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For these groups, the identity process is possibly, I would tentatively argue, perhaps ring-shaped rather than linear: [note: perhaps the left label could read ‘stigma and discrimination’ and the right could read ‘assimilation and acceptance/tolerance’]:
This essay is a purely brainstorming essay used to critic Seth Schwartz, Marilyn Montgomery and Ervin Briones’ The Role of Identity in Acculturation and Assimilation of Immigrant People. As such, this is neither a scholarly essay nor submitted for classwork, discussion or publication, rather just some amateur theoretical doodling mosty intended to help process and develop other concepts for further development, review or rejection. Danke.
As part of the assumptions set into their thesis, Schwartz, Montgomery and Briones (collecting ‘The Authors), review prominent Modern and Postmodern definitions of their key terms (excluding ‘immigrant’ which seems to be relatively accepted): Acculturation, cultural identity, culture, Personal identity and Social identity. They seemingly desire a more technocratic or applied theoretical tone rather than a theory building perspective and preference for stability and structure in these definitions, desiring that it be “possible to define acculturation and identity in terms precise enough to support specific theoretical propositions, calls for empirical research, and rationales for interventions to promote identity development in acculturating individuals.” (p 2).
A short criticism is apparent immediately in their assumptions that acculturating is a positive goal and that they, as members of the dominant recipient culture, are in a position to and morally empowered to intervene. Postmodernists should be leaping up from chairs and rattling glasses in alarm.
While they slough off liability to theoretical criticism against Postmodernism supplied by M. J. Chandler, and R. Brubaker and F. Cooper in a manner that would make an American Congressperson blush, they do have a point – but one that I think we can help mitigate.
In Chandler they find, “a primary criticism of the postmodernist movement is that it identifies problems without offering viable solutions,” (p 4). And in Brubaker and Cooper they find justification that “a view of identity as constantly in flux and impossible to locate does not offer pragmatic theoretical, empirical or applied utility,” (p 4).
In as much as I am modeling a praxis-based understanding of cultural formation and maintenance in the context of Gadamer’s Hermeneutical Dialogue, I am both enjoying a sound critic of similar theories and feeling the need to digest and respond to the credible criticism endorsed by the Authors of such Postmodern approaches and understandings.
My chief concern is that the Authors are needlessly limiting themselves for falsely pragmatic and passively culturally aggressive purposes. The general tone of the paper and its stated intentions (p 1) is that of a technocratic bureaucratic call for help to better address certain perceived breakdowns of previously established technocratic guidelines in the area of immigrant assimilation, or lack thereof. In other words, their aim is not better understanding or compassionate empathy but rather the need to generate practical recommendations for real-life challenges in Floridian cultural and immigrant society.
There is nothing wrong with this approach apart from its history of desiring overly simplified answers to short-term understandings of longer-term, more complicated issues. (As anyone who has stood in line at City Hall patiently trying to explain a situation to a clerk who with similar patience attempts to get you to simplify the matter to a yes/no scenario, has experienced.)
The answer might be as simple as removing the assumption of binary and linear modeling. I recommend multi-polar graphing, as opposed to bi-polar (x,y) graphing, scattergraphing as opposed to linear graphs and more importantly, opening their assumptions up to include three considerations, being, that assimilation is not a linear process, that one cannot simply abandon the consequences of reciprocal change enacted on the host or recipient culture by the immigrant (as the Authors attempt to do (p 2), and that while their concept of intervention implies a moral or ethical consideration, that these moral and ethical considerations are more important and impactful than the consideration they are given by the Authors.
I find the model that they are proposing seems to be a linear, bi-polar model in assimilation on one side and resistance on the other. The goal is to move the individual from the non-assimilated pole toward assimilation. Whether the immigrant is a refugee seeking safety and stability or an economic immigrant seeking political, social and economic self-realization, the movement is from left to right and there is a clearly identified value judgment favoring assimilation over non-assimilation.
Rather, I would propose that assimilation is a fluid, praxis-based process that is never complete or stabilized (based on the experience of four state-less historic diasporas – the Jewish identity, the Roma identity and the Anabaptist (Mennonite, Amish, Hutterite) identity), and the odd-man out – the LGBT cultural identity.
For these groups, progress is not necessarily linear or in one direction, nor even multi-linear, as much as it circulates around a ring of possibilities. These possibilities imply three ‘active’ states of ‘being’ within an identity confrontational structure (a minority identity within a larger) for both individuals and sub- or minority ethnic groups. The three actions are “resting”, “avoiding” punishment or the negative, and “seeking” the reward, the positive or growth.
The goal is not to assimilate necessarily as much as it is to survive. I put a lot of thought into the workings of this model recommendation and have determined that a bi-polarity is not adequate – while the individual or minority identity most often seeks to minimize punishment or the negative effects of non-assimilation, it does not necessarily always pursue the rewards of assimilation or even of non-non-assimilation behavior, but rather, often seeks moments of active rest. Active rest is not indecision or inertia, but rather an active rest similar to sleeping, stopping to evaluate or to “smell the roses” or relaxing in a state of secure contentment. In fact, it is possible that neither assimilation nor non-assimilation are the goal for either the individual or the ethnic minority, but rather that state of contented, secure, restful being-ness is the actual goal.
Now, a reason that the ring structure is important is to understand that because of the negative side-effects of assimilation and the positive side-effects of non-assimilation, that aspect that the Authors relegated to sociology and anthropology rather than technocracy, going too far into assimilation can have negative impacts or even lead to punishment while enduring non-assimilation can hit the boundary on the reverse side and realize rewards.
To explain the ring model, just imagine that an ethnic group pursues assimilation and is good at it, too good at it (say the Mennonite merchants of 17th Century Amsterdam, the Mennonite farmers on the Vistula in the 18th Century, Jewish intellectuals in 19th Century Vienna, etc.). In pursuing the good, you go can too far in that you are perceived to be supplanting the majority culture, which might lead to negative ramifications such as exclusion, repression or persecution. Similarly, the Mennonites of 16th and 17th Century Amsterdam or the African-Americans of the 20th Century South were persecuted, discriminated against or in other ways suffered negative repercussions based on their (racial)/ethnicity, but in owning that persecution, swung around the back of the ring until they both began to realize the benefits of assimilating into the majority culture, but also changed that majority culture for the better (ie civil liberties, culture of toleration, a new methodology for recognition and attainment of minority rights, and contributions to the joint society that progressed the whole).
Generally, however, the movement would probably be front-weighted as it slides to and fro between the two poles of positive benefits and experiences and negative, but it doubtful that the individual or the ethnic community will “progress” from non-assimilation and its negative consequences to assimilation and be permanently placed in that positive assimilated role.
One of the biggest problems with the linear timeline could conceivably be simply that in the struggle to belong, there is always another sub-group from which the majority of the persons in whatever category you now find yourself will be excluded – in as much as those groups exist, un-American types of ethnicity, gender, family and others will be retained in the identity chain of the individual and the ethnic group. This is not to say that the small groups are stable historically – they often do and will topple and shift, but access to that ultimate level of “assimilation” will almost always be just out of reach for most, even the most successful newcomers. [Regardless, if this is judged to hold, then it will bear much more research, thought and development.]
The second recommendation I that of establishing and maintaining useful definitions. Again, I am drawing from an Anabaptist cultural perspective on this. (I am speaking from the perspective of the cultural minority rather than that of the empowered or dominant host or recipient culture.)
The Authors are seeking to establish or to endorse static, non-changing definitions of identity and culture without granting to the Postmodern critics of such definitions that they must be rejected in that they do not work. This is where the technocratic aspect of the Authors context works against them. They want to retreat into a context that has been rejected due to its limitations and then to build on that context to develop overly simplified, ineffective definitions – not granting that future models based on those definitions will suffer similar limitations that have already been identified by the Postmodernists.
The difficulty that they identify with Brubaker and Cooper in that they claim that identity, for instance, does not exist in that it is a vague term dealing with the scattered detritus of the components of the psychological self, (p 3), is a fair criticism. But, and forgive me for not having access to the Brubaker and Cooper article directly, I would extrapolate from similar readings that general claims in that direction do not deny the actuality of identity but rather merely challenge the idea that identity is a characteristic or an expression of the self that is outside of or separable from the self – often identifying self as an interior psychological phenomenon. In as much as Schwartz and Briones work for a school of medicine, one could assume they approach this is a psychological phenomenon.
The question as to whether an identity is intrinsic or extrinsic to the inner self is probably not as relevant as it seems. Its seems to be a rhetorical rather than practical matter if one deals with the external identity in the context of assimilation or non-assimilation, or if one is dealing the interior self-consciousness, the impact and questions are the same.
Regarding the second set of criticisms, this time surrounding the term culture, as found in Bhatia and Ram (p 3-4), the Authors find that the Postmodernists argue that culture is “difficult to define,” (p 3) and that one cannot easily tell what constitutes a ‘culture’ nor where one the boundaries between one culture and another can be defined, (p 3-4). Bhatia and Ram are not only directly pertinent in their criticism of Modernist definitions of culture, but to attempt to move beyond these valid criticisms will rightly call any such model into question. Where ever it is that the Authors intend to go, they need to deal with the same criticisms expressed by Bhatia and Ram or propose a different way of dealing with the shortcomings present in the Modernist models preferred by the Authors for their simplicity and clarity.
The first part of my response to their dilemma is that they look towards adopting aspects of Queer Studies (LGBT Studies) that deal with multiple layers of identity within the gay or lesbian minority community within a minority cultural community within the dominant Anglo-American community in the United States (or Canada, or West). Much of this comes under the general heading of ‘cartographies of identity’ and I have been exploring them for possible application towards better modeling of the minority ethnic religious identities and sub-identities within dominant secular national cultures. I think that this is an excellent set of models with extensive untapped potential that would be far more useful to the Authors in an apparent ability to move beyond the shortcomings of Modernist definitions.
The second is to learn a lesson from the Anabaptist ethnic-religious identity structural self-understanding. In other words, if the Authors can come up with an identity structure model to clearly and concisely delineate and define Anabaptist culture and/or Mennonite or Amish culture, then they will have succeeded where everyone else has failed in the last five hundred years. Jewish culture might be just as interested in their Modernist solution in that Jewish culture and the Israeli state have admittedly suffered from similar constraints as the Anabaptists.
The point is not that you define cultures by what they are or even attempt to establish a canonical set of criteria for such a definition, but rather you focus on setting parameters to establish as distinct bands as possible within which the various definitions and criteria for a certain cultural identity are allowed to freely oscillate (see my Intellectual Development of the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Cultural Identity, 2010, Adapted Hanson-Bromeck Model below. This diagram shows how cultural identity is in a state of flux between two inputs. While this diagram shows a praxis model, one might clearly infer how aspects of both boundary definitions come together, mix and shape a new definition that oscillates between the two boundaries).
Borrowing from my friend Robert Althauser, he readily admits that there is a debate between the various levels of Judaism as to who is a Jew and who is not. Now, his definition depends on positive traits – being things that must be in place – and they are simply that either you are born of a Jewish mother or that you have converted to Judaism. If the answer is yes to either of those questions, then you are Jewish no matter what other criteria come into the picture. Now, he readily admits that other Jewish groups such as the Reform have toyed with this definition to include being born of one Jewish parent, etc., etc., so in that case you would have to move on towards more of an Anabaptist model. But using Robert’s simplified model, you see that while you cannot set a list of criteria as to “what” the Jewish identity is or what it looks like, you can set a broad band of identity structures bounded by the Jewish mother or conversion parallel lines of legitimacy – everything is contained within those two bands.
The matter is a bit more complicated with the Anabaptists. At present, we are increasingly contesting assumptions that we are even defined as a religious group, an ethnic religious group or our own cultural ethnicity that participates in multiple or no religious identities.
So our bands are quite a bit more complicated. We have a set of ethnic qualifiers and a set of religious qualifiers that are more complementary than mutually inclusive – in fact, many faith Mennonites are not of Mennonite ethnicity and the greater number of ethnic Mennonites have little or no interaction with faith Mennonite churches.
So we share Robert’s definition in a way – you can be “born” Mennonite, or you “convert.” From there, the formulas get more complicated. You can be a non-pacifist Mennonite if you are ethnic, but if you are not ethnic and not a faith pacifist, then one could legitimately challenge the basis on which one identifies as a Mennonite.
After that point, much of the discussion and debate over definitions has more to do with sub-ethnic affiliations and identities that are in fact encapsulated in the umbrella Anabaptist or Mennonite ethnicity based on the need to define one’s self in relation to those traditional Mennonite identifiers.
So this is more of a negative definition. Back to the world of Perekkadan’s Dutch Republic. There is a perennial question as to whether or not Spinoza is Mennonite, Jewish, both or neither. The same question applies to many of his Mennonite friends. Regarding the Mennonites, other Mennonites question their identity based on their own sub-identities – but that is not, as Gadamer would put it, playing fair. All of the Mennonite-identified “Collegiants” ie “friends of Spinoza” meet the belonging-ness criteria in both having been born into the ethnic culture and in self-identifying with a legitimate Mennonite faith church. Spinoza was not born Mennonite, so he fails to meet that criteria. Nor did join a faith church – so he fails in that regard. So Spinoza was not Mennonite unless one expands the secular or cultural Mennonite definition to allow for secular Jewish members.
Importantly, neither does the so-called American Anabaptist Stanley Hauerwas meet either of these two criteria. He was not born Mennonite and he did not convert.
Many have tried to claim that both Spinoza and Hauerwas are Mennonite based on their similarity of cultures, shared values and lifestyles and fellowship with Mennonites. But where a disgruntled, non-practicing former faith Mennonite would meet our cultural definitions, being Menno-like is not Mennonite.
Nor is this completely inapplicable to non-ethnic religions. Take the Filipino community for instance, you can be born Filipino or you can convert to Filipino by immigrating to the Philippines, being adopted or marrying into the ethnicity. Being a Filipino-phile is not going to qualify you. These are pretty easy boundaries to establish and contain within themselves all of the myriads of distinctions, individualities and internal divisions that you want. But you have to combine this concept with that of overlapping identity structures in that you can be Filipino, American, lesbian and Mennonite, for instance, all at the same time. But the Authors are not going to be able to escape the reality of multiple identity structures without calling their end results into question. Their models still have to reflect reality – no matter how complicated that reality is.
In fact, having written this paper, I am beginning to question the relevance of assimilation. Assimilation is seeming increasingly to be a heavily weighted term from the days of Colonialism, Anglo-American cultural domination and really, really scary, out of control forms of 20th Century ethnic nationalism. Perhaps a better concept, and one that would still fit my ring model, would that of cultural appropriation and cultural access.
|Chicago's Fluid Melting Pot|
Here’s the clincher. Both Robert and myself are dealing with ethnic-religions. Now, I am guessing that the Authors would challenge as to whether nor not a “religious” identity is pertinent to their paper. Indeed it is. Think about it, going back to the Filipino culture – you are born into it or you convert through a variety of means – most of which would grant you national citizenship into the Filipino nation. Now, once you have been born into or converted into Judaism, Mormonism or Mennonism, you accept a certain set of cultural obligations and realize a set of cultural or identity obligations to yourself – including that of acceptance. The Authors define acculturation as “the process of cultural change and adaptation that occurs when individuals from different cultures come into contact,’(p 2), a definition that seems a bit simplistic. The Authors further clarify their working definitions as “acculturation refers to the process of adaptation along two dimensions: (a) adoption of ideals, values, and behaviors of the receiving culture, and (b) retention of ideals, values and beliefs from the immigrant person’s culture of origin,” (p 2). Earlier we have seen that they slough off the idea that the host culture is also changed in this exchange.
While their definition fits in with the ring model and their linear model (I still like mine better for reality’s sake), there is still a lot of pressure to conform, adapt and adopt relative the host country’s dominant culture with little implied pressure for the host country to reciprocate. Yet, this is exactly the issue that makes long-term assimilation, acculturation or simply being able to fit in most difficult – the debate over the host or recipient culture to allow itself to be, in fact to seek to be changed by the new cultural immigrant. This is why subways have signs in Spanish and English and why Swedes and the French are struggling to come to terms to Islamic clothing restrictions.
When the Mennonites faced acculturation ideals (in fact, many of them were already refugees from Switzerland, Belgium and even England), they did not just assimilate. In fact, they resisted assimilation, being willing to endure the bad (punishment) to the point that they swung completely around the ring to the side of experiencing cultural benefits in the Netherlands – being tolerance, material prosperity and a positive Pietist impact on an otherwise darkly Calvinist society.
Cutting it short, the conversion/birth model establishing distinct bands within which oscillating brands of personalized cultural identity structures oscillate seems to augment rather than limit the Authors practicality. These bands can overlap other bands and coexist with many bands on many different levels. There is nothing the Authors can do but accept that reality and determine to work it into their model. Most importantly, the Authors seem to have an unexpressed, perhaps even unconscious need to “assimilate” through acculturation when they need to take the moral high ground work to understand and allow or make room for the new cultures and its impacts rather than to guide individuals through the process. Perhaps the Authors’ dissatisfaction with Postmodern constructs is simply that they are having a hard time accepting the reality Postmodernism exposes, whether on a social, a political or a technocratic level. But, we have helped point them into a few directions to help ease their way and that of those whom they are seeking to help.
Parekkadan, Benny, Historical Perspectives on Toleration: The Dutch Republic in the 16th and early 17th Century, NEH Summer Seminar, 2005, History Department, John P. Stevens H.S., Edison, NJ, 2005.
Schwartz, Seth, Montgomery, Marilyn and Briones, Ervin, The Role of Identity in Acculturation and Assimilation of Immigrant People: Theoretical Propositions, Empirical Questions, and Applied Recommendations,Human Development 2006; 49, 1-30, Miami, FL, 2006.Wall, Steven, Evolution of the Bruderthaler Mennonite Culture and De-volution of the Historical Evangelical Anabaptist Faith, Evanston Mennonite Church, Evanston, IL, 2010.