Migration and Assimilation: What Are the Academics Saying?
Migration and Assimilation: What Are the Academics Saying?
On February 29th the academic groups of UMI Transitions, CRNS, and NYU ran a symposium in New York City entitled “Latin-American Migrations, Patterns of Settlement and Transnational Dynamics.” It’s goal was to bring together experts from around the world in the field of Latin-American Immigration and put them into dialogue with one another. Though the best-represented group on the series of panels was Sociologists, Anthropologists and Economists were also present. The regions looked at in the presentations were primarily from Western Europe and the Eastern United States. London, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Philadelphia, and New York City, were the primary cities discussed. At the heart of the day-long conference was a battle of two theories discussing the best way to approach talking about the transnational migration of Latin Americans. It seemed that regardless of if they were talking about education, gender relations, economic structures, or the role of culture-specific enclaves, the panelists argued about whether a linear-assimilation model of understanding migration or a segmented-assimilation model of understanding migration was a more efficient model for describing the reality of transnational immigration. These two theories represent a larger debate being waged across the world right now in the academic and international community. Under the layers of academic jargon the discussion can more easily be expressed by a difference in emphasis. The linear-assimilation model sees a group of immigrants as “other” to the society they are migrate to and emphasizes that the primary goal of the immigrants is to assimilate into their new culture. For example, someone who believes in this model would see a Mexican migrant in Philadelphia who has a child in the American schooling system, has a wife fulfilling a general idea of what an “American wife” is, participates flawlessly in the “American” economic system, and otherwise lives an “American lifestyle,” as the most successful migrant. The assumption of this model is that the main obstacle for migrants is achieving assimilation. Therefore, what the model wants to change about society is to create better channels for assimilation to take place. The segmented-assimilation model on the other hand believes that there is a wider context that needs to be recognized and that there is never a single process or path of assimilation that immigrants must go through. Academics subscribing to this model reject that there is a threshold of assimilation or that assimilation is ever a single experience. Rather, they state that what the society receiving immigrants needs to alter is more foundational. For example, this model would not blame an immigrant who does not lead an “American” lifestyle for not working hard enough to assimilate but would instead point to the race-based inclusion and exclusion in particular areas of American housing or job markets that would stop the immigrant from participating. This camp believes that we must first change the keystone morals of the host country before justice and acceptance can be reached for migrants. These models that were referenced throughout the symposium are at the center of the academic debate. Both have at their center the quest to describe the truths of migration while retaining very different points of emphasis. However, the deeper question that was rarely asked in the symposium is how these theories permeate into the real world and outside of the echo chamber of a lecture hall. In such a setting it is easy to forget that immigrant populations world-wide are real populations facing real injustices that must be addressed now. These models help us piece together the big picture, particularly in our rapidly globalizing world. But it must be remembered that the goal for the global community is justice and well-being for every person and that it is only when these models are implemented, not merely discussed, that we may move closer to that goal.   A summary of the theories referenced here and in the field and a case for why they are relevant can be found here: http://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?ID=442  

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