Multiculturalism vs. Assimilationism

Any country that has to deal with massive amounts of immigration is bound to experience some difficulties when developing policy regulating migration. There are many different approaches that one may take in addressing the issue and they are often at odds with each other.

Generally, one can divide ideas on migration into two categories: multiculturalism and assimilationism.

Assimilationism is what is often referred to the melting-pot look at immigration. It is the policy that the United States held in the days of Ellis and Angel island immigration. At the time, this outlook was hailed as one of great ethical standing. Instead of pushing immigrants into slums and creating laws that limited their ability to participate in society, America intended to fold them into the culture of the United States. Imagine general groups of immigrants being represented by certain metallic ores being thrown into a crucible where they are melted together, form an alloy and become a stronger substance than any of the parts alone. It is a very poetic outlook and, in the 19th century, incredibly progressive. A criticism of the assimilationist attitude is that it washes out all of the distinct cultural features of the incoming immigrant groups and forms a bland national identity.

Multiculturalism is the policy that the Canadian government currently espouses. The metaphorical description used for this policy is the salad bowl. Within one bowl there are distinct ingredients that exist together, but also independently. The distinct cultural features of the parts of society complement each other and create a more vibrant “mosaic” of people. Criticisms of this policy are that where there are so many distinctly different groups of people discrimination would be much more prevalent because the differences between people would be much more apparent.

Currently, in the United States, there is a confluence of these migration opinions, where, unfortunately, they are often divided based on party lines with conservatives favoring assimilation and liberals preferring multiculturalism. The policy of assimilation can be seen in the public schools where everyone is taught the same thing and ethnic groups are not separated to be taught differently or mandated to live in slums. Multicultural policies can be seen in things like the china-town enclaves that often pop-up in larger cities or the sheer diversity of ethnic cuisines. Food is an excellent way to illustrate the difference between the two types: Tex-Mex is an example of assimilation while Pupuserias illustrate the multicultural outlook.

The argument over which policy is the better to handle immigration in the United States continues and is unlikely to be solved very immediately, but take comfort in the assurance that there will be some pretty interesting cuisine choices in the future!