Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Integration is really a class/education thing?

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 14, 2008

Over the weekend, I had a lengthy discussion on immigration and integration with a friend. Friend believes that immigrants who are more likely to retain old country values (ranging from total arranged marriages (i.e. not “this is A, this is B. You guys go out on supervised ‘dates’ and then decide whether you like each other or not” type arrangements) to marrying young to not moving out until marriage, etc) are those who are not as educated. Educated people, my friend believes, are more open to their children adopting mainstream, Anglo-Saxon (or Francophone if you’re in Quebec) values because they’re more exposed. In fact, they probably have picked up some of the values themselves (even if it’s more old fashioned – my mother, for example, gave me an etiquette book when I was 12. This etiquette book is likely a traditional gift to a 10-12 year old who attends junior cotillions and will be a debutante in her late teens. I was not a debutante. They aren’t all that common in Toronto, unless you’re Filipina). Friend cited the European immigrants who came in the 1900s or even after WWII. Many of these immigrants only had two or three years of formal education compared to Anglo Canadians had at the time (probably Grade 8-ish). They worked unskilled jobs and their social lives revolved around their place of worship which spoke the language from the motherland and observed traditions of the country.

I think my friend is only partially right in this case. There are plenty of immigrants who are really well-educated, yet their credentials from abroad do not make them qualified for the jobs they did in the old country. Immigrants who are the most integrated, those who have picked up Anglo-Saxon values are those who were educated here. Why? Because they came young. When you’re 18 years old and away from home, the first thing you want to do is something that is considered taboo to your parents. This isn’t only something that foreign students do, but basically anyone who is going to school out of town! 🙂 For some people, the new values stick, especially if you intend to stay in the new country. There aren’t parents to tell you that what you’re doing is not proper.  In addition, parents who are willing to send their kids abroad, especially girls, are probably already open-minded anyway.  It’s also the exposure that they may have career-wise.  I have noticed that many immigrants who are in, say, finance or law (especially of their senior management), are more culturally Anglo than even equally educated (or perhaps more so) and equally financially well-off doctors whose patients are primarily from the immigrant communities.  The doctor, in turn, is probably “more exposed”/culturally Anglo than someone who owns a small business.

Readers, do you think this is true? Is education the key to being more open-minded and perhaps even integrating? Or is it a combination of being educated in the new country and education itself?  Is it a class thing?


8 Responses to “Integration is really a class/education thing?”

  1. abuhunain said

    To answer your questions: First, define “integration”. Secondly, define “education”. Third, define “educated”.

    Thanks & peace,


  2. Nelson Yee said

    Based on anecdotes, I think it’s a combination of education and early exposure to Canadian/American values (not sure if I’d include Europe, as there are certainly countries that are still more “traditionalist”, perhaps due to their longer history — I wonder if the lack of a common sense of history is what allows people here to more easily leave behind tradition) that you describe.

    I wonder about your conclusion that career exposure influences values; one could quite easily figure the inverse, that values influence career selection. Certainly, I’m much more interested in world affairs and by extension finance, economics and law, than I am with purely “making money” or healing people. It’s interesting that you point out that doctors may be less “culturally Anglo” than lawyers or finance types; it sort of jives with the way my mother would point out medicine as a valuable profession mostly because of the high importance she (and I think many Chinese people) on health and wellness. I can see both that and the small business interest as deriving from classical Asian pragmatism, seeking long term stability and good fortune, the benefits more obviously apparent than more nebulous concepts enshrined in law and high-level finance.

  3. Tariq: I was pretty clear in my post, but anyway, I meant the following:

    Education: Going to formal school (boarding school for high school, college/university/grad school)

    Educated: In this case, at least a community college education

    Integration/Integrated: In the case of this post, Anglo-Saxon values.

  4. Carol said

    I just HAD to come and see what kind of blog a person who doesn’t like POCKY (????) was like! Awesome commentary … you are tackling some extremely hard themes. I agree with all the above, how “well” someone integrates is a function of education, socio-economic class, perhaps parentage if one comes from an influential family, generation, age when they “entered” the culture, conditioning on a somewhat philosophical/ideological level, parental values and attitudes, also mental/emotional health factors … it’s really hard to separate out the one thing that makes or breaks it. I am Korean-American, my own immigrant parents came over already with a very pro-Western upbringing. Both sides of the family were actively pro-democracy during the Korean War. My mom had been raised Catholic and my father converted during medical college. My dad already spoke fluent English (and German, go fig) even before stepping foot in the US. They both had university degrees when they arrived, as well, and settled into suburban, consumerist lifestyle fairly easily. But there always was a strong loyalty to “being” Korean, even though we were surrounded by so few. Hard to explain. I think the ideal scenario, when I think of my child anyway, is where one moves back and forth, seamlessly, effortlessly in both cultures, languages, familiar with customs, systems, “ways of doing things” etc., the true global citizen. My values being what they are, if we do choose to live outside the US someday, I probably will send my child to an international school (instead of local private school), or the American school. Not because I’m particularly patriotic, but so he gets an education that will enable him entry to go to university there or here. Sigh … I guess I am an imperialist after all. No hope for me!

  5. Scapegoat said

    “Immigrants who are the most integrated, those who have picked up Anglo-Saxon values are those who were educated here. Why? Because they came young.”

    Would these Canadian-educated immigrants have educated parents?

    I’ve known plenty of educated CBCs even (2nd generation Chinese) who retain some of the old country values. They have only CBC friends, only date CBCs, don’t accept inter-racial relationships among their peers, marry their FIRST boyfriend/girlfriend, ask “How old are you?” (a question that is a no-no in Western ettiquette) and chew with their mouths open. In my old CBC social group, only one lady had a dog (an Anglo-Saxon tradition), and she was in an inter-racial relationship. I’ve known quite a few Chinese guys who want their wives to live with their moms.

    In Western culture, we tell it like it is. I’ve found that the CBC’s had a tendency to bury their heads in the sand whenever I was blunt. However, my non-Chinese coworkers and ex-boyfriends have said that they like the fact that I say what’s on my mind.

    Integration is more than watching hockey or working in a Fortune 500 company. It’s all those subtle behaviours that are a measure of one’s integration.

  6. Scapegoat:

    Did these CBCs commute to school, or did they go to school out of town? What about their parents? Do their parents have university degrees, especially degrees from abroad? Also, there’s the question of *WHEN* their parents came to the country. Older generation CBCs (eary Gen Xers and baby boomers, for example) are more traditional than those who came later (post 1968). The most westernized ones are the tai-tais and their children, who came in the 1980s. At least in my experience.

  7. Di said

    I think both age and education play a big role in integration and acculturation.

    I am a recent immigrant to the US, with a college education and spoke the language before moving here. I have choosen to assimilate some things and not others, like racism, because they go against my cutoms.

    When people migrate during formative years they tend to get socialized with the local customs, while some may continue to have values from the homeland, some even reject them.

    If people do not speak the language, they tend to stay with ‘their own’ which slows down the acculturation process.


  8. MFP said

    I agree with what Di said. I think that language is particularly important too. My parents, both well educated before immigrating to the US forced themselves to take ESL classes when they came to the US. However, by choice, they are still very traditional, food, values, ideas on family, friends. They stay with their own kind, who also happen to be affluent and well educated, although among their friends my parents are the most traditionally taiwanese, their friends are much more assimilated to american culture. They are your typical first gen parents who feel that going ivy league is the only thing that matters and put an immense amt of pressure on my siblings and I to perform like monkeys. They made it difficult for my siblings and I to assimilate to american culture, esp since we grew up in an area where there were barely any asians at all, so assimilation was survival… what kid wants to stick out like a sore thumb, esp if they are the ONLY non-white kid in the class> We were often told by our parents, “don’t do it the stupid american way.” I definitely dealt with a lot of cultural gap issues as a kid where I wanted to fit in, but my parents pretty much did the best that they could to try to sabotage any efforts to become more assimilated to american culture. We always asked, “if you think americans are so stupid, then why did you come to the united state to begin with???” Usually, they’d grumble about how it was to give us a better life, which makes no sense at all, because my parents would have been even more affluent had they would have just stayed in taiwan, vs. immigrating to the US. Having a better grasp of the english language though, has helped my parents tremendously to be independent and have the ability to communicate with a wide range of ppl.

    Now, my in laws, do NOT have a firm grasp of the english language and it makes their lives (and ours) very difficult, esp since they do not live in an area with a ton of koreans. They are very dependent on their children regarding just about anything with the outside word, dealing with doctors, finding a contractor, booking a hotel, etc.. Their lack of communication skills makes it difficult for them to function in society w/o using their children as a crutch, and frankly it is a burden to have to deal with, since they are often unable to figure out the most basic things that someone who has been in the US for 30 yrs should know how to do, kwim? Fil has a tecnical degree, mil has *maybe* a jr high degree. The only american thing they have chosen to integrate into their life in the US are name brands, esp clothing/make up/accessories/electronics/cars. They are obsessed with name brands. However, just about everything they do is still very traditional korean and they are very suspicious of anyone who is not korean. They belong to a catholic korean church and that is pretty much their social circle. They only watch korean tv, so they had no idea what is going on in american culture and have very little exposure even to traditional american foods.

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