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Cultural Assimilation in the Families of American Indians

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Everyone coming to America slowly integrates into our society. What is assimilation? According to Merriam-Webster, one meaning of assimilation is to absorb into the cultural tradition of a population or group. When people come to the United States of America, they should learn our language, implement our traditions and eventually become an American citizen. By becoming a citizen all foreigners have rights, privileges and protections from the American Government. Should we as Americans accept foreigners that do not want to assimilate into our culture but they want to impose their culture on us? Should we be accepting this? If you come to America, its only proper to learn English and accept our customs and laws of the United states. Foreigners can maintain their cultures as long as they do not try to impose them on us. What happens when they do?

In the late 1700’s until the early 1900’s the United States Government wanted the Native American culture to become more westernized. George Washington was the first president of the United States between 1789-1797. While in office he attempted to assimilate Native Americans into the western culture. The American Government encouraged all people to be educated so that they will learn the cultural benefit in all American people. They believe that education is the best way to acculturate minorities. The US government hoped that Americanizing the Indians would be the most successful way to peacefully integrate them into American culture and society.

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The Dawes Act of 1887, which assigned tribal lands to individuals, it was seen as a way to create individual homesteads for Native Americans. Portions of Land were given to Native Americans as exchange of them becoming US citizens and the Native Americans were supposed to give up some of their tribal self-government and institutions. This act resulted in the relocation of an estimated total of 93 million acres from Native American control. Majority of the land was bought by individuals or given out free through the Homestead law. “The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 was also part of Americanization policy; it granted citizenship to all Indians living on reservations”. John Collier was opposed to forced assimilation. He was in charge of the federal Office of Indian Affairs from 1933 to 1945, and tried to repeal many of the established policies. (Dawes Act, November 2019, Wikipedia)

The way American government assimilated the Indians was by establishing boarding schools for the children. At the Schools, the children were forced to change their names to American ones, learn and speak English, wear western clothes, convert to Christianity. The American Government eliminated many of American Indian communities and forcibly moved them onto reservations. (Khan Academy)

Assimilation also occurred politically, religiously and economically. Tribal government were forced to make changes to be more connected with American governance procedures on reservations. The chief councils and religious leader did not have the same authority on their people. The American Native Indians were not allowed to have traditional ceremonies and rituals because the government believed that Christianity was the only civilized religion. Many organizations like Boston Citizenship Committee, Indian Rights Association, and the Women’s National Indian Association worked to promote assimilation.

The US government’s attempt to forcibly integrate and assimilate the Native Indians into American Culture and society was ultimately a failure. The assimilation only led to increased conflicts between Americans and Indians, it destroyed American Indian culture and tradition. The US Government tried to rebuild Indian communities, but only to a very small degree. The US Government admitted to its failure and granted the native tribe reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. Gradually, the Indian population began to increase again and the American economy eventually improved. Native Americans are regarded as one of the many ethnic minorities within modern day America. There have been several recent attempt to restore and preserve Native culture and by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. Although assimilation act by the government in the late 1800’s was unsuccessful, the integration of American Indians continues to this day.

The 19th century was a time of rapid growth in population. About 5 million people immigrated to America. Immigrants struggled to get use to American culture, and they had a hard time assimilating. Immigrants came to America to have a better life, for jobs and religious freedom. Ireland in the early 1900’s lacked modern industry, the Irish immigrants were farmers therefore when they landed at Ellis island they were unprepared for the industrialized, urban centers in the United States. These Irish immigrants weren’t the poorest people in Ireland because they were able to pay for their voyage but by American standards they were penniless. Because of their economic situation they lived where their ship docked. As time went on there were more Irish immigrants coming to the united states, there were more Irishmen here than in Ireland. Irish immigrants lived in tiny overcrowded spaces like Cellars, attics and make-do spaces in alleys became home. In Ireland they lived in mud huts so their expectations coming to America were minimal.

The great number of Irish who entered the United States from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries were changed by America, just as they changed this nation. They achieved lives that would not have been possible in Ireland, supporting their families and bringing a better life to their fellow Irish in the United States and in Ireland.

In turn these immigrants contributed to the ‘American culture’ in many ways. They became political and religious leaders. For example, ancestors to the future success of Irish-American elected leaders such as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and President John F. Kennedy. Among the early immigrants to the United States, the Irish are now assimilated in all aspects of this nation, but they still retain pride and identity in their Irish heritage.

One of New York city’s major ethnic groups is the Irish community, they have been an important part of the city’s population since the Irish immigration in the late 19th century. Due to the Great Famine in Ireland, many families were driven to emigrate from the country. “By 1854, between 1.5 and 2 million Irish had left their country. In the United States, most Irish became city-dwellers. With little money, many had to settle in the cities that the ships landed in. By 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the population in Boston, Buffalo, Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia. Boston today has the largest percentage of Irish-Americans of any city in the United States, while New York City has the most Irish Americans in raw numbers.” (Wikipedia, September 22,2019)

Between 1820 and 1880, more than two hundred thousand immigrants came to the United States from ethnically Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and Baltic territories that at that time remained under German cultural influence. German Jews were the majority among the immigrants together with their American born children they played a central role in the assimilation/Americanization of their communities until World War I.

Leaders of the time urged assimilation and integration into the American culture, and Jews quickly became part of American lifestyle. German Jews began to come to America in significant numbers. Jews left Germany because of persecution, restrictive laws, economic hardship, and the failure of movements widely supported by German Jews advocating revolution and reform there. They looked to America as a land of economic and social opportunity.

Some 250,000 German-speaking Jews came to America at the beginning of World War I. This significant influx of immigrants expanded American Jewish geography by establishing themselves in smaller cities and towns in the Midwest, West, and the South. German Jewish immigrants often started out as peddlers and settled in one of the towns on their route, starting a small store there. This dispersion helped to establish American Judaism as a national faith.

Many German Jews went to Cincinnati it was considered an opportunity to trade in the Midwest and West. Cincinnati became the seat of American Reform Judaism, and the German Jews also created institutions such as B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Committee, and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Eastern European Jews began to immigrate to the United States in large numbers after 1880. Overpopulation, oppressive legislation and poverty were some of the reasons the Jews left Eastern Europe. They came America hoping for a better life. Over 2 million Jews from Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Romania came to America between 1880 and the onset of restrictive immigration quotas in 1924. Thus the Eastern European Jews become the majority.

The immigrants settled in the poorer neighborhoods of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and Chicago. Living conditions in these neighborhoods were often overcrowded and seedy. The immigrants found work in factories, especially in the garment industry, cigar manufacturing, food production, and construction. Jewish workers supported the labor movement’s struggle for better working conditions. Yiddish culture, in the form of drama, journalism, flourished in American Jewish immigrant neighborhoods.

The Eastern European Jews also brought with them certain ideological principles that would influence American Jewry. Many of the workers supported socialism or communism as a means of securing economic and social equality. In this manner, the Eastern Europeans established a strong link between American Jews and liberal politics. Eastern European Jews established a more religiously diverse American Jewish population. The Eastern Europeans did not feel comfortable with Reform Judaism. They believed in maintaining their religious tradition, and this established Conservative Judaism and introduced Orthodox Judaism. Major Jewish immigration to the United States ended in 1924. Today’s American Jewish community remains very much a product of these founding groups.

Many conservatives are worried that immigrants and their children are not as patriotic as native-born Americans. A survey was done in February 2019 which showed a degree of patriotism from the immigrants and their children to be the same as American born, sometimes the immigrants even have more patriotism. Similarly, immigrant and second-generation loyalty in our political institutions surpasses that of native-born Americans. The American patriotic assimilation system is flourishing, and immigrants are enhancing overall American faith in our institutions of government.

There are at least three possible reasons for why immigrants are as patriotic or more patriotic than native-born Americans and why their devotion to this country is passed to the second generation. The first is that immigrants are more patriotic because they chose to become Americans. All things being equal, we should expect those who choose to become Americans to like America more than do those of us who were born here. Their children also understand that choice, which potentially explains their patriotic opinions. The second is that immigrants and their children have memories of how bad other countries are, so they are more appreciative of the United States and thus more patriotic. The third explanation, related to the second, is that disillusionment with the United States takes generations to set in, so only those whose ancestors settled here several generations ago are knowledgeable enough to be less patriotic. Regardless of the possible explanations, immigrants and their children are at least as patriotic as native-born Americans and frequently more so.

Just like Rabinow had patience and an understanding of people who vastly differ from him and he respected the Moroccan culture for what is was. We as American born citizens have to understand that the immigrants have a hard time accommodating into our society. We have to give them a chance to integrate into the American society. They are from different culture and background and the language is a stumbling block for them too. Having grandparents that came from Eastern Europe to the United States to have a better life but the language made their adjustment difficult.

Sources:

  1. Morawska, Ewa. ‘Assimilation in the United States: Nineteenth Century.’ Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. (Viewed on October 13, 2019) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_assimilation_of_Native_Americans
  2. Irish Contributions to the American Culture https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/irish8.html
  3. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/assimilate
  4. Cultural assimilation of Native Americans, September 27 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_assimilation_of_Native_Americans
  5. By Alex Nowrasteh and Andrew C. Forrester, February 4, 2019. CATO Institute. “Immigrants Recognize American Greatness: Immigrants and their Descendants are Patriotic and trust America’s Governing Institutions”. https://www.cato.org/publications/immigration-research-policy-brief/immigrants-recognize-american-greatness-immigrants
  6. ‘Dawes Act”. November 5, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawes_Act
  7. “The reservation system” https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/the-gilded-age/american-west/a/the-reservation-system
  8. “Irish Americans in New York City”. September 22, 2019 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Americans_in_New_York_City 

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