Video: Italian Americans – Assimiliation

There are many ways that newcomers can become acculturate into a new society. There are two words, that people often use interchangeably, that are associated with the ways that people acculturate: assimilation and integration. Despite the fact that they are often used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing. Assimilation implies gives up aspects of your culture to become part of the dominant society. Integration is defined as a two-way process in which newcomers and the dominant culture come to become more alike. In other words, assimilation requires newcomers to change whereas integration, at least technically, suggests that both newcomers and the dominant society change.

In the United States, there is a long history of institutions, government and non-governmental, that have encouraged newcomers to assimilate. Moreover, if they refused, to give up their culture, they were seen as either stubborn or incapable of fitting in. At the same time, there is has been another, less formal, tradition of integration in which the dominant culture adapts and even begins to take on words, customs, and foods from immigrant communities.

This segment from the PBS series The Italian Americans reveals the pressure on Italian immigrants to assimilate.

Reflection Questions

  1. Based on the film, what was expected of Italian Americans in order to assimilate? What might they have gained in the process? What might they lose?
  2. What challenges did the pressure to assimilate force upon Italian Americans? In particular, what dilemmas did Italian American children face?
  3. If you could speak to anyone in this short video, who would you want to speak to and what would you want to tell them?
  4. Integration is typically understood as a two-way process in which the two groups come to be more similar over time. Based on what you know about Italian American life in the United States, which would you describe as a more accurate description of Italian American life in the United States, assimilation or Integration?
  5. What do you think newcomers need to know about the United States when they arrive? What customs, habits, and attitudes do they need to adopt for them to be successful? Is it important that newcomers hold on to certain things from their past or their family’s past? If so, what might those be?