If you’ve ever watched the Star Trek franchise on television or film, you may have seen a species called the “Borg.” Instead of being a standard culture, the Borg use technology to absorb relevant information about others into their own society. When they are encountered, there is a brief instructional warning offered: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”
What the Borg do in Star Trek is not that different from what today’s significant cultures and societies on our planet due to niche ethnicities. When the larger society absorbs the smaller one, this process is also referred to as assimilation. The people with the “alternative” culture are forced to adapt to the practices, activities, and expectations of the larger nation.
When it happens through tourism, work visas, or temporary visits, the process of assimilation is easy to dismiss. If it happens on a broad scale, however, assimilation feels like a piece of humanity disappears
These are the biggest pros and cons of assimilation to consider.
List of the Pros of Assimilation
1. It improves security at every level of society.
When immigrants are forced to assimilate to a new culture, then they are asked to set aside their own beliefs and expectations to follow what is desired in their new home. An example of this occurred recently in Germany when Chancellor Angela Merkel attempted to ban women from wearing a burqa. The British proposed the idea of an integration oath being taken by immigrants that would be enforceable. Assimilation isn’t always about race. It is sometimes about providing opportunities to others in exchange for safety.
2. It creates more employment opportunities for immigrants.
Most immigrants recognize that they must work hard for whatever opportunities come their way as they settle into their new home. Even with this personal perspective, the income dynamics in a society without assimilation are far different from those who practice it. People who decide to assimilate into a new society have more opportunities for employment because they’ve learned a new language, adapted to new customs, or use their experiences to promote better outcomes. That reduces the risk of poverty, improves educational opportunities, and helps them establish a firm foundation for growth.
3. It offers protection to those who need it.
Assimilation makes it possible for people to seek asylum or political protections when there are safety concerns at home. By proving they know what is required to assimilate into a new culture, immigrants (legal or otherwise) provide evidence that they’ll provide a positive impact to the overall society. In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act granted legal status to almost 3 million people in the U.S., with 85% coming from Mexico, because of their ability to assimilate into the new culture.
4. It improves the overall health of the immigrant.
Assimilation may cause some families to abandon certain traditions, but it may also encourage them to get rid of practices which are inherently unhealthy in the first place. Even when celebrations of community cohesion, life-cycle transitions, or local traditional values practiced for generations are involved, there is no guarantee of success.
Female genital cutting is a wide-spread practice eliminated through the requirement for assimilation. There are numerous societies where a preference for sons is so deeply-rooted that daughters are abandoned, left uneducated, or simply murdered. Early marriage is a tradition abandoned through assimilation as well.
5. It improves perinatal health.
Assimilation requires modern medical practices to be used instead of traditional techniques. That improves perinatal health while decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates. UNICEF released a comparison in rates that showed why this is such a benefit. In 2016, 1 in every 22 infants in Pakistan died before the age of 1 month. For Japan, which has the lowest mortality rate in the world, only 1 death in 1,111 births occurred. That means a child born in Pakistan is 50 times more likely to die in their first 30 days of life compared one in Japan.
6. It creates more tourism outreach opportunities.
Assimilating people into a new culture creates new opportunities to promote tourism to the rest of the world. Families of those who immigrate to the new country are encouraged to visit (assuming they pass security checks). Friends of those who resettle can have similar opportunities. At the same time, the changes being experienced by the family embracing the new culture create changes in their close family and friends that impact local communities across the globe as well. This process creates positive change for many around the world.
7. It improves local production levels.
As people mature in life, they are less likely to take low-paying, hard labor positions. They want to earn what their worth with the skills they’ve learned over time. Assimilation makes it possible for others to come into communities to work the jobs which others may not want. That makes it possible for employers to offer sustained production, improve access to services, and promote better welfare for their customers. At the same time, there are opportunities to provide wages, benefits, and new economic impacts through those who are willing to assimilate to the new culture.
8. It gets everyone onto the same page at an early age.
Nation-building occurs within the walls of the schools. Starting as young as kindergarten, the practice of assimilation helps people to see that a country is shaped by the various parts which compose the whole. Students are taught the mainstream values they’ll need to promote a healthier community-based outlook over time. Even when people come from drastically different cultures, the teaching of a standard set of values, characteristics, and features promote a stronger mutual identity.
9. It helps people overcome their natural differences.
There are physical differences between men and women that define roles for many in society. Natural differences in learning capabilities, intelligence, eyesight, and physical capabilities or disabilities create definitions of opportunity at the individual level too. When a society decides to embrace assimilation, they’re encouraging everyone to integrate themselves into a community which functions only when everyone works together. It’s a practice which shows people that they are better together compared to when they are working on concerns by themselves.
10. It creates opportunities for acculturation.
Acculturation is defined as the interaction of different cultures that influence one another while remaining mostly the same. You might be Irish, but you enjoy Mexican food, and you’re encouraged to interact with the traditions of both components in life whenever you see fit. It’s a way to experience what different cultures and ethnicities provide without requiring people already present in mainstream society to change their ways. You get to learn more about the strengths of everyone while sharing common ground.
11. It provides a sense of unity to everyone involved.
The process of assimilation strengths individuals because they have unity in purpose within their communities. This allows more people to be actively engaged in numerous activities that go beyond employment. Volunteerism, public service, and mentoring are all strengthened when there is a process of assimilation in place for society. It unifies personal identity at the regional level, promoting stronger revenues while encouraging people to help one another when someone requires assistance.
List of the Cons of Assimilation
1. It may force behavioral changes through legislation.
Until the Wheeler-Howard Act in 1934, the U.S. attempted to assimilate Indians into American society without any regard to their culture or historic traditions. Even when this law passed, there were two territories (Alaska and Hawaii) and one state (Oklahoma) exempted from the process of setting aside reservations where self-governing could take place. The tribes in Oklahoma had already had their land titles extinguished and properties allotted, so no initial chance at sovereignty was possible.
2. It causes people to lose their family traditions.
Even though families stay intact (most of the time) when assimilating into new cultures, there is no guarantee that their traditions will be accepted or allowed. Imagine an entire community that celebrates Christmas, but then an immigrant family comes with their personal celebrations of Kwanzaa. Would everyone else start to celebrate the new traditions? No. The expectation would be that the new family disregards their traditions to join with the majority.
3. It reduces our diversity.
When people from different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and philosophies come together, humanity grows stronger because of it. Assimilation sees things differently. It says that “sameness” is our greatest strength, so it works to limit alternative perspectives. Even though teams who are diverse outperform non-diverse teams by 35%, people fear what is different because it is unknown. We allow assimilation to occur because we’re scared of what change would to us if we’re in the majority.
4. It may force people to change their identity.
In the 19th century when a surge of immigration to the United States occurred, many families had their names changed due to the process. This likely happened because shipping clerks in their home country wrote their name on a manifest incorrectly. Shipping companies were motivated to send people who would be accepted by American customs because rejection meant they had to ship people back for free. Inspectors would match incoming answers to the manifest, which then switch the name of the person involved. Some people are forced to change who they are because they want to give their children a better life.
5. It may create higher levels of unlawful societal activities.
Assimilation sometimes forces people into a situation where they must break the law. Sometimes that legislation which governs their activities is unjust, such as segregation or slavery. That doesn’t stop the majority government from enforcing the laws. According to the Atlanta Black Star, there were several laws in place which restricted how slaves could behave in America.
- They would receive 39 lashes if found possessing a weapon or lifting a hand against a white person.
- They could not have their side of the story presented in a court of law.
- They were allowed to travel only with written permission of their masters. Attempting to run away would subject a person to the death penalty.
- They could not own property because they were considered property.
To do what was right, many people fought these laws, often giving up their lives because they could not endure their forced assimilation.
6. It can exclude students who come from different learning styles.
Schools, colleges, and universities often lean toward the practice of a learning style based on what fits with mainstream society. The curriculum presented focuses on only the students who are able to adapt to that culture. Even students who do not adapt well from within the culture become excluded by this practice, which often results in poor tracking, lower test scores, and less overall success. If a student comes from a different learning style because of their family culture, they may not be able to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.
7. It promotes segregation.
The goal of assimilation may be to encourage more success throughout society, but it does so by creating one group that is superior to another. Even if practices like slavery are forbidden, there are households with strong socioeconomic opportunities and ones that have very few chances at success. Descriptions of fairness often begin with the “same beginning chance to find happiness.” People who assimilate the best are given more opportunities as a reward, which disregards the efforts of everyone else.
8. It may endanger some people.
Assimilation asks individuals to leave essential cultural traditions behind by encouraging new traditions. Although the practice can benefit some, there may be dangers involved with such actions as well. What is suitable for one family is not always suitable for others, even during the establishment of a new cultural identity. Without some measure of safety involved, the practice may be as harmful as it is helpful at the individual level.
The biggest pros and cons of assimilation look at the needs of the individual balanced by the needs of the society. There are some places where the culture will assimilate new ideas brought to it, creating a “melting pot” of different ideas and events which leads to increased diversity. You will also find places and moments in history where assimilation was used as a way to oppress others.
Whether one decides to accept a new culture or not is a personal choice. That is something we must not forget.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.