Yesterday I was surprised when Dave Freer sent me a post that echoed almost exactly what I’ve been thinking. In a late night (for me. He has temporal privilege, living in Australia) conversation last night, I found that we agree in more than one thing, including how nasty things are going to get if we don’t get at least a partial course correction soon. That is a post for another time — how the fact that the left’s escathology and the belief history comes with an arrow and that they are the inevitable “end of history” (a belief that’s religious in nature because no rational principles lead to it) has caused them to be blind to the fact that silencing opposition is NOT winning — but for now it remains scary that both of us are worried about the same things. Why scary? Because I’ve known Dave for… twelve? thirteen? years and the man has a gut feel for the future. Even when you really wish he weren’t right, he tends to be.
But today I want to talk about assimilation, or, in sociological terms, acculturation. I, and Kate Paulk, and Dave Freer, and a ton of the rest of us are immigrants who went to another country with the intention of living there the rest of our lives and who had incentives to fit in and be part of that country. (In the case of two of us, husbands. And in my case a philosophical belief in the principles the nation was founded on.)
But even then, with the best will to fit in, it’s a HARD thing. Really hard.
It’s not just in your head either, though it is there too.
Humans are tribal, and living in a multi-ethnic society doesn’t make you less tribal. This is why people keep looking for racists under their bed, because you know, it’s baked in, and they know they’ve “discriminated” at some point. Only this isn’t the racism of the progressives. Minorities can be (often are) as racist or more racist than the majority.
But more importantly, in a multi-ethnic society that tries as hard as it can to eliminate racism, you get a different kind of “racism” that has nothing to do with race. You get tribalism that fastens onto odd things. It’s best expressed in “Ya’ll are not for around here.”
What you might not realize if you have never immigrated and acculturated is that the way you move, the way you speak (absent accent), the way you eat and the way you walk (not to even mention handwriting) are ALL culturally linked. Most of it is not identifiable at a conscious level, either. Most of it is so deep that all it does is trigger the “ya’ll are not from around here.”
I know I’m fitting in better because it’s been years since people stared at me while I went about my daily business and before I opened my mouth came up to me and asked “Where are you from?”
(And btw, the reason I stopped resisting identifying as Latin is because other people are making that identification for me, usually people who have a grudge (and who, bizarrely, manage to think I’m Mexican.) My kids came to the same decision for the same reason. It’s one of those “you say that I am” and it actuates even when my hair is colored light brown — it has no color of its own anymore — and I’m pale from a combination of lack of sun and illness. SOMETHING is triggering this response in people. I don’t know what it is.)
Now, when you don’t fit in, for whatever reason, you’re going to find that some people — often not the sanest people in the world — are going to have issues with you and often be hostile.
Remember this as we go through the stages of assimilation.
It starts when you find yourself in a completely different land and you realize there’s no going back. I came over after Dan and I discussed our options and decided where we were going to live.
The choices were here or there or between and wherever, a sort of multinational, above nationality existence.
We chose the US for several reasons. To begin with there was that philosophical belief set I had which conformed best to the founding documents of the US. Then there was the fact that Dan could never be REALLY Portuguese, even if he moved there, learned the language and acculturated completely. He’d still be a foreigner living there. Being Portuguese means sharing ancestry. Our kids would be considered mestizos. Our grandkids would probably bear “the Americans” as a nickname. Our great grandkids might too, and by the sixth or seventh generation, THEN they would be Portuguese (and might not remember why they had that nickname, and might think it was just some ancestor who liked American movies.) Then there was HOW we wanted our kids to grow and the options we wanted them to have. We decided the US was our best bet. There were no doubts our kids would be Odd and the more free the society the more outliers thrive in it.
So I came over and set out to acculturate. Part of this involved watching a lot of old TV because it gives you the catch-phrases, the “feel” of things. I also read a lot and pretty much everything, which helps, though what helped most was reading auto-biographies and NOT by famous people, who are presenting an image, but the sort of “my grandma wrote an autobiography and we printed a hundred copies and donated one to the library” candid shots of normal people you can get in those.
Even with the best will of the world, even wanting more than anything to fit in, it’s very hard. Not just in America. America might be one of the easiest places in the world, because it is multi-ethnic and a country of immigrants.
But even so, people catch the subconcious signals of “something wrong about you.” They stare. They don’t trust you. Sometimes they think you’re stupid, because “smart” in a society is not an IQ test but a series of signals a lot of them subconscious.
I muddled through, but sometimes there there were days I felt so homesick that I’d give anything to never have set out on this course. And people treated me oddly, and it’s very easy to use that as an excuse for failure. I learned not to do it because, through friends who did it constantly, I identified it as a trap. I chose to ignore it. But I still knew it was happening, and it made me long to go back to my tribe, to the place I belonged.
Some number of immigrants do this. It gets to be too much for them. They run back “home” where “things make sense.” I might have done it but for that philosophical conviction. That’s how hard it is.
At this stage many people make plans to retire in the “homeland” or at least to go back after death. I guess it’s a comfort.
And I still had that option, six years in, because the hoped-for kids had failed to materialize, so if something happened to Dan, or simply if it got to be too much for me, we could always “go to Portugal.”
Only then I had Robert. And the most important reason to live here and stay here came into being. And if I was to raise this child American, I certainly wasn’t going back, even if a tragedy happened and something happened to Dan.
This is the point at which you’re most offensive to natives, btw. You know just enough of your new society to see all the warts, but not enough to see the good side or necessary side of the warts. And you’ve been far enough from your native society for a while so it creates this glow of nostalgia. You know you’re “trapped” in the new place, which creates resentment.
This is when the words “In my country” — meaning in the old country — come out of the mouths of immigrants. I was lucky to watch a Turkish immigrant in a group we belonged to alienate everyone with this behavior, so I didn’t do it. I thought it, sometimes, but I didn’t DO it.
So then came the serious-fitting-in part, helped, btw, by dad. We took Robert back to meet the family after he was born and dad who, btw, longs to see me every year, told me not to be running back for every important event in the kid’s life. “Don’t be like those immigrants from France who raise the kid to be Portuguese, while in France. You made your choice, now make sure your kid knows his place. Raise him American. We’d love to know him, of course, but he’s American and that’s where he has to fit, and live and thrive.” This was much like Dave Freer’s FIFO advice yesterday.
So… I made my choice. And I really started trying to fit in. This did not involve changing our diet so much, or my clothing choices (I’m odd, okay) but a closer observation of people. I’d have got rid of my accent, if I could. Though being a mother helps with this too, because unconsciously you start picking up speech patterns and gestures from your kids. I might still strike people as somewhat odd, but it wasn’t as in your face anymore.
I also stopped reading in Portuguese, because when I do that a lot, it affects my word choices and rhythm of language in English, and I was trying to get published.
And at some point, I stopped being stared at when I was at the grocery store, and I stopped feeling I stuck out as a sore thumb. I still couldn’t write people who grew up in America. (I still can’t write people who grew up NORMAL in America, but that’s something else.)
I don’t know when that happened because I was busy just living. Somewhere along the line I stopped thinking of Portugal as “home” and Portuguese as “we” and instead changed that to America.
Then came the shock of going to Portugal after a five year hiatus and being in a foreign land, rubbed wrong by the way these people moved, the way they talked, the way they prepared food, a myriad little things.
Now, be aware I’m not an “ugly American”. I’ve been to other countries (neither America nor Portugal) and reveled in the differences particularly in food and dress but also architecture and just ‘different’. That’s the point of traveling, I think. But it’s also easy to enjoy the difference when you know in two weeks or whatever you’ll be back home and have things your way.
It’s harder when the back of your brain remembers doing things that way and — this is hard to phrase, but it’s something like — is afraid of relapsing and of getting “trapped” in the old place. It’s a feeling of being in a foreign land that is nonetheless eerily familiar, and yet not familiar enough that you could survive in it on your own. Because of how familiar it is, you see the warts. Because you’re now acculturated elsewhere, it’s easy to see the solutions too and you find yourself saying “Back home we do it this way” then stop, aghast, realizing what happened. And it’s a relief to come back to your adopted homeland. And you feel guilty it’s a relief, because you love the people you left behind, and they would be hurt if they knew how much your prefer your new place.
This is where I’ve been for at least 15 years. It’s where I’ll be the rest of my life. There will always be little things that aren’t “right” about America, things I learned so far back that they’re not conscious. Nothing big or philosophical, but the little ways of doing things. Sometimes I can’t explain to my husband why I hate an area he loves, or vice versa (this is important while house hunting) all I can do is wave my hands and say “No, just no.” And I know I give the “indicators” of class and intelligence all wrong. (Not REAL class or intelligence but how those markers are perceived in the US.) I KNOW that was part of my trouble in the field. I also know that my “I’m getting really, really angry” is mistaken for shyness or fear here, which has led to some in retrospect funny situations.
I will never fully belong either place again. That’s okay. It’s a choice I made. And of the two, I belong here the most. Say I 90% belong here, opposed to 10% in Portugal.
But the process to get where I am was neither easy nor unintentional. And it involved consciously NOT romanticizing where I came from, which I find is a big temptation for immigrants of all types and colors.
So… So this brings us to taking in refugees from a culture so different from ours as to be mind-boggling, (and you wouldn’t get HOW different unless you’d lived in one half way there), from a religion that considers itself at war (physical, not just spiritual) with us and modernity, from a place where tribe is primary above all…
Do I understand why they want to come here? Sure. Even if half the reason is probably wrong of the “streets paved with gold” variety. They want a better life (or a life) for themselves and their children.
Will it be an easy road to acculturation? No. For one, our culture ACTIVELY DISCOURAGES acculturating. It’s considered a “betrayal” of your “native” culture. I was accidentally in the room yesterday (I am ill, okay) while someone watched an episode of Dr. Ken, in which his wife accuses him (a second generation Korean) of being a lapsed Korean and brags about how she has passed on “her culture” (she’s second generation Japanese) to her kids.
The entire episode could serve as a cultural dissection of “the crazy years.” These two people AND THEIR KIDS are AMERICAN. That’s the only thing they are. Yeah, okay, they come from elsewhere, as do most Americans.
BUT the message heard, loud and clear, is that you’re supposed to hold on to all this culture from an imaginary homeland, even when you marry someone from elsewhere, and pass this entire undigested baggage to your kids. The message is that not only is there no escaping your roots, but it’s somehow bad to want to.
This is the message these new refuggee-immigrants will get, though TV, through movies, through social workers. How important it is they hold on to their all vital tribalism. Not just in food and clothing, but in thought. How it’s somehow “racism” to demand they fit in into their new homeland.
Remember I’m saying this as someone who’s been there. Acculturation HURTS. Even when you want it, it’s a very painful process. Think of the worst days of your teenage years, and multiply them by five or ten years of consciously dragging yourself through this process.
It’s hard enough to do when you chose this, when you love it, and when your tradition doesn’t demand you hold yourself as an enemy of your new land’s ways. (And btw, I think that’s why it’s considered “racist”: acculturation and pushing for people to assimilate hurts people. Bleeding hearts don’t understand that sometimes hurt is part of the growth process.)
I can’t even imagine trying to do it when immigration was forced on me, when going back was never an option, when my habits, culture and religion both encouraged me to be suspicious of my new countrymen and caused them to suspect me.
Hard? Rather say impossible, or close to. And then add to that telling you that you’re not SUPPOSED to assimilate. And you’re supposed to raise your kids in the old culture.
People who have never acculturated, people who are frankly quite ignorant of what “foreign” or “abroad” means, beyond their easy, lazy, fluffy headed vacations talking to other people like them abroad, call those scared of such an influx of people in that bind “ignorant.” I guess because they lack a mirror.
Is it scary? It is very scary. Can it end well? Of course it can.
But the way it ends well is where our society cheerfully smiles and says “fit in, or f*ck off.” We’ll embrace little Achmed and little Fatima as our countrymen, but NOT if they go around demanding Sharia, telling us to stop eating pork, and that we can’t write/make stupid parodies of Allah, as we do of every other religion/belief in our culture. Sure, they can roll their eyes at the stupid parodies, or write outraged blog posts about our disrespect. But they don’t have the right to try to curtail us by law, or to bring their f*cked up culture, which caused their problems to begin with, here.
I don’t see it happening, at least not while our current multi-culti elites are in power. Which means what we’re doing is importing trouble for later.
Further more, what we’re doing is being horrible to these people and ensuring they’ll never fit in, either place. And not like me, not 90%/10%. No, we’re talking they will fit about 30% either place. And because not self-selected immigrants, they’re probably not odd, not used to NOT belonging.
Of such discontent is strife and war born.
UNDERSTAND this is not what i want, not an expression of my desires. It is what it is, and how the human animal works.
It is impossible to have this deranged belief that culture is genetic and that people can’t and shouldn’t change (a belief belied by history) and a multi-ethnic society. At the end of that road is a war none of us wants to imagine and a far more restrictive society than any of us would like.
The only ways out of it are to either take no immigrants, certainly no immigrants in a large group (which makes it harder to leave the old country and its hates and loves behind) OR to hand to every refugee a little handbook.
The cover would say “Fit in or f*ck off.” And the inside would explain “At home we did it–” is banned, that it’s gauche to try to pass the culture you left behind to your kids. Oh, food and attire are fine, no one complains of that, but do not try to pass on “we hate x because in the 11th century, they”. And the only way to stop passing that on is to be American as HARD as you can.
Which hurts. It hurts like hell. The generation that immigrated will never fully heal from it, and their kids will still bear scars.
But it’s the only way to make good on your choice of America. It’s that or go back. There is no other choice. Making your new country fit the old is the WRONG choice. Else, why did you leave.
Fit in or f*ck off. No, this doesn’t mean becoming the Borg. America is the society on Earth with the greatest tolerance for oddities and outliers. BUT you do need to fit in minimally to succeed. And you need to start thinking of America as “we” and not holding yourself up above the rest of your countrymen.
This goes double and with bells on if you were born and raised here. Stop imagining there is a perfect society elsewhere and that you somehow belong to it.
Life is in great part the art of adapting to the flaws in reality that don’t match your desired state.
Sometimes all you can do is Fit in or F*ck off.