Acceptance is Conditional

So here's an interesting piece about the Italianization of Japan. Goldsea writer H.Y Nahm talks about how Japan is heading down the same road as Italy with regards to cultural and economic stagnation:

In the American mind Japan is slipping rapidly down the slippery slope of cultural and economic senescence that transformed Ancient Rome into modern Italy — a once vigorous people long smothered in too much sauce. A place you go to on vacation, not on business. A place you rhapsodize with words like quaint, beautiful, charming, atmospheric, instead of dynamic, industrious, thrilling.

There’s more than spurious analogies for this supposition of Japan’s decline as an economic powerhouse and poetic decay into a great tourist destination. A nation that prides itself on its homogeneity, racial purity, conformity, has no rough, vigorous stock from which to draw the fuel for propulsion back up into the ranks of world powers. Japan has no porous borders across which large numbers of determined migrants can slip so as to infuse that nation with the vitality that keeps old wealthy economies (like the U.S.) competitive and perpetually renewed.

Of course Japan is a very wealthy and powerful nation relative to most of the world’s nations, and will remain so for at least a couple more decades. But when you see the raw energy of a China or India — with its vast hinterlands overflowing with youth wanting half a chance to prove themselves hard workers — you can’t help feel the inevitability of Japan’s Italianization.

What's interesting is that Japan's birth rate is also declining. The birth rate is low, and without new immigrants, economic stagnation seems all the more likely. In fact, birth rates are declining all over the world. In the next 100 years, industrialized nations will seek more immigrants to prevent their economies from collapsing.

With Western nations seeking more immigrants, it is very likely that people of color will constitute the majority of the North American and European populations by 2050. It's already happened here in the California, and it happened a long time ago in Hawaii. London has a huge Indian population, while Paris has an even larger African population.

So we have both a need for increased immigration as well as a steady influx of immigrants. The question is: how do these societies accept immigrants and incorporate them? In other words, how will they be assimilated?

When we talk about assimilation, it's important to make some distinctions as to how different cultures interact and coalesce. When we think of the traditional assimilation model, we think of this:

A + B + C = A

In other words, the larger, more dominant culture absorbs the minority cultures. Descendants of minority cultures intermarry into the larger society and adopt the majority culture. This traditional model of assimilation, however, really only applies to ethnic minorities who are of the same race as the majority. So in the US, European ethnic groups have been assimilated and absorbed into the American culture. No matter what ethnic ancestry a white person may have, in the US, he or she is assumed to be American unless proven otherwise.

But what about other models of intercultural interaction? Here are some models aside from assimilation:

A + B + C = D

This is known as "amalgamation." With amalgamation, cultures interact and coalesce, members intermarry and what results is a brand new cultural mix. No one culture subjugates any other culture. Amalgamation usually occurs within communities of immigrants from various ethnic backgrounds. Hawaii is a prime example, since the Asian workers from various countries were brought in to work the plantations.

A + B + C = A + AB + AC

This is known as "internal colonialism." Traditional colonialism is when people from one country settle in a new land. With European colonialism there was an added dimension: the settlers subjugate the natives and plunder the country's resources.

Internal colonialism is what American society was based on. The US took the European colonial model and applied it to within its own borders. The US waged a genocidal war on Native Americans and forced the survivors on to reservations. The country enslaved Africans to build much of its infrastructure. Once slavery was abolished, Chinese men were shipped in to fill the labor void. What's interesting to note is that the slave ships that were used to bring African slaves were then used to bring Chinese coolies to the Americas after the abolishment of slavery.

With internal colonialism, minorities groups are brought into a society to serve a need, but they are segregated and are not afforded any of the rights or respect of the majority.

A + B = AB + BA

This is known as "transculturation." This is where two cultures interact and as a result of their interaction, they exchange ideas and customs, adopt them and sometimes modify them. The two cultures essentially alter each other. The obvious examples of transculturation are foods and popular culture. Bagels and pizza were considered ethnic foods here in the US, but are now just considered tasty.

Most interactions between cultures are usually varying combinations of the above models. Still the question needs to be asked: when our society accepts new immigrants, how are we accepting them? Is acceptance conditional, and if so, how? Are the conditions of acceptance different for each race, each ethnicity?

If we take food as an example again, then we know that Asians and Asian Americans are treated and regarded as foreigners. Chinese food has been eaten by Americans for over a hundred years, even longer than pizza, and yet it is not considered American cuisine.

There are Chinese and Japanese Americans who are 3rd, 4th and 5th generation Americans, and yet non-Asians would initially consider them to be foreigners. People equate race with citizenship status. White Europeans have no difficulty assimilating within a generation, because they are not racially marked.

Well what's the big deal with being considered a foreigner? When you are considered a foreigner, then it implies that you are not privy to the same rights and respect as citizens. Our contributions and sacrifices to American society and Western societies in general are not acknowledged, and what's worse, not even known.


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