Cultural assimilation: How it affects mental health (2023)

Cultural assimilation refers to the process in which a minority group or culture adopts the behavior, values, rituals and beliefs of the majority group in the host country.

The term cultural assimilation is often used to describe immigrants who have migrated to new places; however, it is also used for discussionNativegroups. As a result, it comes in two forms:

  • Forced assimilation
  • Total assimilation

People are often encouraged or pressured to assimilate culturally, but these changes are often forced. Indigenous, immigrant, and minority ethnic groups often change or hide elements of their own culture, including their language, food, clothing, and spiritual practices, in order to adopt the values ​​and social behavior of the dominant culture.

Those who advocate cultural assimilation believe that it reduces conflict, contributes to a more cohesive national identity, and improves social and economic opportunities for minorities.

However, not everyone agrees and suggests that cultural assimilation contributes to the loss of culture and history, increases discrimination and violence, and undermines people's self-esteem and self-confidence.

While cultural assimilation is often presented as an easy solution, it increases other problems and difficulties.

Evolution of the concept

Originally called assimilation, cultural assimilation is defined as the economic, social and political integration of a minority ethnic group into mainstream society.Since then, the process of assimilation has been further elaborated and divided into different sub-processes.

The melting pot theory

Contemporary references to cultural assimilation state that this occurs when minority groups appropriate the culture of the majority group in order to integrate into society. You often hear people say that their country or city is a 'melting pot'.

What does the term "melting pot" mean?

This melting pot theory is a common analogy used to describe cultural assimilation.It is used to describe how different cultures "melt" together to form a new culture, just as metals are heated together to form a new, stronger bond.

Although the melting pot theory can be applied to any country, it is most often used to describe the American context. As a result, the pot theory became synonymous with the process of Americanization.

While the melting pot theory suggests that people will integrate into the dominant society, critics suggest that this process harms diversity and leads to a loss of culture. Instead, some people promote the idea of ​​multiculturalism, using metaphors such as a mosaic or a puzzle where people can come together and maintain their unique culture.

Voluntary versus forced cultural assimilation

As mentioned above, cultural assimilation takes two primary forms:

Voluntary assimilation

  • Integration into the dominant culture through generations

  • It occurs over time

  • Often in response to pressure from a more dominant culture, conformity is a solution for people to stay safe

Forced assimilation

  • Minority groups are forced to give up their identity

  • It includes a threat of violence

  • Responds quickly

  • Without consent

  • Example: the residential school system in the USA and Canada

  • Voluntary assimilation:Then the members of the minority group cannot be distinguished from the members of the dominant group. This form of assimilation occurs in stages or over generations. In this form, assimilation is usually easier for children of immigrants, since they are born, socialized or raised in the dominant culture from an early age. It is important to remember that voluntary assimilation is often a response to pressure from a more dominant culture, and conformity is a solution for people to stay safe and survive.
  • Forced assimilation:This is when a minority or indigenous group is forced to give up its cultural identity, language, norms and customs in order to fit in with the dominant group. Forced assimilation therefore proceeds much more rapidly due to the threat of violence. This process occurred after the territory changed nationality after the war; however, it has had other uses throughout history, such as the forced assimilation and traumatization of Native Americans over the centuries, with residential schools operating as recently as 1996.

Acculturation can also occur. This is a form of assimilation in which people from a minority group adopt some of the beliefs, customs or behaviors of the dominant group, but still retain some of their cultural traditions and customs.

History of cultural assimilation

While cultural assimilation has occurred throughout history, most academic research on it has focused on the American context and race relations due to the history of immigration.

Although this is a common process attributed to states, it is still a divisive political issue – some politicians and the public believe that European immigrants in the past have assimilated more quickly than minority groups in the present.

The United States has struggled with long-standing and significant hostility toward immigrants, indigenous communities, and anyone perceived as "anotherToday and historically, many white Americans in this country have seen immigrants and ethnic minorities as a threat to the country's culture, fearing our differences and exerting direct and indirect pressure on those who do not conform to do so, including through threats and violence.

Some immigrants, ethnic minorities and their children may have a desire to assimilate, but lack the knowledge or resources to do so. Others may not care about assimilation, but eventually feel the urge or pressure to fit in. Regardless of their attitude, the pressure of cultural assimilation is always present.

Cultural assimilation was intended to limit self-segregation

However, during this period immigrants were encouraged to assimilate as a means of achieving social stability and economic success.It was thought that by 'Americanizing' these individuals would reduce the instances of 'self-segregation'. It was believed that all under a unified belief system would eradicate intergroup rivalry for jobs and resources.

However, that position was ultimately seen as problematic for several reasons. For example, scholars have argued that this idea created a hierarchy of citizenship in which those who could fully integrate gained more capital.

The concept of "passing"

Additionally, those who are able to "pass" (i.e., someone from a minority group whose physical appearance resembles the dominant group, e.g., a Latino who looks white) as the dominant culture would be rewarded with greater advantages, while those from other ethnic groups would they would be punished - even if it's not something they can control.

"Passing" is a complex phenomenon because it perpetuates racism and emotional distress, as many people who have realized they can benefit from the benefits of "passing" have become complicit in a system that oppresses and harms others.

Is cultural assimilation good or bad?

Although cultural assimilation can help immigrants and ethnic minorities feel safer or more accepted by the dominant culture, research on its effects is mixed.

For example, a 2011 study on the effects of assimilation on adolescent immigrants found that those who lived in areas free of poverty had better educational achievement and psychological well-being.However, there was also an increase in risky behavior. In contrast, they found that it negatively affected children of immigrants living in poorer areas.

Another study of immigrant households found that siblings with more foreign names had higher unemployment rates, completed fewer years of schooling, earned less, and were more likely to marry foreign-born spouses.As for current debates on cultural assimilation, they mostly focus on the psychological well-being of immigrants.

Forced cultural assimilation and its impact on mental health

Cultural assimilation can lead to a loss of identity and cause significant psychological stress for immigrants.These can range from homesickness to depression and serious mental illness.

In addition, the act of migration can cause an individual to experience cultural loss - a form of grief caused by the loss of one's culture and thus a key aspect of one's identity. This can be compounded by the loss of important cultural features such as language, traditions, customs and food, which can also increase the alienation a person feels when trying to connect with someone (or a relative) from his or her country of origin. Earth. origin.

Effects of cultural assimilation

Cultural assimilation can lead to both positive and negative outcomes:


  • Immigrants can feel more secure and have a sense of belonging to the dominant culture
  • Immigrants who assimilate may experience a higher quality of life and better mental health


  • Those belonging to minority groups may feel that they are losing their identity
  • Minority groups may experience mental health problems as a result of losing or drifting away from their cultural strengths

Mental Health Resources for American Immigrants

Things to consider when discussing cultural assimilation

Cultural assimilation that occurs voluntarily over time can be neutral, since post-migration assimilation can be helpful in connecting to and coping with a new culture.

Forced assimilation is a form of violence

But forcing minority groups to accept a cultural practice that is not their own is problematic at best and violent at worst.After all, while cultural assimilation has benefited some minority groups and the dominant cultures they come into contact with, forced assimilation has led to the violent demise of many others. Therefore, it is important to be as nuanced as possible when discussing cultural assimilation.

In addition, it is important that we can come to terms with the pressures minority groups face to assimilate into host countries. For some of these individuals, assimilation may be the only way they see success in society.

It is therefore critical that those parts of the dominant group in a given society recognize and fight against any attempt to force individuals to renounce their culture. After all, cultural diversity can provide positive psychological and behavioral benefits.

Word very well

Cultural assimilation is a complex topic, so it is important to remain sensitive and considerate when thinking about it. Indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and immigrants often experience assimilation in different ways, so it is important to be careful when discussing and thinking about how it happens and what effect it can have.

What is cross-cultural psychology?

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