Integration or Assimilation?

Ajmal Masroor, writing in the New Statesman, argues about the distinction between integration versus assimilation. He believes integration is the “bringing together of people of different racial, ethnic or religious groups into unrestricted and equal association, as in society and its associations.” His comments raise questions as to whether or not we Americans have clarified the distinction between the two words. Are we asking newcomers to assimilate or be part of an integrative process?

As the child of Jewish immigrants growing up in the 1930s, I felt the strong pull of assimilation. Some of my friends changed the spelling of their names so they would come across as being more “American.” One can cite examples of famous movie stars like Lauren Bacall or Kirk Douglas who changed their Jewish sounding names to get ahead in Hollywood. I witnessed emotional trauma as several of my friends avoided anything that made them appear to be “Jewish.” Mr. Masroor speaks not merely for Muslims, but for all immigrants in a society who confront issues of how to retain their identity while still being able to equally participate in a society.

Each generation of Americans strives, in one way or another, for assimilation in order to succeed in the world of work. Hopefully, in the 21st century we can realize the importance to the individual and society of retaining our identities as humans and created a society which accepts pluralism.