Assimiliating Isn’t Simple

Claude S. Fischer reflects on the Americanization of recent immigrants:

Take the case of Mexican-Americans, an intriguing instance of Americanization, given their especially large numbers and their easy travel back-and-forth to the “old country.” These immigrants are, as the title of historian George Sanchez’s 1995 book states, Becoming Mexican American. That is, they are defining and building a distinctly new identity. Through organizations, political mobilization, and ideological construction (for example, building up the legend of Atzlán), activists are constructing what it means to be both Mexican and American. And they are doing it in American ways, with voluntary associations and mobilized by modern American ideology extolling ethnic consciousness. The latest wave of immigrants have entered a culture that values, at least ceremonially, ethnic pride, probably as a result of the 1960s Black Pride movement. (“Black is Beautiful” was soon followed by “Kiss Me I’m Polish.”)

One advantage of studying contemporary over historical immigration that we have more tools for the study. Some survey research casts light on how Hispanic or Latino consciousness has developed. For example, a recent study compared the answers of Hispanics who took a survey in English to those who took it in Spanish. The English speakers expressed more “Hispanic Consciousness” than did the Spanish-speakers. They were more likely to say that it was very important for Hispanics to “maintain their distinct cultures,” less likely to say that it was very important for Hispanics to “blend into the larger American society,” and more likely to be critical of how the U.S. media portrayed Hispanics.

That is, the more integrated into American society, the more they emphasized their ethnicity. Another study not only found that, as might be expected, more educated and later-generation Latinos were likelier to vote in elections, but also that they were likelier to engage in specifically Latino-oriented activism.