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Immigration is triggered by issues such as a search for better economic and social conditions, political unrest, disaster or need for a change of environment (Fell & Hayes, 2007). Immigration involves several cultural models such as assimilation, pluralism and multicultural models.
Assimilation is the process through which immigrant’s language or culture is integrated into the culture of other ethnic groups. Assimilation can either be rapid or gradual. Rapid assimilation takes place within a short span of time. On the other hand, gradual assimilation occurs over an extended period of time. When assimilation takes place, the original culture of immigrants is indistinguishable from other cultures.
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The United States has experienced immigration of different ethnic groups over the centuries. The reason for this was that minority groups such as Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians gradually changed their lifestyles and behaviors to resemble those of the American citizens (Harold, 2005). Immigration in the United States was at its peak between 1880 and 1900. During this time, approximately 24 million immigrants were reported. Most of these immigrants have been assimilated into the United States system and can hardly be distinguished from other American citizens. Assimilation is hailed for bringing unity among people of initially different backgrounds. On the other hand, it causes loss of some cultures, which are swallowed up in the process of assimilation. Assimilation has not been as smooth in the United States because it takes place in a large scale. Due to this, the government was prompted to devise mechanisms, some of which are lethal to stop illegal immigrants. This effort labels some immigrants as criminals and outcasts, preventing them from integrating in the mainstream culture.
African-Americans went to the United States between 17th and 19th century during the Transatlantic Trade. Later, they intermarried and adapted to the local lifestyle. However, this group of people was never given the opportunity to fully assimilate with the American mainstream culture mainly because of racial discrimination that was rampant in the United States (Huntington, 2004). Discrimination has only reduced in the recent past as demonstrated by the ascendance of Barak Obama to the American Presidency. Hispanics are also a minority group as well as African-Americans that immigrated into the United States; however, assimilation has not been forthcoming due to racism. The Hispanics migrated to the United States in the early 20th century. Other minority groups in the United States include Asians. Like other immigrants, the Asians found it hard to assimilate into the United States mainstream culture. Most of these minority groups immigrated into the United States in search of the “American dream.”
Pluralism model is a concept that states that individual ethnic groups have a right to live independently within a larger society while retaining their unique cultural heritage. This model contrasts the assimilation model. Pluralism advocates for ethnic groups to live independently as opposed to assimilation where the groups become indistinguishable. Pluralism is good in that it brings about people learning from each other’s cultures and in the process improves their own cultures. Pluralism occurred in the 19th century when migration was rampant. Those that advocate for this model believe that it strengthens the involved communities rather than weakening them. If one culture is left to dominate all others, it may breed disunity and misunderstandings due to a feeling of relegation by other cultures. Pluralism also brings about integration rather than segregation in a society. Pluralism can be seen in the United States where several ethnic cultures exist together.
However, critiques of this model believe that it brings disparity as everyone clings to their culture. It also elicits the belief that ethnic identity is better and more powerful than other forms of identity.
Multiculturalism or cultural diversity refers to communities composed of multiple cultures (Milton, 2012). Multiculturalism can also refer to the orientation by governments or institutions towards a diverse population as is the case in most current countries. Most western countries have achieved multiculturalism. This cultural model not only recognizes religious and cultural diversity but also aims at treating cultural and religious groups equally. It demands rectification of economic and political policies that have marginalized minority groups like African-Americans and women. It is important to note that in multiculturalism there is no official culture in which an individual must belong. This brings relief to individuals who may have otherwise been pressured to belong to a particular culture. Multiculturalism also brings about cosmopolitan cities.
Multiculturalism has the advantage of generating new knowledge as people interact and share ideas. People also learn to live with others from diverse cultural backgrounds. Multicultural communities benefit economically as people with varied skills learn from each other and use these skills for the growth of the economy. It also brings new ideas to the table and makes people tolerate each other. Moreover, it also helps people to learn how to coexist in peace despite having hailed from different cultural backgrounds. However, multiculturalism can cause cultural clashes or misunderstandings. This can cause conflicts that may be hard to resolve easily. Currently, multiculturalism is the model being used. This model is crucial since it allows the country to be easily accessed by people of all cultures. Diverse people have unique talents and skills needed to navigate the country through various challenges. Moreover, people are privileged by this model to preserve their unique traits.
In conclusion, immigration which brings about assimilation, pluralism and multiculturalism has both advantages and disadvantages. Immigration is here to stay, and people should accept this as a fact. The challenge is to find ways of utilizing its advantages and to minimize or deal with the disadvantages.