Significance: Immigration has been an ongoing and important source of growth and development for the United States. Attitudes toward these new arrivals, both legal and illegal, have varied with time and circumstances. One constant concern has been the assimilation of immigrants, who are often required to seek acceptance by means of Angloconformity.
The United States is a relatively young nation. In contrast to the makeup of older nations, its population has been, and continues to be, drawn from all over the world. The country’s colonial era saw a struggle for cultural dominance among English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlers. Eventually, the English became both the majority and dominant group in what became the United States. For this reason, English language, English laws, and English customs became central to the national culture. Those who shared, or were willing and able to share, this culture were most easily assimilated. Within the United States, Anglo-conformity is said to formthe basis of a single unifying culture that is important for any heterogeneous nation.
During the early formative years of the independent American nation, most new immigrants came fromwestern Europe. Some nationalities were considered questionable in regards to how well they would be able to assimilate into American culture. For example, Germans were regarded as questionable because of their different language and different culture, while English-speaking Irish Protestants were generally acceptable. However, Irish Roman Catholics were regarded as questionable because of their religion and because of the longstanding antagonism between Ireland and England. Eventually, immigrants from both Germany and Ireland constituted a large part of the new anglocentric nation. Assimilation was accomplished through Anglo-conformity.
Types of Immigrants and Anglo-Conformity
Individual immigrants fit into various types or categories that can influence society’s reaction to them. The immigrants may be
- legal or illegal
- voluntary or involuntary (such as slaves)
- refugees who have well-founded fears of persecution because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation
- migrants who are seeking work
- safe-haven seekers who want temporary safety from disasters
- sojourners who come for a specific short-term reasons, such as tourism or study.
Barriers to Assimilation
Over time the United States became identified as a white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant (“WASP”) nation. Barriers to assimilation were cultural and physical in nature. The former were more common and able to be overcome, while the latter were not. This is reflected in the findings of a longitudinal study conducted by the distinguished California sociologist Emory Bogardus in 1926, 1946, 1956, and 1966 that found that Americans favored white western Europeans over white eastern Europeans, and both over nonwhite non-Europeans.
The acceptability of an immigrant group appears to be influenced by a combination of five variables:
- how long the group has been in the country
- how or why its members came
- visibility or identifiability of its members
- positive and negative stereotypes of the group
- social and economic success of the group’s members
Anglo-conformity has been expected of immigrants and is encouraged, but it has generally been regarded as voluntary. However, that has not always been the case. For example, although Native Americans are not considered to be immigrants to the United States, they were subjected to involuntary and forced Anglo-conformity. There was a period when the government took children from Native American parents, placed them in boarding schools, and forcibly replaced their Native American cultures with Anglo-American culture. The children had their hair cut short and were given English names, clothed in uniforms, and forced to speak English and learn Anglocentric culture, including religion and education.
Three Great Waves of Immigration
The United States has experienced what have been called “three great waves” of immigration during its history as a nation. Each succeeding wave was more diverse culturally, ethnically, and racially than its predecessor, thereby making Angloconformity more problematic. Political, economic, and social changes occurring in Europe during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries provided the incentive for the first wave of immigration. Immigrants during that period were mostly from northern and western Europe. Some came as indentured servants. Some were Africans whose status was quickly changed to slaves, making them ineligible for citizenship.
The second wave occurred during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and brought many southern and eastern European immigrants as well as non-Europeans. These groups were usually considered less acceptable and less able to be assimilated than earlier immigrants.
The third wave began in the second half of the twentieth century and was the most religiously, ethnically, and racially diverse of them all. The most numerous immigrants during this wave were Hispanic, with the greatest number coming fromMexico. The second most numerous were Asians, the majority of whom came from the Philippines.
Prior to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the U.S. Congress attempted to preserve the racial and cultural characteristics of the nation that had been established by the first wave of immigrants. To that end, it passed laws limiting or excluding Asians and, in the Immigration Act of 1921 (also known as the Emergency Quota Act) and the Immigration Act of 1924, allocated immigration quotas for countries based on the percentages of Americans whose ancestors had come from each country. These legislative acts favored northern and western Europeans, while placing limitations on the immigration of southern and eastern Europeans and non-Europeans. In addition to legislation aimed at preserving the original racial and ethnic makeup of the United States, legislation was also used to preserve the Protestant nature of theWASP society. This was accomplished by restricting immigration from non-western or northern European nations and non-European nations, which were generally not Protestant countries.
Immigration legislation passed after 1965, when the national-origins emphasis on quotas was eliminated, has been less concerned with religion, race, and ethnicity and more concerned with family unity and economic assets, including education and occupations. The result seems to be a trend away from Anglo-conformity and a move toward cultural pluralism.
Deveaux, Monique. Cultural Pluralism and Dilemmas of Justice. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000. Thoughtful exploration of the ethical and legal problems arising in a pluralistic society such as that of the United States.
Gabaccia, Donna R. Immigration and American Diversity: A Social and Cultural History. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002. Survey of American immigration history, with attention to ethnic conflicts, nativism, and racialist theories.
Kramer, Eric Mark, ed. The Emerging Monoculture: Assimilation and the “Model Minority.” Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Collection of essays on a wide variety of topics relating to cultural assimilation and the notion of “model minorities,” with particular attention to immigrant communities in Japan and the United States.
Myers, John. Dominant-Minority Relations in America: Convergence in the New World. 2d ed. New York: Allyn & Bacon, 2006. Textbook that examines intergroup relations through both conflict and assimilationist perspectives and encourages readers to see them as part of the process of dominant-minority interaction. The second edition of this work has added a chapter on Arab Americans.
Singh, Jaswinder, and Kalyani Gopal. Americanization of New Immigrants: People Who Come to America and What They Need to Know. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2002. Survey of the cultural adjustments through which new immigrants to the United States must go.
Wiley, Terrence G. Literacy and Language Diversity in the United States. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics, 2005. Comprehensive study of language and literacy in American education.
See also: Americanization programs; Assimilation theories; Cultural pluralism; English as a second language; English-only and official English movements; Hansen effect; Identificational assimilation; Language issues; Multiculturalism.