Reconsidering Assimilation Theories: The Case of China

by Yuan Mingyang

Although the new assimilation theory supported by Alba and Nee (1997) and the segmented assimilation theory in Portes and Rumbaut (2001) to some extent explain the experience of immigrants and their descendants in the United States, some flaws can be found in the basic conceptions in both theories. For example, Jung (2009) pointed out that the notion of race has been largely overlooked and misinterpreted in both the new assimilation theory and the segmented assimilation theory. These flaws might become more obvious in the context of countries other than the U.S. since both researches are largely based on the U.S., and therefore in the following paragraphs I will examine some key concepts in the assimilation theories in the situation context of China. The aim is not to criticize these theories but to reconsider whether it is appropriate to take these concepts for granted in the assimilation theories.

The first problematic concept is “culture”, which is also mentioned in Jung (2009). Segmented assimilation theory has been criticized to blame everything to “culture”, which tends to essentialize social groups into certain good or bad social images (Jung, 2009). The segmented assimilation theory also uses the term “culture” without making a clear definition of it. Without a clear definition, culture can literally mean everything in human society, and as a result, the argument of the segmented assimilation theory that some groups successfully assimilated in the U.S. due to their culture becomes hollow.

The notion of culture in both theories also fails to analyze the interaction between the groups that are sometimes considered as sharing similar cultures. Lin (2012) made a research about how Taiwanese assimilate in the mainland society. Lin found that the key for Taiwanese to assimilate in the mainland is a Weberian social stratification, instead of a vague notion of culture. Lin argued that it is possible for Taiwanese to assimilate in the mainland society, but only into the group of people with similar socio-economic status and taste, since a large number Taiwanese in the mainland settle in large cities and are businessmen of higher socio-economic status. The segmented assimilation theory would not be able to provide an answer for this kind of cases. Indeed, the segmented assimilation theory might not even notice this kind of cases if it kept overemphasizing the effect of a blurred notion of “culture”.

The term “assimilation” is also hard to be defined in the assimilation theories. Culture is not a good criterion for defining assimilation as discussed above. Although both theories more or less use socio-economic status as a criterion for assimilation, these two theories seldom mention the situation where a group of higher socio-economic status are trying to assimilate in the host society, for instance, Taiwanese in mainland China discussed in Lin (2012). It is also hard to determine whether Taiwanese in China, most of who are businessmen with high socio-economic status, have assimilated in the mainland society, and therefore socio-economic status might not be able to measure assimilation.

National policy, which is part of context in the theory of Portes and Rumbaut (2001), might be another way to examine whether a group is accepted as a member of the country, but usually policy is different from reality. For example, although pluralism is prevailing in the national discourse in China, and many national policies preferred minority ethnic groups over the Han majority, minority ethnic groups usually live in specific areas and are of relatively low economic and education standards (Myers et al., 2013). Although multiculturalism is written in the Constitution, the government focuses more on unity and has a strong control on the autonomous regions of minority ethnic groups (Ibid).

The final point comes to the definition of migration itself. If we define migration only as people moving from one country to another country, we might be blind to the things happening inside the borderline. Both theories are restricted by the international system composed of sovereign states since they only focus on people across the border. The groups that are inside the border from the beginning will not be considered in the theories even if they do not share similar social norms and economic standards with other members in the same country. The neglect of race (Jung, 2009) might also be a result of this kind of theoretical assumption which only focuses on people moving across the border. In the case of China, since Korean, Russian, Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Uzbek, and many other minority ethnic groups are living inside China (see Myers et al., 2013 for details), their live and the interactions among minority ethnic groups and the majority Han will never be covered by assimilation theories. It is necessary to reconsider from the beginning what we should really focus on and what do all these conceptions really mean when we are studying migration.

References

Alba, R., & Nee, V. (1997). Rethinking assimilation theory for a new era of immigration. International Migration Review, 31(4), 826-874.

Jung, M. (2009). The racial unconscious of assimilation theory. Du Bois Review, 6(2), 375-395. doi: 10.1017/S1742058X09990245

Lin, R. (2012). Birds of a feather flock together: Social class and social assimilation of the Taiwanese in mainland China. Soochow Journal of Political Science, 30(2), 127-167. (Original text in Chinese)

Myers, S. L., Gao, X., & Cruz, B. C. (2013). Ethnic minorities, race, and inequality in China: A new perspective on racial dynamics. The Review of Black Political Economy, 40(3), 231-244. doi: 10.1007/s12114-013-9165-7

Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2001). Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation. Berkley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

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The Dilemma of Multicultural Education

Anonymous student post

As I have noted in the previous blog post, Singapore is dealing with problems that have appeared due to the cultural and linguistic diversity brought by immigrants. Besides the declining use of ethnic mother tongues as well as individuals’ cultural identities, there are other results that have been observed due to English-speaking bilingual education. Those are the social mobility in society and the country’s conflicting ideals.

According to Nakamura (2009), people’s English ability has certain influence on upward mobility in society. In her research, it has been proved that those who use English have higher incomes than those who use their ethnic mother tongues daily. As we have discussed in class, there is a certain social structure in Singapore that creates this situation. The structure of “the higher education you get, the higher income and social status you get in the society” is especially notable in Singapore.

If we keep this fact in mind and look at the university education, you would notice that almost all of the university courses are offered in English, hardly any in the ethnic mother tongues (except for the language classes). There is no doubt that if you cannot use English, you will fail to get into the university and thus end up having a lower social status. In addition, even if people could use English, their income and status depends on what type of “English” they use. If they could only speak in “Singlish” (Singaporean English), then, their income would be lower than those who can speak in “British-like English”.

This shows that linguistic ability is what creates Singapore’s social hierarchy. In other words, immigrants tend to do better by assimilating (using English) rather than “staying ethnic” (using mother tongues).

Although it is obvious that there is a top-down pressure of speaking a “proper English” in the society, there is still many campaigns or programs that Singaporean government tries to keep ethnic diversity, as they recognize it as their national strength. One example is that in 1979, the government started the “Special Assistance Plan School” for Chinese schools in Singapore (Lee, 2008). This school offers a higher education in Chinese for the purpose of not diminishing the Chinese cultures, values and norms. Also, as I have noticed while studying in National University of Singapore, there were many opportunities for students to be aware of their cultural identities such as cultural weeks, which students with different ethnic groups introduced their cultures to others.

In my opinion, “Singapore as a multicultural country” is in a dilemma in that people are encouraged to keep their ethnic identities but they cannot do better in society if they actually “stayed ethnic.” In conclusion, this type of gap between “linguatocracy” (Nakamura, 2009) which refers to those who can speak “proper English” and immigrants who could only speak in their mother tongues will be apparent in any other countries that are expecting to open up themselves for immigrants. We could learn from Singapore’s case and think of the way to conduct educations in the diversified society.

References

Lee, E. (2008). Singapore: the unexpected nation. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Nakamura, M. (2009). Shingaporu ni okeru kokumin togo. Kyoto: Horitsubunkasha.

Refugees and assimilation

Map showing destination countries of refugees ...

Map showing destination countries of refugees /asylum seekers (= people fleeing abroad) in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Naresh Kumar

Different countries receive thousands of refugees every year. All of them come from different religions, cultures, and share different moral values that makes them identical in the host countries. Many are vulnerable to the crimes and human rights violations in the host country. They try to assimilate themselves in the society but instead of being accepted, many end up being the victims of different crimes (Ferenchik, 2012). Assimilation is always seen in an optimistic way with eventual integration of newcomers and it is expected that the process will end over time when foreigners and natives are merged (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001).

However, the facts about victimization are ignored. The situation is even worse in the developing and underdeveloped countries, where refugees find it very hard to integrate into the host society. Refugees who migrated to different countries are asking for help to keep up their culture, language, religion, and other things, to keep up their identity. If we look at the numbers then it is global south that holds so many refugees. The number is increasing everyday. It is the responsibilities of the international community to provide support for the refugees and help them integrate in host countries.

Poverty, crimes, discrimination, human rights violations are some of the issues in societies that holds refugees. Coping with uprootedness, adversity, and assimilation into new social landscapes has always been a challenge. There is always a clash between different cultures, religious values, political ideologies, etc. After the end of the Cold War, nation states have carried out more restrictive policies, which makes it difficult for refugees and asylum seekers to enter the host country.

The rise of nationalism is another issue. In different countries in Europe, immigrants are becoming victims to so called “national movements”, which is simply to push back foreigners and immigrants out of the host country. The European Union only grants EU citizenship to citizens of member states, which is described as “fortress Europe” by many advocates of refugee rights.

The Global South lacks the ability to provide basic needs and lacks to assure certain rights, whereas those who can looks away from the issues. Europe is the only continent which receives thousands of refugees every year, but integration into the society depends on one’s abilities of language and education levels. Refugees who enter into different societies of different countries are not well protected. Their voice is less heard and are constant victims of crimes and human rights abuses.

 

References

Ferenchik, M. (2012, June 19). Nepali refugees struggle with life in city. Retrieved from http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/06/19/nepali-refugees-struggle-with-life-in-city.html

Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2001). Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Transnational migration of people and capital

by Curran Cunningham

This first blog is intended to set the parameters for my forthcoming analysis of International Migration. As a keen reader on economic matters, my focus will be primarily on the impact of remittance flows on economic growth of both host and recipient countries.

My research kicks off with preliminary readings from Peggy Levitt and B. Nadya Jaworsky’s paper, ‘Transitional Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends’. The paper’s focus is on three modes of transformation which migrants experience when they move to another country: socio-cultural, political and financial. I will concentrate on the financial aspect which looks into viewing transnational migration as a by-product and indeed victim of the later model of capitalism.

Transnationalism is the catalyst which is generating rapid globalisation. The increased interconnectivity between people and institutions has broken down the economic and social barriers that had once sheltered nation states. Multinational corporations are taking advantage of the opportunities of transnationalism to manufacture goods in a production line spanning the globe. Those processes oftentimes pass through a number of developing countries, with companies maintaining strict quality controls, minimising costs and thereby maximising profits. This can certainly have positive results for the countries concerned, helping generate employment and investment there.

A spin-off of this globalisation is the growth of migrants working abroad in industrialised and emerging markets, providing services locally at minimum wage costs, such as in the construction industry in Dubai or housekeepers in Europe and the United States. They are joined by a growing number of more educated personnel who are migrating, sometimes only temporarily, to enjoy better wages and living standards for their professions in the developed world, including doctors and nurses.

The paper, published in 2007, shows how a doubling in remittances worldwide in the last decade is leading to growing interdependency between the developed and developing world. The concern is that large industrialised countries are becoming over-dependent on cheap foreign labour while non-industrialised countries survive on remittances that their workers abroad send home rather than creating jobs and growth in their own economies.

The costs and benefits of this can be exploitative at times for less-developed and competitively inadequate countries compared to economically top notch developed nations or economic blocs. Critics have argued that globalisation has led to transnational capitalism increasingly monopolise and centralise capital by leading dominant corporations in the global economy. Scholars critical of global capitalism have argued instead in favour of a grassroots’ transnationalism by workers and co-operatives as well as through popular social and political movements.

William I. Robinson reveals his concerns about growing remittance interdependence in his 2010 paper ‘Global Capitalism Theory and the Emergency of Transnational Elites’. He objectifies capitalist transnationalism as the pursuit of facilitating the flow of people, ideas, and goods between different regions of the world in the belief that it has increasing relevance for the rapid growth of capitalist globalisation. Pro-capitalism critics argue that it does not make sense to restrict migratory workforces, globalised corporations, global money flow, global information flow, and global scientific cooperation. However, Robinson believes this is the very reason why there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor and has led to a corresponding rise in exploitation to the detriment of ‘true’ sustainable development at an international level.

Countries such as Cuba have been used by researchers as an example of worsening economic conditions and increased inequality due to remittance flows. At the extreme cases, some non-industrialised countries have had such a reliance on remittances as a source of economic revenue that without them, their economies would crash. These countries are said to be at the mercy of “foreign migration policy makers”. This trend may be also bad for the host country, as their dependency on migrants leads them to plan development policies based on migrants’ future contributions, seeing them as the answer to solve their state problems while otherwise being unable to solve it themselves (Levitt & Jaworsky, 2007).

On the flip side, Min Zhou, in her 2004 paper “Revisiting ethnic entrepreneurship: convergences, controversies, and conceptual advancements,” looks at the positive elements of international migration in breaking down social barriers and allowing further integration even while under the veil of discrimination.

Zhou brings into light the benefits of ethnic entrepreneurship. In accordance with McEwan Pollard, Henry argument, Zhou also believes that ethnic minority economic activity has a positive effect on a nation’s future economic development in increasing the range and diversity of both actual goods and foreign business know-how, whether it be ethnic food manufacturing or Chinese business networks (2005).

Transnationalism in itself – and cross-border ties in general – allows ‘valuable social capital’ to be instilled in ethnic communities to help them in their horizontal and vertical integration with the aim of breaking the inequality trend. This ‘social capital’ can help also the second generation to integrate better and start climbing the social ladder (Ruble, 2005).

Guarnizo brings to the table the notion that predicting remittance revenues are a measure of credit worthiness and secure loans for a state (2003). With these arguments, many governmental and non-governmental bodies have jumped on the “remittances-as-development-panacea” bandwagon (Kapur, 2005).

Having looked at the cost and benefits of remittances to economic growth, my next blog post will assess under what circumstances education does or does not succeed in socially integrating migrants.

References

Guarnizo, L. E. (2003). “The economics of transnational living.” International Migration Review 37:666-699.

Kapur, D. (2005). Remittances: The new development mantra? New York: United Nations.

Levitt, P., & Jaworsky, B. N. (2007). Transnational Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends. Retrieved June 9, 2014, from http://policydialogue.org/files/events/Levitt_Jaworsky_Transnational_Migration_Studies.pdf

McEwan, C., Pollard, J., Henry, N (2005). The ‘global’ in the city economy: multicultural economic development in Birmingham. Blackwell.

Robinson, W. I. (2010). Global Capitalism Theory and the Emergency of Transnational Elites. UNU-WIDER.

Ruble, B. A. (2005). Creating diversity capital: Transnational migrants in Montreal, Washington, and Kyiv. Washington, D.C: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

Transnationalism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved June 13, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transnationalism

Zhou, M. (2004). “Revisiting ethnic entrepreneurship: convergences, controversies, and conceptual advancements.” International Migration Review 38:1040-1074.

Where does youth hostility toward immigrants stem from?

by Anastasia Maillot

Although we live in a highly globalized world where a multitude of cultures, languages and traditions coexist, in the past few years hostility towards immigrants has grown into a frequent and sensitive topic. Not only is it an issue in the US that ironically is said to be the melting pot of cultures, even Europe, the home to a multitude of cultures, has found itself face to face with hatred towards immigrants.

In a way this is nothing new. Xenophobia has existed for a very long time, but the 21st century has given it a new, much younger face. In my home country Finland you can see this change through the emergence of non-official, radical and extreme groups often filled with younger people. Many groups and sub-groups currently exist, both in secret and in public, but in their most extreme and well-known forms these groups consider themselves as Neo-Nazi groups that oppose multiculturalism. Ideas such as “pure, young motherland” are often thrown around by these groups and according to police reports in Finland, members of these groups are most often involved in violence towards immigrants.

Why is this happening at a time like this when the world is so globalized? It is precisely because of globalization, because country borders have become less significant and because right now we are most likely to have at least one neighbor in our neighborhood that isn’t originally from our county. And because it has all happened extremely fast, not all countries and people were ready in the first place. As many usually point out, this hostility is a manifestation of one’s fears and suspicions when faced with a world that is constantly changing at a fast pace.

But there is also another reason, an important reason that I think is far too often forgotten when talking specifically about younger people who participate in violence towards immigrants. This hostility can also be seen as a call for help, for attention. In Finland young people are becoming increasingly more isolated and are greatly ignored in political decisions that are made. This depression has in many cases led to violent behavior, as past cases of school shootings have shown (for more information, see Kauhajoki school shooting in Finland, 2008).

In this time of globalization and multiculturalism, governments tend to forget those who are in need. This has partly led to the birth of extreme mindsets and violent groups among the youth, especially in Finland. In the future, perhaps governments should first resolve domestic social issues before turning their attention towards the international political scene.

Are foreign languages a threat to the host country culture and language?

by Glenn Soenvisen

In the mid-90’s a new term, “Kebab-Norwegian,” was coined in Norway; it meant the dialect of the Norwegian language which contained relatively many loanwords from non-western immigrants. This term was soon picked up and used vigorously by the media, where it sometimes was stated as a reason for the deterioration of the “real” Norwegian language. In some extreme cases it was even stated that the verb was put in the wrong place when speaking “Kebab-Norwegian” and female and neuter gender nouns became male. Some even said that it brought unwanted culture into the country, stating that degrading non-western words for “females” were used to refer to females in general. In short, some people perceived “Kebab-Norwegian” as a threat to the “real” Norwegian culture and language. Therefore, we needed assimilation of the users in order to retain our national identity and values.

What I find funny about this, though, is how little basis there are for these utterances. For one thing, “Kebab-Norwegian” is only used in the eastern parts of the Norwegian capital Oslo by immigrant youth and their possible native Norwegian friends; it’s an ethnolect rather than a dialect, and there has been no proof of it spreading to other parts of the country, as is only logical since ethnolects are associated with specific ethnic or cultural subgroups. You could say it is an in-group way of speaking.

And that brings me to another thing worth pointing out: the ethnolect in question is spoken, not written. Sure, users may write it when chatting online through facebook and the like, but those services are closed networks and not available to everyone. Furthermore, even Norwegians may write in their own dialects in such contexts, but it doesn’t seem to affect their ability to write correctly written Norwegian when needed.

Moreover, considering that “Kebab-Norwegian” is almost exclusively used by youths, the users of it are most likely bilingual, or even trilingual, having learned “real” Norwegian from a very young age, as well as English which are being taught from early elementary school level. Keeping this in mind we can take a look at what Alejandro Portes writes in his feature article “English-only triumphs, but the costs are high:” bilinguals outperform their monolingual counterparts in almost all cognitive tests.

In short, immigrants speaking “Kebab-Norwegian” should have no more difficulty in using suitable language to suitable situations on the same level as native Norwegians do. That learning two or more languages at the same time makes for underdeveloped ability in both/all is a thought for the 1930’s.

Besides, even Norwegians themselves mess with the genders of the nouns. I myself use all three genders (male, female, neuter), but in some parts of Norway the female one doesn’t exist. There’s also often the case that nouns can be used as both male and female. What’s more, the new rages in the language debate is that native Norwegian children are more and more using the sound sh [ ʃ ] where kj [ ç ] should be used and, to a lesser degree, using the word hvem (who) where hvilken (which) should be used.

Lastly, it’s not like degrading words for females in general is exclusive to non-western languages. I dare say that bitch is, unfortunately, used extensively in informal spoken English and Norwegian both.

Of course, foreign languages may have influence on the national language and culture, but only in minor ways, such as adding words which we don’t have any words for in our own language, replacing interjections, or introducing new foods. However, this cannot be considered a threat at all. Rather than threatening, the influences enrich and enhance, like an add-on to your browser. If “Kebab-Norwegian” really was a threat, one can wonder why the English influence, which is much bigger, hasn’t made us all speak “Norwish” yet. There is no need for complete assimilation.