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Discussion Acculturation and Assimilation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 5528 words Published: 16th Aug 2018

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The purpose of my study was to explore to what extent Greek-Americans hold attitudes and behaviors for the conservation and intergenerational transmission of their ethnic culture through a cross-sectional analysis of survey on 229 self-identified Greek American members of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Jersey. Overall, the respondents included in the current study had achieved upward mobility – as indicated by their high education attainment and socio-economic status – and they had shown a remarkable high level of preservation of their cultural heritage. They succeeded through their affiliation to the Greek language, the Greek Orthodox Church, the church afternoon schools, their participation to various Greek organizations, their family values, the continuing contact with Greece and their participation in political activities. The results not only provided a quantitative view of the behaviors and attitudes towards culture preservation in the six domains, but also helped us to better understand the acculturation and assimilation process.

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Our results support that Greek-Americans included in the current study did not fall into the “straight line assimilation model” as described by Milton Gordon (Gordon 1978). The straight line assimilation theory assumes that the immigrants shed their identifications with their home society and that assimilation into American society is prompted by host society institutions. This model suggests there is essentially but one path through which immigrants can be integrated into the mainstream society. On the contrary our results demonstrated that regardless of the generation, over 90% of the participants identified themselves as either ‘Greek’ or ‘Greek American’ and ~90% of the participants felt a sense of pride and a strong bond with other Greeks and Greek Americans when they attend a Greek heritage event. They are actively involved in the Greek Orthodox Church; they participate in Greek/Hellenic Organizations and support Greek National Interests through donations. All these data suggest that Greek Americans did not shed their identity in order to move up in the American society; rather, they have kept a bicultural identity. Second, the assumption that assimilation into the American society is prompted by the host society institutions does not hold either. For example, the majority of the participants (67%) responded that Greeks living in the United States should try to influence American foreign policy towards Greece and 64% of the participants responded that they had supported (through donations, fund raisers, public expressions of opinion, etc.) the Greek National Interests. This finding coincides with a previous study (Karpathakis, 1999b) revealing that Greek Americans were concerned with Greece’s territorial sovereignty issues and they attempted to influence host society foreign policy regarding Greece. Clearly the Greek cultural identity had affected their assimilation in the American society, which was ignored by Gordon’s paradigm.

In view of the criticisms of the classical assimilation theory by Gordon, Barkan (1995) developed a six stage assimilation model and argued the there has been no one pattern, no one cycle, no one outcome that uniformly encompasses all ethnic experiences. Alba and Nee (2003) re-conceptualized assimilation as an intergenerational process ‘affected not just by social, financial and human capital of immigrant families but also by the ways individuals use these resources with and apart from the existing structure of ethnic networks and institutions’. They argued that assimilation does not preclude retaining elements of ethnic culture. In contrast, Portes and Zhou (1993) proposed the theory of “segmented assimilation”, which asserts that the United States is a stratified and unequal society, and different “segments” of society are available to which immigrants may assimilate. They further argued that total assimilation will put immigrant minorities in vulnerable positions while a strategy of paced, selective assimilation may prove the best course for these groups (Portes and Zhou 1993). Segmented assimilation theory is based on the notion that the living experience in America is very diverse. No single context can apply to all immigrant families and assimilation has varying consequences for immigrants. Critics of segmented assimilation pointed out that the causal link between assimilation into the underclass and development of oppositional cultures among immigrant children is questionable (Xie and Greenman, 2011).

Although these theories have certain limitations, they provide a useful framework for the present study. Our study used a variety of measures of assimilation including spatial concentration, loss of Greek language, socioeconomic status, and intermarriage. According to Waters and Jimenez (2005), these measures are the four primary benchmarks of assimilation and existing literature showing that today’s immigrants are largely assimilating into American society along each of these dimensions.

Spatial concentration, i.e., dissimilarity in spatial distribution and suburbanization is a measure of cultural assimilation and primary and secondary structural assimilation. Spatial assimilation theory asserts that foreign-born residents will choose suburban residential locations after assimilating culturally and socioeconomically (Massey, 1985). Primary structural assimilation occurs when newcomers begin to engage in intimate, small group social interaction with individuals from the dominant group, such as in clubs, social functions, family gatherings, and so on. Secondary structural assimilation occurs when ethnic group members become integrated into the large, impersonal societal groups in the educational, economic and political institutions of the larger society (Marger, 2012). The present study showed that 77% of the participants reside in a suburban area indicating a high degree of structural assimilation among Greek Americans. It is interesting to observe that the First generation (85%) and the Third or beyond generation (80%) had a higher suburbanization rate than the Second generation (71%). Our study also showed that 31% live in a community where many other people of Greek descent live and 56% of the participants live in a community where there are a few people of Greek descent with additional 3% of them reported that there are no people other than their family of Greek descent in their community. The rest 11% of the participants were not sure about their community whether there are any people of Greek descent. Our findings also suggest that living in an area without other people of Greek descent was positively linked to poorer Greek language skills and more negative attitudes and behaviors towards cultural retention in several domains. Thus, community composition played an important role in retention and loss of ethnic culture. Living in a community where there are many people of Greek descent provide the participants more opportunity to network with others, speak Greek language, participating heritage events, which in turn contributed to a higher ethnic pride and feel of belonging and they are more likely to maintain their ethnic culture.

Loss of Greek language is an indicator of acculturation which is in accord with our study. Here, we observed a clear trend of loss of Greek language in the Third or beyond generation as more than half of the participants indicated that their Greek language ability is poor to non-existent. Our findings coincide with Waters and Jimenez’s (2005) three-generation model of language assimilation which stated that the first generation makes some progress in language assimilation but remains dominant in their native tongue, the second generation is bilingual, and the third-generation speaks only English.

Religion is also a measure of acculturation because religion is viewed as a culture construct that occurs and develops within specific cultural contexts (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2005). As such, religion is likely to influence acculturation by shaping cultural norms, values, behaviors, and attitudes (Yang & Ebaugh, 2001). Similarly, Güngör et al (2012) emphasized that religious reaffirmation is related to cultural values of interdependence, heritage culture maintenance, and ethnic identification.

Socioeconomic status (SES), such as education, occupation status and income, is a measure of secondary structural assimilation. As immigrants begin to venture out into the mainstream educational and employment institutions, their level of interaction with non-ethnics increases and so do the possibilities of engaging with the latter in intimate social interaction within primary social groups (Scott, 2009). Our study suggested high education achievements, high income and more professional fields of occupation among all generations of participants, which showed that Greek Americans have achieved secondary structural assimilation as they enjoy relatively equal access to jobs, political authority and other important opportunities. In other words, they have full participation in all institutional areas of American society.

The majority of the participants had at least college education (77%) and a household income above $50,000 (66%). It is interesting to see that the Second generation had a higher income than both the First and the Third or beyond generation. 41% reported that they work in a professional field including attorneys, medical doctors, accountants, engineers, IT project managers, nurses, family therapists, pharmaceutical sales representatives, etc. 11% of the respondents were in an academic field. Moreover, we observed that 15% of the First generation and 11% of the Second generation had a Ph.D./M.D. degree while not a single Third or beyond generation respondent was found to hold a Ph.D./M.D. degree. Clearly, Greek America should encourage younger generations to achieve higher academic achievements and dedicate themselves to a more diverse professional field including research and teaching.

Intermarriage is an indicator of amalgamation (Waters and Jiménez, 2005). Much of the research has relied on intermarriage as an indicator of assimilation (e.g. Alba, 1981; Alba and Camlin, 1983; Castonguay, 1982; Cohen, 1977). Both interethnic and interfaith marriages were found to be a factor contributing to the process of assimilation. In our study, we not only estimated the intermarriage rate across generations, but we also studied the impact of intermarriage on attitudes and behaviors of preserving Hellenic core values as well as the attitudes towards interethnic and interfaith marriage. The findings are discussed later in further context.

Our study also tested acculturation theories. Berry proposed four modes of acculturation: ‘assimilation’, ‘integration’, ‘separation’ and ‘marginalization’. ‘Assimilation’ refers to the acceptation of the majority’s culture on the expanse of one’s own original minority culture. ‘Separation’ refers to the opposite stance: loyalty toward one’s original minority culture and the rejection of the majority’s culture. ‘Integration’ refers to the adoption of both cultures with an attempt to integrate between them, while ‘marginalization’ refers to distancing from one’s original heritage culture, but this time without assimilating to the majority’s culture. This, results with the individual remaining with no clear cultural identification (Berry, 1997, 2001).

The contribution of the acculturation theory is that it empirically demonstrated the ability to predict desirable or undesirable adjustment outcomes among distinct immigrant groups and members of minority ethnic groups. More specifically, numerous studies found ‘integration’ to be the most successful adaptation strategy by balancing the host country’s culture with the traditional values of one’s own culture origin while marginalization struggled the most to adapt to the dominant society (Berry, 1974, 1980, 1984, 1997, 2003; Berry et al., 2006, Berry, 2010).

A number of factors were found to influence the acculturation process, including, length of time living in the host country (Zheng and Berry, 1991), socio-economic status (Aroian et al, 1998) and social support from the host society (Garcia et al, 2002).

Given the strong Greek culture preservation shown in the current sample, we believe that the participants did not follow assimilation or marginalization strategies in which they would become more alienated toward their own culture. For example, assimilated individuals do not want to keep their identity from their home culture, but would rather take on all of the characteristics of the new culture. On the contrary marginalized individuals don’t want anything to do with either the new culture or the old culture. The results cannot be explained by separation either – where the individuals become alienated toward the host culture and totally separate them from the main society. Our results indicated that 76% of the participants identified themselves as “Greek American” with a socioeconomic status which is above the average in the sampled geographic area (NJ, PA, and VA) based on the 2010 U.S. Census. About half of the participants did not prefer to speak Greek when they were among people who understand Greek (Q15). Third, the majority of the participants did not agree that people of Greek descent should marry people of Greek descent (Q30), and neither did they agree that they would be unhappy if their children married someone who was not a member of the Greek Orthodox Church (Q31), which indicated that they are open to marry non-Greek partners. Our results showed that the participants of this survey had adjusted to the American culture instead of isolating themselves from the host culture. Therefore, the major mode Greek Americans took is integration, by which, the participants embrace both their culture of origin and the society of settlement – thus getting the best of both worlds. The results indicate that the participants have strong positive attitudes and behaviors towards preserving the Greek heritage. For example, they thought it is important for their children and people of Greek ancestry to speak Greek, they routinely attended worship services at the Greek Orthodox Church, they participated in Greek organizations like AHEPA and they attended Greek heritage events with a sense of pride and bond with other Greeks.

All these characteristics demonstrated that the Greek-Americans had amply preserved their culture of origin and they gradually integrated themselves into the main society. In addition, the participants showed a more democratic attitude which has been influenced by their integration into the American culture. For example, the majority of the Second and Third or beyond generations disagreed that the father should have the final say in most important decisions.

Overall, we identified a shift from Greek culture values to shared Greek-American values through generations. Such shift may reflect the need to utilize the best of both cultures. As Karpathakis (1999b) argued that with economic and cultural globalization, persons with bi-national identity are increasingly seen by the mainstream as assets. Therefore, it is more advantageous for Greek Americans to utilize the best of both worlds by following an “integration” approach to adaptation. Bicultural identification was also linked to immigrants’ engagement in their “host” societies. When immigrants perform bicultural identities they are more likely to be involved in the political life of their country of origin (Simon and Ruhs, 2008) and also have more opportunities to engage in political institutions within the host society (Huo and Molina, 2006).

A new version of the “straight line model” has come into circulation as a construct for explaining the participation of White ethnic group members in cultural heritage activities. First proposed by Gans in 1979, the concept of “symbolic ethnicity” denotes a new stage in the assimilation of middle-class, suburban Whites into an inclusive, Pan-European or Pan-White identity in which ethnicity is no longer the basis for collective action or the transmission of distinctive ethnic cultures across generations. As Gans (2009) recently stated:

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Symbolic ethnicity proposes the rejection of or a departure from active ethnicity: from participation in ethnic groups and in ethnic culture. It hypothesizes a passive ethnicity, involving the temporary and periodic expression of feelings about or toward the ethnic group or culture through material and non-material symbols. Symbolic ethnicity can even be a leisure time activity that does not interfere with the economic, social and other imperatives of everyday life (p.123).

Rather than functioning as a structural factor that shapes access to social networks or as a social identity entwined with self-conceptions, in this model, ethnicity is recast into the equivalent of an avocation or hobby that middle-class White Americans periodically use as a means of feeling good about them. According to Gans, White ethnic identity may have a transient influence on individual self-esteem, but it no longer serves as a source of values, group cohesion, or as a determinant of behavior. In addition, as Waters (1990, 2000, 2009) has argued in her work on ethnic options, among White Americans of mixed ancestry, individuals can and do choose situational-contingent ethnic identities. The implications of symbolic ethnicity for Greek Americans in general and particularly for those who reside in middle-class suburban communities are substantial. At least, some members of this ethnic group may embrace a superficial Greek identity without the risk of incurring liabilities that were once attached to being viewed as a “non-White” race subordinate to the Anglo-Saxon core culture. In contemporary American society, then, the “costs” of being identifiably Greek are negligible but the affiliating bonds that join Greek Americans into a distinct group may weaken within and across generations.

We observed that 15 participants from our respondents, who are either Second or Third or beyond generations, had identified themselves as ‘American’. They have probably assimilated more deeply into the American culture; yet, the majority of them responded that they actively participated in the Greek heritage events. These participants tried to take the positive images of their ethnicity while not having to deal with the real social cost of being ethnic, which is a good indication of symbolic ethnicity. Our study also revealed that Greek Americans involved various symbols of ethnicity in their daily life such as eating ethnic food, listen to Greek music, dance Greek dances, read ethnic newspapers, etc. I am in agreement with the findings of Alexiou (1993), which suggested that ethnic identification of Greek Americans does not weaken as generation becomes more removed from their immigrant ancestors, but rather becomes symbolic without structural commitments to ethnic ties.

Patterns of transmission in core values of Hellenic culture

Our study examined the attitudes and behaviors of the Greek American retention of six core values of Hellenic culture. These attitudes are often referred as acculturation orientations and viewed as mediators or moderators between acculturation conditions and acculturation outcomes, while acculturation behaviors can be assumed to be associated to short- term acculturation outcomes (Arends-Tóth & van de Vijver, 2006). As defined by Omi and Winant (1994), ethnicity comprises a culture that includes religion, language, nationality and political identifications. Alba and Nee (2003) viewed ethnicity as a social boundary or distinction that individuals make in their everyday lives that shapes their action and mental orientation toward others. This distinction is embedded in a variety of cultural and social norms, values, and beliefs (p. 11). Similarly, Isajiw (1992) suggested that ethnic identity can be divided into two basic aspects: external and internal. Where external aspects refer to observable behavior patterns, such as language, family, friendship, participation in ethnic/institutional and associational organization and participation in functions sponsored by ethnic organizations, internal aspects refer to images, ideas, attitudes and feelings about their own ethnicity.

Through my own experiences as an active member of Greek America and my extensive research from previous studies, I observed that Greek culture values mainly lie in six domains: (a) Greek language, (b) the Greek Orthodox Church, (c) Family cultural orientation and values, (d) Greek cultural activities and organization membership, (e) Continuing contact with Greece and/or Cyprus, and (f) Political activity. Greek language is an important factor reinforcing ethnic identity. The Greek Orthodox Church is a vibrant and indispensable component of Greek ethnicity by providing an extensive range of religious, educational and social activities and the major sponsor of Greek Heritage festivals. Language and religion have been most frequently studied as acculturation measures (Harris & Verven, 1996). Family cultural orientation and values are also of great importance as children acquire their sense of belonging through their family. The Greek cultural activities and organization offer opportunities to share the experiences and continuing contact with Greece. Finally, ethnic political involvement was viewed as an indicator of assimilation, mobility and acculturation. As Parenti (1967) claimed, the political acculturation of the ethnic proceeds hand in hand with general cultural adaptation to American life and that it is largely completed by the advent of the second generation. These core values can also be used to understand the basis of ethnicity and culture.

In this study, I investigated the cultural retention and loss in each domain. In general, ethnic behaviors are strongest or most apparent among the generations closest to the immigrant experience and become weaker or less apparent among those further away (Alba 1990). Later generation Americans are likely to adopt American cultural ways and modify parental ways so that the original values and behaviors characteristic of the immigrant group become altered or nonexistent. Therefore each successive generation that replaces the previous generation will be less ethnic-identified and the group as a whole will also become less ethnic-identified than their predecessors (Alba 1995). All six domains of the Greek ethnic culture examined in this study, to some extent, followed this general trend. However some of the cultural values experienced considerable reduction from one generation to the next, while other values experienced only minor reductions or modifications. Study suggests that it may not be until the third or fourth generations that families fully acculturate to the host culture (Kelley and Tseng, 1992). Moreover, further generations tend to acculturate more readily than their parents due to the fact that the home culture values are less established among them and they have greater exposure to the host culture through education and contact with non immigrant peers (Phinneey, 1990). This suggests that there might be disparity in cultural transmission across generations.

In our case, we are making an attempt to be more concise by identifying four major patterns of transmission in core values of Hellenic culture (Figure 15).

First, the preservation of Greek language is progressively weakened from one generation to the next. Significant differences were observed across all three generations on self assessed Greek language skills, “whether they speak Greek when at home”, “preference to speak Greek when among people who understand Greek” and opinion on “whether people of Greek ancestry should be able to speak Greek”. Our findings coincide with previous studies (e.g. Costantakos 1982, Demos 1988). Costantakos (1982) analyzed a survey of 211 Greek-Americans living in an unspecified metropolitan area. The study indicated the same pattern of behavioral changes, while attitudes towards retention of the Greek language were positive. In our study, the attitudes towards Greek language preservation were measured by two questions: “whether it is important that my children are able to speak Greek” and “whether it is important for people of Greek ancestry to speak Greek”. The attitudes were found to be positive among the First and Second generation, but not among the Third or beyond generation. To be more specific, 92% of the First generation and 83% of the Second generation supported that it is important for their children to be able to understand and speak Greek, while only 48% of the Third or beyond generation thought so. 87% of the First generation and 70% of the Second generation supported that ‘People of Greek ancestry who live in the United States should be able to understand and speak Greek’, while only 48% of the Third or beyond generation agreed.. Demos (1988) analyzed questionnaires collected from 583 Greek Americans from two Greek Orthodox churches, one in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the other in Baltimore, Maryland. The study showed that the focus of Greek ethnicity was shifting away from mother tongue maintenance through forces of assimilation and ethnic intermarriage. The study also revealed that the Greek language persisted as a characteristic of the Greek Orthodox Americans and that visits to Greece represent a major way of maintaining the Greek language. In the current study, the self assessed Greek language skills were found to be moderately correlated to the question “Whether the participant has traveled to Greece”, which coincides with the findings in Demos (1988) that visits to Greece represent a major way of maintaining the Greek language.

The current study seems to well fit the model of Anglicization which was initially formulated by the sociolinguists Joshua Fishman (1972, 1980) and Calvin Veltman (1983). The model described that the process occurs in the following ways: some individuals of the immigrant generation learn English, but they generally prefer to speak their native language, especially at home. Thus, their children usually grow up as bilinguals, but many of them prefer English, even in conversing with their immigrant parents (Lopez 1996). The second generation generally speaks English at home when its members establish their own households and rear children. Consequently, by the third generation, the prevalent pattern is English monolingualism and knowledge of the mother tongue for most ethnics is fragmentary at best. Similarly, Portes and Schauffler (1994) argued that regardless of where immigrants live, English will replace the native language within two or three generations unless bilingualism is promoted. In order for second or beyond generation youth to maintain their parents’ native language they must be motivated to use it and provided with opportunities to use this language in places beyond the household, such as school and the broader community.

The second pattern of intergenerational change observed, was connected to the path of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Greek Cultural Activities with minimal reduction. The Greek Orthodox Church assumed a leading role in the preservation of Greek culture in the United States since it hosts both religious and ethnic social events. Researchers who have studied the Greek Orthodox Church and the cultural activities that it sponsors (Alex, 2007; Charalambous, 2004; Demos, 1989, Tsimpouki, 2002) affirmed that it has served as a bulwark of ethnic cultural identity. In the current study, a significant higher proportion of subjects responded to all attitude and most of the behavior questions positively among all three generations and no significant difference was observed among the three generations for most of the questions. Our findings also supported that regardless of the generation status, the participants in our study had very strong positive attitudes towards the Greek Orthodox Church. The vast majority of the participants agreed that it is important for their children and people of Greek ancestry to participant and belong to the Greek Orthodox Church and at least some part of Sunday worship should be conducted in Greek. Yet, their actual behaviors in terms of their participation of the Greek Orthodox Church showed minor decline across generations.

Significant difference was only found between the First and Third generation in terms of “whether their children attend or attended an afternoon Greek school” and “whether part of the Sunday worship should be conducted in Greek”. The results demonstrated that Greek Americans continued to rely on the Orthodox Church to reinforce their ethnic identities. Furthermore, our study examined the perception of respondents on their understanding of the Orthodox Faith. Our religious core beliefs help us face the problems of life and prepare us for salvation as well as keep our Hellenic identity. We must have a sufficient knowledge and understanding of orthodoxy and share this faith with others. Our results showed that the vast majority (94%) of the respondents – regardless of generation – believed that they had good or very good understanding of the Orthodox Faith, the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Sacraments. The Divine Liturgy is the most significant ancient Christian service and the center of the inspiration of the first Christians in their communion with God and with one another (Mastrantonis, 2004). The Divine Liturgy is the central worship service of the Orthodox Church which is celebrated every Sunday morning and on all Holy Days. The Liturgy is also the means by which we achieve union with Jesus Christ and unity with each other through the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. The Holy Sacraments are composed of prayers, hymns, scripture lessons, gestures and processions. Most of the Sacraments use a portion of the material of creation as an outward and visible sign of God’s revelation (Fitzgerald, 2004).

In our study, only six respondents admitted that they had poor or non-existent understanding of the Orthodox Faith and the majority of these six respondents also had poor ability to understand and speak Greek. This is an important issue as both Greek America and its Orthodox population underwent significant generational transformations during1940 to1990. As a result, religious faith and ethnic identity, once seen as inseparable, were increasingly less understood as such by the socially mobile, geographically dispersed, English-speaking second, third or beyond generations of Orthodox faithful in America, not to mention an ever-increasing number of converts (Stokoe and Kishkovsky, 1995).

The Greek Archdiocese, for whom the very definition of Greek identity comes from the Greek language, has undergone continuous debate on the issue since 1962 (Stokoe and Kishkovsky, 1995). In 1964, the Clergy-Laity Congress allowed certain readings and prayers in the liturgy to be repeated in English. In the important 20th Clergy-Laity Congress of 1970, following the personal appeal of Archbishop Iakovos, an English liturgy was permitted. Today, most Orthodox churches do some and in many cases most of their services in English. This policy provides an opportunity for the second and third or beyond generations to comprehend more proficiently the Orthodox Faith. Another important issue we should point out is that orthodoxy itself is not static; it is constantly under pressure to be assimilated or integrated – especially in an Anglo Saxon Protestant society. According to our findings, the Greek Orthodox Church has undergone substantial integration. As a religion and a cultural heritage, the Orthodox Church can also bring the best of both worlds and to blend and orchestrate into a whole, yet not lose essence or identity (Nicozisin, 1993).

Although our results show that the majority of our respondents have a good or very good understanding of the Greek Orthodox Faith – there might be a dichotomy of opinion as to the accuracy of these findings – being that the personal feelings of the respondents could be quite subjective. My personal experience indicates that the majority of the churchg


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