I Believe in Assimilation

Sheila - Jackson, Wyoming
Entered on February 28, 2009

I believe assimilation is a fair price to pay for the privilege of living in the United States of America.

I believe accepting our customs is how immigrants adapt to our society. I am the grandchild of immigrant Jews who fled the pogroms of Russia and Eastern Europe. My grandparents left a land that did not want them to come to a nation that did. They helped build this country and were forever grateful for the opportunity to create opportunities.

My grandparents assimilated. They learned how to communicate in English and integrate the traditions of the “old country” into their new lives. My parents and their siblings were taught and taught us to savor the family recipes, light Sabbath candles, celebrate bar mitzvahs, weddings and the rituals of funerals. Acquiring the ways of Americans while living their values of education, loving relationships, devotion to family and hard work is how my family achieved the American Dream.

Assimilation did not dilute or diminish my grandparent’s rich culture. Louis and Rachael Sandubrae retained their identity and encouraged America to accept them and their children by adopting the ways of their adopted country. Sam and Elizabeth Bornstein became American citizens when they were senior citizens. Their focus on education and excellence produced an executive and two college professors, one a winner of the Edward R. Murrow award for broadcasting excellence.

My grandparents didn’t just live in the U.S.–they became Americans. The followed Theodore Roosevelt’s 1907 directive:

“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else…..But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American…there can be no divided allegiance here…We have room for but one flag, the American flag. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language. And we have room for but one sole loyalty to the American people.”

My grandparents were gratefully loyal to the country and the people who gave them the chance to live and to prosper.

I believe assimilation creates a cohesive society and demonstrates respect for those who built this country and culture. One can assimilate and maintain their roots. When I moved to the mountains over 30 years ago, I became a Wyomingite while maintaining and honoring my mid-western values. I treasured the absence of socioeconomic stratification–we all lived in the same neighborhoods, ate in the same restaurants, played in the same places and hung out in the same haunts. How I wish those who arrived after me had chosen to embrace why they moved to our valley instead of changing it to be more like from whence they came–and chose to leave. Gated communities, private clubs and McMansions have irrevocably changed the identity and fabric of our community.

I believe one can assimilate without being absorbed. The American dress code is broad enough to promote individual expression and inclusion without clinging to attire that separates and divides. Culinary and artistic diversity add new dimensions to the national palette an palate. Ideas from other lands once transfused society gradually; now the internet instantly introduces new ways of being and doing.

I believe society is enriched by cultural diversity as long as there is respect for and integration with the existing community. In my hometown, Detroit, I sadly witnessed how rigid cultural identity led to separtism. Disrespect polarized neighborhoods by fostering suspicion, distrust and extremism. Intolerance, be it by the right or left, race, religion or nationality, divides and limits our ability to appreciate our differences.

My husband and I have been enriched by foreign travel. We have visited more than 85 countries and all seven continents. During our journeys we strive to learn about and experience each country’s people and traditions. Those who make our country their home should do no less. I believe that immigrants need to pledge their allegiance to this country, not their country of origin. I agree with Mr. Roosevelt’s belief–there is but room for one flag, one language, and one loyalty. I believe assimilation is a fair price to pay for the privilege of living in my country.