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Integration, not assimilation

by Tina Serghany

The tale of a parent, grandparent, or even great-grandparent coming to America in search of a better life, be it for them or their future children, is all too representative of the average American’s origins. This narrative is one that seems especially prominent here in Buffalo, chiefly at a school like East, which hosts a relatively diverse student body. Not one to shy away from the welcoming of immigrants, from 2003 to 2013, Erie County resettled a total of 9,723 refugees. Currently, Erie County receives slightly over one third of the total refugee flow into the state. In addition to these direct resettlements, many other refugees come to Buffalo as secondary migrants from other parts of the U.S.. Western New York is a place bustling with the songs, foods, and apparel of different cultures, blended into one semi-homogeneous mix of what it means to be American. Listed in this plethora of immigrants are my parents, both of whom immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in search of work, opportunity, and a chance to brush hands with Lady Liberty. 

In interacting with my parents, and virtually every other immigrant in Williamsville, you will come away with an experience that is practically identical with the meeting of any American who is native to the country, save for the all-but-telling accent. Although Lebanese tradition is kept alive in my household, and we are filled with pride for our country of origin, my family has always seen integration, rather than assimilation, as a vital component in existing in a society outside of the one an individual is necessarily accustomed to. Oxford dictionary defines assimilation as “the process of becoming similar to something.” Integration, on the other hand, is defined as the process of “combining (one thing) with another so that they become a whole.” Integration is extremely imperative to the functioning of a society, and it is my belief that the relocation of one’s life must be coupled with an openness to the culture and ideals of the country one has chosen to move to. While assimilation implies a more structural sense of conformity, the term integration simply means that components of one’s culture, such as food, music, and traditional garments, shall not be forcibly forgotten in favor of those home to their country of choice. Rather, it means that immigrants and native inhabitants alike will work to find common ground, while immigrants adapt to the societal functions, such as differing laws and social cues, that characterize the country, all while maintaining their native identity if they so choose.

It is my belief that when you choose to come to a country, you choose to conform to that societies laws and customs, rather than separating the location from its culture. The current relationship much of Europe has with non-integrating immigrants is proof enough that multiculturalism simply is not a viable option when two cultures have wildly incompatible viewpoints. In the Middle East, for example, women are largely considered as inferior and often lack the rights held by their male counterparts. Under Sharia law, a legal system widely enforced in much of the Middle East, a woman can work and travel only with the written permission of her husband or male guardian, and cannot obtain a divorce unless her husband also consents (note: not wife, as the very act of identifying as gay qualifies an individual for the death penalty).  In the West, however, women have the freedom to simply enjoy freedom. In America, 47% of the workforce is comprised of women, who are also now outpacing men in attaining higher education.

It is of the utmost absurdity to contest that these viewpoints on women are of equal merit, with neither being morally superior to the other. By attempting to pander to those immigrants with potentially dangerous viewpoints, countries not only put their own citizens in harm’s way, but usurp the trust and place in society that immigrants willing to don red, white, and blue have worked so hard to gain. By attempting to value backwards views in favor of seeming politically-correct, one is forced to refuse to discriminate against discrimination. Integration is a vital component of ensuring that the United States remains united.

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