How Do Ethnic Boundries Affect Assimilation

analytical Essay
759 words
759 words

Richard Alba and Victor Nee assert in Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration that the way in which we understand assimilation is changing. In their writing, they reshape the dated view of assimilation constitutive of “marked deficiencies”. (6) One of the ways in which Alba and Nee discuss assimilation is through discourse about ethnic boundaries. The question: what are ethnic boundaries and how do they fit into the discussion of assimilation?, is something that is considered in the book. However, Alba and Nee are not the only writers to have an opinion on the subject of ethnic boundaries; Fredrik Barth in his piece Ethnic Groups and Boundaries expounds on the ideas of ethnic boundaries and what they mean to society. Therefore, it is useful to compare and contrast the two differing opinions in order to understand the full scope of information on ethnic boundaries.
In Remaking the American Mainstream, Alba and Nee claim that ethnicity is a “social boundary, a distinction that individuals make in their everyday lives…that shapes their actions and mental orientations toward others.”(11) The authors also assert that this distinction is something that is based on “cultural differences between groups that give an ethnic boundary significance.”(11) That is to say, the ethnic boundary acts on the idea of an out-group and an in-group. In order to be within the boundary, you must possess certain specific, unique and authentic qualities that separate you from the out-group. Barth maintains the same sentiment, as he states, “The boundaries to which we must give our attention are of course social boundaries…If a group maintains its identity when members interact with others, this entails criteria for determi...

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...pating in “mainstream institutions”, with a connotation of desire and willingness to participate, whereas Barth takes more negative approach implying that the reason for this assimilation is not willing, rather essential.
By analyzing the information and the way it is presented, I tend to be more convinced by Barth’s interpretation of ethnic boundaries and the way they fit in with assimilation. In my opinion, Barth takes on a very realistic and objective approach to ethnic boundaries and assimilation that depicts both neither negatively nor positively. On the other hand, Alba and Nee tend to have a more biased approach rooted in optimism in order to reshape the way in which the readers think about assimilation. I’m not sure if I am completely persuaded by Alba and Nee’s definitions of assimilation and how they function with regards to ethnic groups and minorities.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how richard alba and victor nee assert in remaking the american mainstream that the way in which we understand assimilation is changing.
  • Analyzes how alba, nee, and barth agree on what an ethnic boundary is and their beliefs overlap in terms of what happens when people of different cultures interact with one another.
  • Explains that the differences between the two readings were more of a challenge. the three authors do not differ much in the beliefs of assimilation and ethnic boundaries, but the way in which they are discussed is very divergent.
  • Analyzes how alba and nee claim that the mainstream and ethnic minorities both change because of interactions with one another. barth presents the same basic principle, but in a different way.
  • Analyzes barth's interpretation of ethnic boundaries and the way they fit in with assimilation. alba and nee tend to have a more biased approach rooted in optimism.
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