to America and also helps to describe their individual collections of traditions as they assimilate into America and assimilate America into themselves.

Werner Sollors has characterized the "double consciousness" of ethnic American writers. He describes these authors as "cultural producers" who "function as translators of ethnicity to ignorant, and sometimes hostile, outsiders and, at the same time, as mediators between 'America' and greenhorns" (p. 249). American immigrant writers demonstrated an awareness of their multiple roles as they struggled to express both the stresses and opportunities of assimilation. As they created literary translations of the immigrant experience, they also aimed to help "Americanize" their readers.

See alsoAmerican Indian Stories; Chicago; Chinese; Immigration; Jews; Mrs. Spring Fragrance; The Promised Land; The Rise of David Levinsky; San Francisco


Primary Works

Adamic, Louis. From Many Lands. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940.

Adamic, Louis. Laughing in the Jungle: The Autobiography of an Immigrant in America. 1932. New York: Arno, 1969.

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: Macmillan, 1910.

Antin, Mary. The Promised Land. 1912. Edited by Werner Sollors. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Antin, Mary. They Who Knock at Our Gates: A Complete Gospel of Immigration. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914.

Bok, Edward William. The Americanization of Edward Bok. New York: Scribners, 1920.

Cahan, Abraham. 1896, 1898. Yekl and the Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories of the New York Ghetto. New York: Dover, 1970.

Dietrich, John. "'The Melting Pot': A Plea for the Unborn Children of America." St. Mark's Reformed Church, Pittsburgh, Pa., 8 May 1910.

Dixon, Royal. Americanization. New York: Macmillan, 1916.

Drachsler, Julius. Democracy and Assimilation: The Blending of Immigrant Heritages in America. New York: Macmillan, 1920.

Huebner, Grover. "The Americanization of the Immigrant." In Americanization, edited by Winthrop Talbot, pp. 174–184. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1920.

Panunzio, Constantine M. The Soul of an Immigrant. New York: Macmillan, 1921.

Pupin, Michael. From Immigrant to Inventor. New York: Scribners, 1923.

Rihbany, Abraham Mitrie. A Far Journey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914.

Steiner, Edward. From Alien to Citizen: The Story of My Life in America. New York: Revell, 1914.

Sui Sin Far. Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings. Edited by Amy Ling and Annette White-Parks. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Yezierska, Anzia. How I Found America: Collected Stories of Anzia Yezierska. Introduction by Vivian Gornick. New York: Persea, 1991.

Yezierska, Anzia. Salome of the Tenements. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Zangwill, Israel. The Melting-Pot: Drama in Four Acts. 1909. New York: Macmillan, 1914.

Secondary Works

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Bourne, Randolph. "Trans-National America." Atlantic 118 (1916): 86–97.

Carson, Mina. Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement, 1885–1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Dearborn, Mary V. Love in the Promised Land: The Story of Anzia Yezierska and John Dewey. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Hartmann, Edward George. The Movement to Americanize the Immigrant. New York: Columbia University Press, 1948.

Kallen, Horace M. "Democracy versus the Melting-Pot: A Study of American Nationality." Nation 100, no. 2590 (18 February 1915): 190–194; 100, no. 2591 (25 February 1915): 217–220.

Pavletich, JoAnn. "Anzia Yezierska, Immigrant Authority, and the Uses of Affect." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 19 (2000): 81–104.

Sollors, Werner. Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Talbot, Winthrop. "The Faith That Is in Us." In Americanization, edited by Winthrop Talbot, pp. 56–62. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1920.

Wald, Priscilla. "Immigration and Assimilation in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writing." In The Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Women's Writing, edited by Dale M. Bauer and Philip Gould, pp. 176–199. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Wilentz, Gay. Introduction to Salome of the Tenements, by Anzia Yezierska, pp. ix–xxvi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Lori Jirousek


views updated May 14 2018


Assimilation is the process by which individuals from one cultural group merge, or "blend," into a second group. The concept of assimilation originated in anthropology and generally refers to a group process, although assimilation can also be defined and examined at the individual level.


The term "assimilation" describes a change in individual or group identity that results from continuous social interaction between members of two groups such that members of one group (often a minority culture group) enter into and become a part of a second group (often a majority culture group). In this process of assimilation, the minority group or culture may disappear by losing its members to the larger and more dominant cultural group. One of the more extreme forms of assimilation involves intergroup marriage (e.g., interracial marriage). Consider, for example, an immigrant Spanish-speaking Mexican woman who is Catholic marrying an English-speaking Anglo-American Protestant male. If the woman learns English, changes her maiden name and religion, and later becomes a U.S. citizen, she will have assimilated into mainstream American culture. While she does not necessarily need to change her religion and citizenship as the result of her marriage, if she were to make these changes while abandoning her native cultural ways, then this would be a case of full assimilation. In this case, entering another cultural group via marriage has resulted in a woman relinquishing most or all important aspects of her native identity. As part of this full assimilation, this person would undergo psychological changes in her cultural orientation (i.e., beliefs, attitudes, values), and in her cultural behaviors (i.e., customs, traditions) as well as in her personal identity, to the point of losing all or most of the traditions of her original native culture. A health-related question arises as to whether such an assimilation is socially and psychologically healthy. A century ago, scholars regarded such a complete change in identity and behaviorthe "melting pot" notionas a natural and necessary aspect of immigrant adaptation to life in the United States.

Historically, the melting pot notion has not progressed in its entirety within U.S. society, due in part to the presence of structural barriers, including prejudice and discrimination, that have limited some immigrant and native-born minority persons from significant access to the resources and privileges of the dominant social group. Moreover, within the United States some ethnic people have actively chosen not to "give up" their native heritage and identity, despite their desires to participate successfully within the American economy.

The process of assimilation is facilitated by education, and by conformity to the linguistic and most prevalent cultural norms that are valued within the dominant society. Within the United States, the dominant society (the "Anglo Saxon cultural value system") includes the values of individuality, freedom, democracy, and achievement orientation, efficiency and practicality, and science and technology. Thus, for immigrants coming to the United States, learning English is one of several adaptive changes necessary for successfully entering and participating in the social institutions of the dominant culture.

Historically, some ethnic minority groups have experienced a threat to their culture by the imposition of forced assimilation, resulting from governmental policies and programs that used education as a means of assimilating minority people. The classic case of this involves American Indians. Beginning in the 1890s, American Indian children were removed from the reservation and transported to Indian boarding schools where they were forced to learn English while they were also prohibited from speaking their native language. This effort to inculcate mainstream or dominant cultural ways and to eliminate minority culture, or "Indian ways," operated as a form of forced assimilation. Nonetheless, in the case of American Indians, this effort at "Anglo-Saxon conformity" failed to convert these American Indian children and their parents to dominant cultural norms, and subsequently these policies for the educational assimilation of Indians were discontinued. One question that arises, of course, is whether forced assimilation is detrimental to mental health.

Assimilation is to be distinguished from the related concept of acculturation. Both assimilation and acculturation refer to the process by which individuals undergo changes in their way of life through adaptation to pressures to conform to the lifeways of a new society. Acculturation, however, refers to changes in beliefs and behaviors that occur as an individual adjusts to life in a new culture. Level of acculturation has typically been measured by way of acculturation scales. Such scales typically consider: (1) the individual's level of proficiency in language (e.g., in speaking only Spanish, only English, or both); (2) prior life experiences within his or her native country; (3) current preferences regarding friends; (4) preferences regarding television and radio programs broadcast in English or in their native language; and (5) other aspects of cultural involvement.

While both assimilation and acculturation share a common process of adaptation, assimilation constitutes a more extreme form of change compared with acculturation. In other words, while acculturation involves changes in the individual's pattern of living in adapting to the new society, under acculturation the person often maintains some aspects of his or her original cultural ways and identity. As noted previously, with full assimilation the individual blends entirely into the new society losing most or all aspects of his or her previous cultural identity. By contrast, some immigrants develop a bilingual/bicultural identity, which involves the integration of language, beliefs, and behaviors learned from each of two cultures. This integrated bicultural identity is seen by some as a more mature and healthy resolution to the acculturative stress that affects many immigrants.


Public health research has examined the relationship between acculturation and health status. The results of these studies provide a mixed picture as to whether successful acculturation, and perhaps successful assimilation, can improve or denigrate health status. Generally, many studies have shown a positive relationship between a high level of acculturation and an increased number of health-risk behaviors that are prevalent in the dominant society. In other words, racial and ethnic minority populations have often observed a greater number of health-compromising behaviors as they acculturate into U.S. society. However, as many of these studies are cross-sectional in design, rather than longitudinal, this conclusion involving the apparent ill effects of acculturation has been inferred rather than observed directly.

In one line of health researchthe Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HHANES) survey study of health status, which was conducted from 1982 to 1984results generally showed the aforementioned association between levels of acculturation and various health problems. The association was stronger among women, although it was also apparent among men. Among Hispanic women, higher rates of health-compromising behaviors have been observed across levels of acculturation for cigarette smoking and for alcohol use. Moreover, for both males and females, a greater level of acculturation has been associated with higher rates of illicit drug use, particularly marijuana and cocaine. However, this general trend, when examined in greater detail, shows that the relationship between assimilation or acculturation and health status is very complex. For example, via the process of acculturation, individuals also tend to improve in socioeconomic statuswhich means better jobs, better insurance coverage, better access to health services, and, therefore, a greater likelihood of having better health.

Research on the influences of acculturation status on mental health and substance use further demonstrates the complexity of this relationship. For example, some researchers suggest that the occurrence of deviant youth behavior and subsequent substance abuse are prompted by the occurrence of acculturation stress among the parents coupled with subsequent parent-child relationship problems. Such problems often occur because immigrant children acculturate at a faster rate than their parents. Among adult immigrants, acculturation stress occurs as the result of the pressure toward conformity to dominant cultural ways that many immigrants experience in their effort to survive within a new country.

Others have argued, however, that the strong family orientation that is characteristic of Hispanic and other minority families serves as a protective factor against delinquency and other types of anti-social behavior. A clearer interpretation of these apparently contradictory findings will require greater depth of analysis regarding the sociocultural and familial factors that may add risk or protection to the lives of immigrants as they adapt to life within a new society.

A recent study of the lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders among various Mexican-American migrant laborers in California revealed some important relationships between acculturation and rates of psychiatric disorder. In comparisons of migrant laborers having a low level of acculturation with those having a high level, those having the highest levels of acculturation exhibited higher rates (adjusted odds ratios) of diagnosed mood disorders (depression) and of diagnosed drug abuse or dependence (addiction to illegal drugs). In addition, those migrant laborers who lived in the United States for less than thirteen years exhibited the lowest levels of any psychiatric disorder (lifetime prevalence rates), with higher levels observed for those who had lived in the United States for over thirteen years. Moreover, the highest levels of psychiatric disorder were observed among those who were native-born Mexican Americans. These results suggest that some process involving acculturative stress and/or adjustment to the normative living conditions within the United States increases the risk of depression and of illicit drug use among Mexican-American migrant laborers. Further developmental and longitudinal research is needed to clarify the mechanisms that may produce these effects.

From a different perspective, young immigrants who engage in deviant behaviors (including substance abuse) cannot be characterized solely as being of either high or low acculturation status, but instead can be seen as outcasts or "marginalized," because they do not "fit into" either group. Such individuals do not relate to either the dominant culture or to their native cultural group. In other words, these are persons who have failed to assimilate into the society. Such members of racial or ethnic minority groups may enter into socially deviant lifestyles in efforts to obtain coveted goals (e.g., economic rewards) that are otherwise blocked via conventionally sanctioned mechanisms (e.g., school achievement). These alienated youth may not only isolate themselves from the mainstream culture, but they may also become alienated from their native reference group. Isolated from both cultures, they may choose to become members of street gangs as a means of obtaining mainstream goals. While joining a street gang may serve as an adaptive form of survival in ghetto or barrio environments, it may be unhealthy in the long run, as these youth face greater risks of being victims of violence and of developing drug dependence. Similarly, minority youth who are alienated from the mainstream culture may develop a radical identity that avoids the mainstream culture but that expresses strong loyalty toward their native culture (i.e., separatists). These youth may or may not belong to a street gang, but they do exhibit strong cultural loyalty and adherence to certain traditional cultural traits such as (among Hispanic groups) family bonding (familism), respeto, and machismo.

As the above discussion suggests, acculturation (of which assimilation represents an extreme form) is a complex process. Many immigrants to the United States exhibit improvements in lifestyle as they acculturate and move up in socioeconomic status. However, as they do, some of these immigrants may also exhibit greater rates of unhealthful behavior, reflecting the prevailing or normative unhealthful behaviors that are prevalent within certain sectors of conventional U.S. society. These more complex patterns of change in lifestyle and in risk for various diseases and disorders due to acculturation and assimilation require further study to clarify which life changes are indeed healthful (and why they are healthful), and which increase the risk for disease or antisocial behavior.

Felipe Gonzalez Castro

Vera Lopez

(see also: Acculturation; Cultural Factors; Ethnicity and Health; Immigrants, Immigration; Migrant Workers )


Alderete, E.; Vega, W. A.; Kolody, B.; and Aguliar-Gaxiola, S. (2000). "Lifetime Prevalence of Risk Factors for Psychiatric Disorders among Mexican Migrant Farmworkers in California." American Journal of Public Health 90:608614.

Amaro, H.; Jenkins, W.; Kunitz, S.; Levy, J.; Mixon, M.; and Yu, E. (1995). "Epidemiology of Minority Health." Health Psychology 14:592600.

Amaro, H.; Whitaker, R.; Coffman, G.; and Heeren, T. (1990). "Acculturation and Marijuana and Cocaine Use: Findings from HHANES 198294." American Journal of Public Health 80:5460.

Buriel, R.; Calzada, S.; and Vasquez, R. (1983). "The Relationship of Traditional Mexican American Culture to Adjustment and Delinquency among Three Generations of Mexican American Male Adolescents." Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 4:4155.

Burnam, M. A.; Hough, R. L.; Telles, C. A.; Karno, M.; and Escobar, J. I. (1987). "Measurement of Acculturation in a Community Population of Mexican Americans." Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 9:105130.

Castro, F. G.; Proescholdbell, R. J.; Abeita, L.; and Rodriguez, D. (1999). "Ethnic and Cultural Minority Groups." In Addictions: A Comprehensive Guidebook, eds. B. S. McCrady and E. E. Epstein. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cuellar, I.; Harris, L. C.; and Jasso, R. (1980). "An Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican American Normal and Clinical Populations." Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 2:199217.

Haynes, S.; Harvey, C.; Montes, H.; Nickens, H.; and Cohen, B. H. (1990). "Patterns of Cigarette Smoking among Hispanics in the United States: Results from HHANES 198284." American Journal of Public Health 80:4246.

Kaplan, H. B.; Martin, S. S.; and Robbins, C. (1984). "Pathways to Adolescent Drug Use: Self-Derogation, Peer Influence, Weakening of Social Controls, and Early Substance Use." Journal of Health and Social Behavior 25:270289.

Kitano, H. H. L. (1974). Race Relations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

La Fromboise, T.; Coleman, H. L. K.; and Gerton, J. (1993). "Psychological Impact of Biculturalism: Evidence and Theory." Psychological Bulletin 114:395412.

Locke, D. C. (1998). Increasing Multicultural Understanding: A Comprehensive Model, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Markides, K. S.; Ray, L. A.; Stroup-Benham, C. A.; and Trevino, F. (1990). "Acculturation and Alcohol Consumption in the Mexican American Population of the Southwestern United States: Findings from HHANES 198284." American Journal of Public Health 80(suppl.):4246.

Marmot, M. G.; Syme, L. S.; Kagan, S.; Kato, H.; Cohen, J. B.; and Belsky, J. (1975). "Epidemiological Studies of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke in Japanese Men Living in Japan, Hawaii, and California: Prevalence of Coronary and Hypertensive Heart Disease and Associated Risk Factors." American Journal of Epidemiology 104:225247.

Olson, J. S., and Wilson, R. (1984). Native Americans in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Padilla, A. M.; Cervantes, R. C.; Maldonado, M.; and Garcia, R. E. (1988). "Coping Responses to Psychosocial Stressors among Mexican and Center American Immigrants." Journal of Community Psychology 16:418427.

Szapocznik, J., and Kurtines, W. M. (1989). Breakthroughs in Family Therapy with Drug Abusing and Problem Youth. New York: Springer.

Vega, W. A.; Hough, R. L.; and Miranda, M. R. (1985). "Modeling Cross-Cultural Research in Hispanic Mental Health." In Stress & Hispanic Mental Health: Relating Research to Service Delivery, eds. W. A. Vega and M. R. Miranda. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Mental Health.


views updated Jun 08 2018


In 1964 Milton M. Gordon (b. 1918) produced a groundbreaking book called Assimilation in American Life. He informed readers that three different theories of assimilation existed in the United States: "Anglo-Conformity," the "Melting Pot," and "Cultural Pluralism." Gordon acknowledged, though, that Anglo-Conformity was "the most prevalent ideology of assimilation in America throughout the nation's history" (p. 89). The other two theories, proposed by members of minority groups who wanted to "fit in" but who were unwilling to accept the cultural demands of the dominant society, suggested that all people who came to the United States ultimately mixed together and formed a "new American," or that individuals could "assimilate" while maintaining aspects of their own culture. History has shown, however, as Gordon himself noted, that to be accepted by others as an American, one had to conform totally to the values of Anglos in the United States. ("Anglo" values are sometimes referred to as WASPwhite, Anglo-Saxon, Protestantcharacteristics.)

Colonial Period

No one questions, of course, that the United States, and the British colonies before the formation of the American government, almost always welcomed European Caucasians as future citizens. In the colonial era there was an incessant call for additional laborers. And although much of the need was filled by black Africans, white people had no desire to intermingle with them socially or on an equal basis. Since the way to assimilate in American society requires marriage with a member of the dominant culture, and adoption of the folkways and mores of that culture, any non-Caucasian could not be considered. Nonwhites could not become white, and prejudice prevented most white people from marrying people of any other skin color.

Starting in colonial America, however, the standards for assimilation included adoption of the religion and language of the community. Most of the Pilgrims, Puritans, and others who traveled to the southern part of what is now the United States were Protestants. Catholics were feared because they were viewed as subject to the "tyrannical dictates" of the pope in Rome. The epithet "Jews, Turks, and Infidels" assumed inferiority, non-Protestant faiths, and lack of the attitudes and characteristics required of all Americans.

These views did not prevent Catholics and Jews from coming to the colonies, but these groups were rarely accepted as equals by members of the dominant culture. It is true, also, that some Protestant denominations, such as Quakers and Huguenots (French Protestants), were also looked down upon. Once they changed their denominations, however, they had the option of blending with members of the dominant culture. Some accepted the colonial demand for assimilation into a more mainstream Protestant denomination. This choice, however, was usually made by their children or grandchildren. Moreover, other European immigrants could either conform to American values or choose to remain with people of similar backgrounds. The latter was not acceptable to the colonists; it concerned members of the dominant culture. Benjamin Franklin (17061790) warned fellow Pennsylvanians in the eighteenth century about the Germans in their midst:

Why should the Palentine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together, establish their Language and Manners, to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglyfying them? (Dinnerstein et al., 1999, p. 7)

Franklin's thoughts reflect not only the values of people of his own time but also those of Americans throughout the centuries. As a result of their anxiety about maintaining the dominant culture, colonists feared new immigrants who might undermine it with their own preferences. Often individuals, some of whom had been here perhaps for less than one generation, expressed the most hostile feelings about the new immigrants. Subsequent generations in the United States also frowned on newcomers with different backgrounds. Only foreign-born Protestants who spoke English were easily accepted without criticism by Americans.

From the colonial era stereotypical impressions of almost every group became part of the thought and expression of members of the Anglo-American culture. Descendants of the English regarded Germans as fat, stupid, and drunk; Jews and Quakers as clever and wealthy; Scots-Irish as violent and drunk; and French, Spaniards, and other "papists" as "hot-blooded lovers" and "slaves" of tyrannical rulers in the Catholic Church. Nineteenth-and twentieth-century immigrants like the Irish, the Poles, and the Jews were similarly branded with epithets Americans fantasized.

Responses to Crisis

Whenever a crisis occurred in American society, some ethnic group was usually targeted as the culprit. In the 1790s, at the time that the English and French were battling for control of the Atlantic Ocean, French "radicalism" supposedly undermined American society. Fears of the French led to the passage in 1798 of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which gave the president unilateral power to jail and/or force people back to where they came from if they criticized the government. During World War I, Americans denounced people of German ancestry; during World War II, the U.S. government incarcerated Japanese-Americans; and after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001, legislation quickly passed through Congress calling for the "registration" of Muslims from several Middle Eastern and Asian nations. In each of these periods, most other Americans regarded members of these groups as threats to the security of the nation.

Throughout American history, once crises had passed, Caucasians could engage in whichever economic endeavors they chose. Members of society who had not married people of the dominant culture, however, had a more difficult time functioning in the United States. Some, who were even prohibited from having equality by state laws or customs, such as Asians and Mexican-Americans, nonetheless found their niche in a variety of endeavors. The Irish, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, could buy saloons, join the army, or attend law school. Civil-service positions were generally open to them as well as to others of different backgrounds who passed qualifying examinations. Through the middle of the twentieth century many political "bosses" were of Irish ancestry. Given the opportunities for independent entrepreneurships, Jews as well as Japanese rose in society. After World War II, where educational opportunity existed, everyone who partook of it fully moved up a notch or two on the socioeconomic scale.

Nonetheless, many newcomers and their children still retained traditional values and refused to marry outside of their cultures. Although almost everyone acculturated in stages, that is, adopted the characteristics, attributes, and behavior of members of American society, it sometimes took three or four generations before they actually assimilated. For these people and their descendants, "success," but not total acceptance, was also possible. Thus, in tracing the evolution of people in American history, one notes that while wealth or accomplishments were always signs of having succeeded in the dominant culture, such attributes were not enough to be considered "one of us." An athlete or an entertainer might be extremely skillful, popular, and appealing in his or her field of endeavor, but still not accepted as an "equal" by members of the dominant culture. At one time a Jewish actor or an Italian baseball player might be universally applauded, but that did not make Jews or Italians part of the mainstream.

In general, Americans welcomed all Caucasian immigrants until approximately the 1920s. There were always concerns, though, that non-Protestants could not fit into American society. Thus, when the tide of European immigration turned overwhelmingly Catholic and Jewish in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Congress passed laws curbing their influx. In the 1920s new immigration legislation favored people whose compatriots had predominated in the settlement of the United States. Laws establishing quotas for different nationalities passed in 1921 and 1924, respectively. These bills set low quotas for southern and eastern Europeans but much more generous ones for the British, Germans, and Irish. In the 1930s American consular officials placed more stringent restrictions on Jewish people trying to emigrate from Germany than they did on non-Jews. Similarly, after World War II, legislation to bring in displaced persons from Europe favored non-Jews over Jews, and former fascists over Communists. Not until 1965 did Congress pass immigration legislation favoring family unification.

The opportunities for assimilation in American society have always been greater for Caucasian Protestants than for people of other backgrounds. Before World War II sociologists noted that people of different national heritages had begun marrying members of other ethnic groups who shared their religion. In the 1960s, the nation witnessed a rise in the rates of inter-marriage by people of European descent who had had different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The United States Supreme Court then declared, in Loving v. Virginia (1967), that states could not ban interracial marriage. Immediately the prohibition of interracial marriage, which still existed in twenty-two states, mostly in the South and the West, ceased.

Since that time, Americans of all stripes have witnessed increasing numbers of marriages based on individual choices and characteristics. Demographers and statisticians, moreover, have concluded that more than 50 percent of all Americans have chosen life partners based on individual characteristics rather than religious, ethnic, or legal considerations. As one boy put it in 1993, "I'm half Italian, half Japanese, and all American."

Class, rather than any other factor in the twenty-first century, should be examined before making assessments about intermarriage as well as ease of assimilation. In the twenty-first century, in countries such as Germany and England, both class and heritage play a more significant aspect in acceptance than they do in the United States. But unlike the United States, where place of birth determines citizenship, in some European countriesfor example, Switzerlandone is never automatically a citizen, regardless of birthplace.

See also Americanization, U.S. ; Asian-American Ideas (Cultural Migration) ; Identity, Multiple ; Loyalties, Dual ; Migration .


Alba, Richard. Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003. Dinnerstein, Leonard, Roger L. Nichols, and David M. Reimers.

Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration. 4th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

. Natives and Strangers: A Multicultural History of Americans. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Gordon, Milton M. Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Jacoby, Tamar. Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What It Means to Be American. New York: Basic Books, 2003.

Portes, Alejandro, and Rubén A. Rumbaut. Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Leonard Dinnerstein


views updated May 08 2018


ASSIMILATION refers to the integration of the members of a minority group into the broader society to which they belong. According to the sociologist Milton M. Gordon, it is a seven-stage process, in which "acculturation," or the adoption by newcomers of the language, dress, and other daily customs of the host society, is the first step. "Structural assimilation," the second, involves the large-scale entrance of minorities into the cliques, clubs, and institutions of the host society, in a manner that is personal, intimate, emotionally affective, and engaging the whole personality. Once a group has achieved structural assimilation, the remaining stages "naturally follow." Those include "amalgamation" or frequent intermarriage, the development of a sense of peoplehood based solely on the host society, the disappearances of prejudiced attitudes and of discriminatory behavior toward the minority, and the absence of civic conflicts in which the competing interests of the majority and minority groups are an issue.

Assimilation is a problematic term. It can refer to the experiences of a group or of its individual members. Originating in the natural sciences, it identified a process through which one organism absorbs another; the latter then ceases to exist in recognizable form. Scholars are vague about the techniques for measuring the progress of assimilation and imprecise in defining its practical completion short of the disappearance of the minority, which rarely occurs. Some focus on socioeconomic adjustment and demographic behavior, while others emphasize changes in identity. Advocates with differing political agendas regarding national development debate whether assimilation is a desirable outcome for a society containing multiple groups.

Theorists have given names to existing, implicit models of assimilation and have proposed alternative ones. Identifying the boundaries that separate terms such as "melting pot," "pluralism," "cultural pluralism," and "multiculturalism" is not easy. The use of ancillary concepts, including "Anglo-conformity," "triple melting pot," "primordial ethnicity," "symbolic ethnicity," and "postethnicity" further complicates discussions.

The Melting Pot

In the 1780s, Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur offered one of the earliest descriptions of the formation of the American population as the physical melding of diverse European peoples into a new, single people. Israel Zangwill's eponymous 1908 play made "melting pot" the twentieth century's phrase for Crèvecoeur's idea. An English Jew who espoused various forms of Zionism throughout his life, Zangwill nevertheless presented, as the outcome of life in the American cauldron, the union of seemingly implacable enemies—a Russian Jewish immigrant to New York and the daughter of the tsarist official who had ordered the destruction of his village.

Although melting pot implies mutual change leading to the creation of a new alloy, most who adopted the phrase described a process, which Milton Gordon later called "Anglo-conformity," through which newcomers adapted to norms derived from an Anglo-American heritage. Alternative visions arose almost immediately. In 1915, Horace Kallen described the United States as an orchestral combination of constant European cultures. Cultural pluralism, as Kallen's outlook became known, rejected the melting pot and described ancestral roots as so determinative that Americanization had to be repeated with each generation. Writing as an opponent of U.S. involvement in World War I, Randolph Bourne critiqued the melting pot ideal as the effort of Anglophiles to place their own culture ahead of others and envisioned Americans sifting and winnowing the best from all traditions. Unlike Kallen, Bourne implied greater mutual change among the nation's constituent groups, with residual differences being of little consequence. Bourne's phrase, "trans-national America," has not survived, but the term "pluralism," or some variant of it, has captured the spirit of his ideas.

The melting pot metaphor, especially as expressed by proponents of "100-percent Americanism," held sway through World War I and after. As of the New Deal and World War II, however, concepts like "cultural democracy" and versions of cultural pluralism closer to Bourne's point of view than to Kallen's became predominant. Under the influence of thinkers like the sociologist Robert E. Park, the criteria for assimilation became political loyalty, adoption of generally accepted social customs, and conformity to national practices and aspirations.

As limited immigration changed the demographics of America's foreign stock after the 1920s, the Great Depression, World War II, cinema, radio, and eventually television spread generations of common experiences across the nation. By the 1940s, the sociologist Ruby Jo Reeves Kennedy argued that a "triple melting pot" had emerged. Clear ethnic boundaries were disappearing, as Protestants, Catholics, and Jews willingly married across nationality groups but within their religious traditions.

Religious Segmentation

Religion's potential for segmenting the population was a source of concern. Paul Blanshard accused Catholics of hostility to America's democratic and liberal traditions. Several observers noted the lagging socioeconomic status of Catholics, and Gerhard Lenski attributed the gap to values rooted in the religion. Overall, however, the triple melting pot was simply an elaborated expression of the benign pluralist model of the era. Will Herberg, in Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (1955), argued that the nation's three major religions shared the political and civil values that made the United States the world's leading theistic power. Subsequent scholarship indicated that, on average, foreign-stock Euro-Americans had "caught up" by 1950. For those seeking reassurance, the election of John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, as president offered evidence that differences based in religious background had waned.

Race Succeeds Religion

The issue of race was peripheral to the assimilation debate in the first half of the century. With the rise of the civil rights movement, however, race succeeded nationality and religion as the final frontier of America's assimilation history. Drawing from works like Stanley Elkins's Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959), liberals assumed that slavery had deracinated blacks and made them the most culturally American of all the peoples who had come to the New World. Color prejudice, therefore, was the primary obstacle to total assimilation.

This optimism waned when dismantling discriminatory legislation proved an inadequate means to achieve rapid structural assimilation for black Americans. Critics argued that the legacy of slavery and the visibility of color differences made it impossible for racial minorities to attain assimilation of the kind achieved by Americans of European origin. They denied that blacks had reached the status of an "interest group," which Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan saw as the remaining function for group identity among the Irish, Italians, Jews, blacks, and Puerto Ricans of New York City. Rediscovering ties to Africa, or reinventing them, activists posited the existence of true cultural differences separating blacks from the majority in the United States. Similar developments occurred among smaller minority populations, including Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians who had experienced discrimination analogous to that suffered by blacks.

The Revival of Multiculturalism

After the 1960s, Kallen's version of cultural pluralism, which the author himself had long since abandoned, enjoyed a revival, often under the term "multiculturalism." Although some commentators used the word simply as a synonym for the view of pluralism dominant at midcentury, others offered multiculturalism as a distinct alternative. They saw ethnic and racial identities as primordial or ineradicable; accepted the existence of real and permanent cultural differences; vested the strength of the United States in its diversity, which the government, therefore, had an obligation to preserve; and stressed the importance of group as well as individual rights.

Multiculturalism did not escape criticism, especially when its proponents reduced American diversity to a split between Europeans and allied "peoples of color," and, in an era of renewed immigration, not only predicted what the future would be but also offered policy prescriptions for what it should be. Although Asian and Latino newcomers to the United States in the late twentieth century had direct or indirect ties with groups that had suffered prejudice on the basis of ascriptive characteristics, they arrived in an era when the nation had rejected discrimination based on such grounds. They constitute majorities in the minority groups to which they ethnically belong, and the empirical evidence leaves it open to debate whether their experiences are replicating the history of exclusion associated with race or the history associated with the integration of European immigrant groups.

Michael Novak, in The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics: Politics and Culture in the Seventies (1972), adopted some multicultural premises but used them to demonstrate that Europeans from quadrants outside the northwest of that continent suffered exclusions similar to those experienced by racial minorities. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., in The Disuniting of America (1991), and Nathan Glazer, in Affirmative Discrimination: Ethnic Inequality and Public Policy (1975), more thoroughly disagreed with the contentions of the multiculturalists and with the various programs they endorsed to preserve minority cultures and to promote access to education and employment for minority group members.

Moderate commentators have sought to find themes that may lead to a generally accepted interpretation of assimilation. Although cognizant of the real experiential differences between the heirs of European immigrants and descendants of African slaves, Matthew Frye Jacobson, in Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (1998), demonstrated the overlap-ping histories of the terms "race" and "ethnicity" and the constructed rather than substantive meanings of both. Herbert Gans has claimed that for Americans of European descent ethnicity is primarily a "symbolic" identity that they can use voluntarily and in positive ways. Ann Swidler has similarly described ethnicity as just one of the cultural tools through which persons can express their identities. David Hollinger, in Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (1995), argued for a future in which all persons can comfortably claim one or more ethnic identities without having their expectations or behaviors limited by those identities.


Blanshard, Paul. American Freedom and Catholic Power. Boston: Beacon Press, 1949.

Bourne, Randolph. "Trans-national America." Atlantic Monthly 118, no. 1 (July 1916): 86–97.

Gans, Herbert J. "Symbolic Ethnicity: The Future of Ethnic Groups and Cultures in America." Ethnic and Racial Studies 2, no. 1 (January 1979): 1–20.

Glazer, Nathan, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1963.

Gordon, Milton M. Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Kallen, Horace. "Democracy Versus the Melting Pot." The Nation (18 Feb. 1915): 190–194 and (25 Feb. 1915): 217–220.

Lenski, Gerhard E. The Religious Factor: A Sociological Study of Religion's Impact on Politics, Economics, and Family Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961.

Park, Robert E., and Herbert A. Miller. Old World Traits Transplanted. New York and London: Harper, 1921.

Swidler, Ann. "Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies." American Sociological Review 51, no. 2 (April 1986): 273–286.


See alsoMelting Pot ; Multiculturalism ; Pluralism .


views updated Jun 11 2018

1. In PHONETICS, a process of connected speech in which one sound becomes similar to another, neighbouring sound, as for example with the phrase one man, in which the /n/ of one is assimilated to the /m/ of man (‘wum man’).

2. The same process exhibited orthographically: for example, in the Latin-derived word aggression (originally adgressio), the d of the prefix ad- has been assimilated to the g of the base -gress-; in the informal English word wanna (‘want to’), the t of both want and to have been assimilated to the preceding n.

3. In LEXICOLOGY, the adaptation of items into one language from another, such as into English from French. The degree of assimilation of loanwords generally depends on the length of time since the borrowing took place and on the frequency of use. Compare the degree of spoken and written assimilation of honour (c.1400), salon (c.1700), sabotage (c.1900): see BORROWING, LOAN.

4. In SOCIOLINGUISTICS, the absorption of speakers of one language or dialect into another. Immigrants into the English-speaking world experience pressure to adapt and different metaphors are sometimes used to discuss and even euphemize the processes involved: immigrants to the US are said to enter a melting pot, while immigrants to Canada become part of a mosaic.


views updated May 18 2018


An aspect of adaptation proposed by French psychologist Jean Piaget.

In the cognitive development theory of Jean Piaget , assimilation is one of two complementary activities involved in adaptation , the process of learning from and adjusting to one's environment . Assimilation consists of taking in new information and incorporating it into existing ways of thinking about the world. Conversely, accommodation is the process of changing one's existing ideas to adapt to new information. When an infant first learns to drink milk from a cup, for example, she tries to assimilate the new experience (the cup) into her existing way of ingesting milk (sucking). When she finds that this doesn't work, she then changes her way of drinking milk by accommodating her actions to the cup. The dual process of accommodation and assimilation leads to the formation and alteration of schemas, generalizations about the world which are formed from past experience and used to guide a person through new experiences. According to Piaget, cognitive development involves the constant search for a balance between assimilation and accommodation, which he referred to as equilibration.

In the context of personality , the term "assimilation" has been used by Gordon Allport (1897-1967) to describe the tendency to fit information into one's own attitudes or expectations. In the study of attitudes and attitude change , it means adopting the attitudes of people with whom we identify strongly.

Further Reading

Allport, G. Pattern and Growth in Personality. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1961.

Piaget, Jean, and Bärbel Inhelder. The Psychology of the Child. New York: Basic Books, 1969.


views updated May 21 2018

assimilation A term synonymous with acculturation, used to describe the process by which an outsider, immigrant, or subordinate group becomes indistinguishably integrated into the dominant host society. In early American studies of race relations by such as Robert Park, the term was contrasted with accommodation (whereby the subordinate group simply conformed to the expectations of the dominant group), competition (in which it set up its own values in opposition to the mainstream), and extermination and exclusion (which saw no room for interaction between subordinate and dominant groups). Assimilation implied that the subordinate group actually came to accept and internalize the values and culture of the dominant group. This view of the process developed in part out of American concerns about the growing number of immigrants to that society, and has been criticized for exaggerating the importance of the values of the dominant group, and for neglecting the ability of new or subordinate groups both to affect the values of the dominant group (and thereby create a melting-pot culture) or else to live alongside it while adhering to its own values (in a multicultural society).