Last time, I talked about how America only welcomes the "sweet deal" among immigrants. This week, I'll show you how this is the case.
Ever since the 1960s, Asian Americans, the “model minority”, have represented such a sweet deal that Americans prefer. As Keith Osajima, the professor and director of the Race and Ethnic Studies program at the University of Redlands pointed out, around the 1960s, Asian Americans were praised as the hard-working, responsible, and rule-abiding ethnic group, elevated from other more “troublesome” ethnic groups, like African Americans. This step was more purposeful than coincidental.
Asian Americans were not always the “model minority.” However, when America recognized them as the “model minority”, this minority group started to exceed the other minority groups. They are awarded better education and employment compared with other ethnic groups.
America is essentially using Asian Americans to show other minorities how minority groups should properly behave – politically silent and ethnically assimilated, as summarized by Robert G. Lee, an associate professor of American Studies at Brown University. If other minorities can behave as “graciously” as Asian Americans, if other minorities can assimilate as well as Asian Americans, they can be successful as well. The point is: Americans privilege assimilation instead of, as most of them, claimed – diversity of immigrants.
Even though Asian Americans are seemingly thriving in America, they are still discriminated against. Research has shown that even though Asians generally have higher education and are better paid, they are still paid less than their nonminority similarly qualified counterparts.
If America is really the land of opportunities and if America really welcomes immigrants as they claim, why discriminate against the “model minority” in the workplace? Why even bother naming them the “successful model minority”? Because America only wants immigrants to serve, but not gaining real power in the society.
Americans want immigrants to assimilate so that things are easier and American values, instead of other cultural values, will be endorsed. If one minority group is awarded for more successful assimilation, others will be likely to follow the lead because everyone wants to survive and thrive. At the same time, situations for not well-assimilated immigrants are much worse.
For instance, Hispanic immigrants, generally seen as resistant towards American culture, have significantly lower socioeconomic status, and the more recent immigrants among them (i.e., less assimilated) have lower occupation status than others. Yes, America wants hardworking immigrants, but it does not necessarily welcome cultures different from its own.
Now, one may question, how exactly does America promote assimilation?
After all, setting a model does not necessarily force one to change. It starts from language, the manifestation and the culture itself. It is essential for cultural identity, especially for immigrants who are situated in a different language environment. Their languages may be the last thing connecting them to their cultures.
If America truly welcomes immigrants with their unique cultural backgrounds, immigrants should be allowed to keep their cultural identity (i.e., at least speak in their mother tongues).
However, this does not seem to be the case. Kari Gibson, a legal fellow at Public Law Center, summarized twenty-one cases in which the employers are forced to speak only English at their workplace. He also included judicial opinions at state or federal levels. The general settlements were upholding the English Only Policies.
However, the fact that these policies existed and were executed until courts intervened showed Americans’ unwelcoming attitudes towards immigrants’ cultures. The employers may need to speak to their employees in English for convenience because they can only speak English. Yet, it is unnecessary to require the employers to only use English in the workplace and even punish them for using their native languages.
In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court still has not given explicit opinions on English Only Policies, and lower federal courts also have not widely accepted the unlawfulness of such policies. Such silence says America’s systematic encouragement of assimilation at a policy-making level.
A similar story happened in the education system as well. Of course, teaching immigrant children English is important for them to live in America, where English is the common language. However, proper education should respect immigrants’ cultures as well, instead of imposing English-Only policies.
During the nineties, the English-Only Movement started in California and swept through the rest of America. Supporters of this movement argued that immigrant children should be taught in English-only environments, otherwise (1) existence of other language speakers can threaten the unity of America (i.e., similar to Canada where French and English are both official languages because of Quebec), (2) these children will not actively learn English, and (3) they will suffer in terms of education and social integration. It sounds like this English Only Movement has the welfare of immigrants at heart and tries to help immigrants succeed.
However, the research done by Amado M. Padilla, professor of psychological studies at Stanford University, has debunked all these claims, indicating that English Only Movement cannot be justified.
The minority groups in America, with histories different from Quebec residents, are in a subordinate position. Thus, they feel compelled to learn English quickly and are ashamed for being unable to speak English.
Even the Spanish speakers, who are perceived as the most resistant immigrant group, generally shift to speaking English within one or two generations. Also, English immersion education programs actually lead to lower achievement in life, while Bilingual education programs can improve cognitive performance and psychological developments.
All the “advantages” of the English-Only movement are in fact invalid. Yet, 28 out of 50 states in the US still have English-Only policies. The purpose of these policies is obvious – make everyone speak American English regardless of their backgrounds. In other words, the true reason behind this movement is to assimilate immigrants and their descendants so that everything is easily digestible for America.
Of course, systematic public policies are not the only way in which immigrants were pushed to assimilate. Come back next week to see how pop culture undeniably played an important role in the process as well.