THE MECHANISM OF INTEGRATION
How does anyone come to develop a sense of belonging and emotional identification with a society?
In tracing my own experience of integration into American society, I came to develop a sense of belonging and emotional identification with America and came to feel American, as I came to identify with the civic values that America not only upheld — values of equality, inclusion, tolerance, pluralism — but were actively translated into the experience of my daily life.
Given America’s strong ethos of egalitarianism and inclusion through the 1990s and 2000s, Americans perceived me as 'American' before I started perceiving myself as American. America made me feel that my destiny remained at mercy of nobody else but my own, and if I worked hard enough, there would be no barrier in becoming whatever I wanted to become. And you knew that you had the society’s back should you or anyone else ever become a victim of discrimination. I came to cherish the strong ethos of egalitarianism and inclusion that permeated through daily life and came to share these values as a proud American.
Looking back, what was striking about the integration process in America was that there was no separate 'integration effort' made by the society to integrate the new comers. The society didn’t worry about how acculturated or not acculturated immigrants became. The acculturalization process of immigrants — how much effort the new comer made to learn the language, how much of the old culture to shed and the new culture to adopt and whom one chose to stick with — was entirely left up to the newcomers to determine for themselves. This created a spectrum of how ‘Americanized’ they became even within one family who arrived in America at the same time — between parents and children and even among siblings — who stood on different points along the spectrum of ‘Americanization.'
Rather, America simply focused on practicing and teaching the civic values of inclusion and equality to the natives as well as the newcomers, and creating an environment where everyone felt included and equal. And thrusted into this environment and ethos of the society, the new comers came to believe in the progressive values that the nation upheld, and develop emotional identification with and feel proud of the nation that not only preached these values but actively practiced them, that directly affected the experience of their everyday lives.
In this sense, practicing and teaching the civic values of the nation was the mechanism for integration. And in fact, leaving the cultural realm up to the individual to determine for oneself, in fact, was the practice of the civic values of equality and inclusion — since there was no group, who had the power to impose on other groups how they felt about themselves and how they chose to express how they felt about themselves.
In Europe, by contrast, the integration effort focused on acculturalization of immigrants — of helping immigrants ‘try harder’ to integrate themselves by learning the language and adopting the culture of the host nation — the realm that was precisely left up to the individuals to determine for themselves in America. But no matter how acculturated immigrants became — willingly or forcefully done, it won't lead to emotional integration of immigrants, because it was the strong ethos of egalitarianism and inclusion that pervades through the experience of everyday life — to be treated as ‘one of us’ in the ‘circle of we’ — that allows the new comers and their descendants to develop a sense of belonging and an emotional identification with a nation. Of course, the willingness to strengthen the ethos of egalitarianism and inclusion depended on acknowledgement that there was a need for it.
A strong ethos of egalitarianism and inclusion, in turn, would facilitate a robust and organic acculturalization process of immigrants over the course of generations, without the society having to impose it. Looking at those of migrant background in Europe, no matter how acculturated they already were and culturally 'German,' 'French' or 'Swiss' they felt, they weren't considered fully 'German' 'French' or 'Swiss.' How paradoxical is it to fear losing culture of the nation, when the society refuses to acknowledge those who are already thoroughly acculturated German, French or Swiss as fully German, French or Swiss?
If European societies want to solve the integration problem, encouraging immigrants to ‘try harder’ to integrate themselves won’t solve the root of integration problem. It was creating a society with a strong ethos of egalitarianism and inclusion that would solve the root of the integration problem, without having to make a separate integration effort.