Are Hispanics Assimilating?

Are Hispanics Assimilating? September 25, 2015

In his Christians at the Borders, Guatemalan-American theologian M. Daniel Carroll addresses Samuel Huntington’s claim that the newest American immigrants are not assimilating to American values and priorities. 

Carroll agrees that immigrants have a responsibility to assimilate to the host country, and provides a biblical argument in support. He reviews the many Old Testament passages that demand kindness and justice for strangers, and then adds “the Old Testament law makes clear that there are expectations for the sojourner, just as there were demands on Israel.” Some Christians overlook these dimensions of the biblical pictures and focus on “verses that command the care of the sojourner.” This, he argues, “is one-sided and incomplete. The law assumes that there is a movement on the part of the sojourner toward the host culture (Israel): learning its ways and language and respecting its laws and taboos” (99-100).

He observes that assimilation is a complex process that always involves negotiation: “Every dimension of life as a minority must be negotiated with the world that surrounds them: skin color, the language of the home and the language of the public sphere, accents, slang, music, religion, social status, cultural rituals . . . foods, sports, and fashion styles” (22).

Out of the Hispanic negotiation with American culture, he argues, “assimilation is taking place” (23). That doesn’t mean that Hispanics are becoming indistinguishable from other residents and citizens. They rather produce “cultural and linguistic hybrids and multiple loyalties that are part of a phenomenon calls ‘transnationalism.’” Hispanics are learning English, and adjusting to American institutions – workplace, church, school, shopping mall. He points to the literature of Hispanic-Americans as evidence of the struggles of Hispanics to maintain their traditions while accommodating to a new environment. Hispanics know what it means to “live in the hyphen” (23-24).

The broader point is that American identity “has never been a static entity” to begin with: “It has meant different things at diverse times, as millions from all over the world have come to this country and added their part.” The negotiation has always been two-way, as immigrants both adjust to and transform American ways. Once Irish Catholics were regarded as a threat to the American way of life. Despite their enslavement and exclusion, African-Americans have contributed enormously to American music, entertainment, sport. Jazz is quintessentially American, but it ain’t Anglo.

There are reasons to welcome the new immigrants, who give as well as receive. Hispanic familial life and religiosity is arguably a healthy addition to an America wracked by family breakdown and comfortable, conventional faith. 

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