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The beginning of the 20th century in the United States was marked with the growing openness of the American geographical frontiers and with the increased intensiveness of immigrant inflows. While political and social conditions in the world were growing more complicated, more and more individuals were willing to relocate to the United States, which looked like a perfect example of democratization and individual liberty. However, what was available and accessible to the American citizens was not available to newcomers. More often than not, continuous discrimination and the lack of racial and ethnic cohesion made it difficult for immigrants to become a part of the American society. Certainly, not all of them were as unlucky as to experience the pressure of discrimination and racial hatred, but their assimilation attempts were often zeroed by their persistent desire to cherish and preserve their cultural and ethnic uniqueness. The given paper will be based on the review of the article by "Cultural differences in America".
Immigration and racism in America go hand in hand. Immigrants who come to the United States in search for a better life hope to become members of the American society. But this society also imposes strict cultural requirements on those, who are expected to work for their own benefit and for the benefit of the country, to which they choose to belong. Assimilation is probably one of the most complex and the most problematic in the cultural experiences of new immigrants ("Cultural differences in America").
Very often, assimilation implies the need for immigrants to discard their historical and cultural experiences for the sake of becoming true Americans. Historically, those who were able to overcome cultural barriers and succeeded in learning the English language were considered as privileged against the rest of the immigrant community: "Turning pocho was a half-step toward turning American. And America was all around us, in an out of the barrio. Abruptly we had to forget the ways of shopping in a Mercado and learn those of shopping in a corner grocery or in a department store" (Galarza, p. 227). As such, the new American society had many expectations about those, who were willing to become its members - they either had to say good-bye to everything that made them culturally and ethnically unique, or were bound to experience the pressure of racial and ethnic discrimination throughout their life in America ("Cultural differences in America").
However, many of those who came to America could not or did not want to forget their past and thus had to lead a kind of a double life, no matter whether they were Mexican, Puerto-Rican or Italian: under the influence of the cultural pressures and trying to preserve their cultural uniqueness, immigrants turned their homes into a culturally sacred territory: "It was at the family parties that the world of the Americans was completely shut off. Usually they were arranged by families from the same part of Mexico who considered themselves paisanos" (Galarza, p. 232). This double life between Americanization and cultural uniqueness was either occasional (from party to party) or turned into a way of life - "Mommie, were you poor? - asked Miriam. 'Si, muy pobre, but very happy'" (Thomas, p. 263). This double life had to give immigrants a chance to integrate with the American society and simultaneously, to remain culturally unique ("Cultural differences in America").
This disparity between public and private life in immigrant communities produced a two-fold effect: on the one hand, it gave immigrants better opportunities for becoming American citizens - the English language undoubtedly moved children closer to their American dreams. On the other hand, language did not change the color of their skin, their ethnicity, and their race, and even if ponchos were considered privileged in their Mexican families and communities, they could readily turn into an object of mockery as soon as they went outside their small Harlem: "My voice was almost shy in its anger: I'm Puerto Rican - I said. - I was born here.' I wanted to shout it, but it came out like a whisper" (Thomas, p. 265). Nevertheless, despite that discrimination was a common element of assimilation and immigration in the 20th century's America, not all communities were as unlucky as to be limited in their assimilation opportunities ("Cultural differences in America").
Galaiza writes that Lincoln school was designed and encouraged them to become good Americans and to accept racial and ethnic diversity for granted (p. 230). During breaks and after lessons, no one prevented pupils from speaking their native languages, and such diversity gave them a sense of comfort (p. 230). However, for the most part, such comfort was as unusual as it was rare - assimilation and Americanization were never smooth but were colored with violence and hatred.
Only within their immigrant communities, did foreign newcomers have a chance to find a consolation and peace of mind. The quality and effectiveness of assimilation depended on a whole multitude of factors, from the attitudes which immigrants held toward education (for example, first generations of immigrant Italians considered education as the tool of erasing their ethnic values - Anonymous 1983), but no matter whether they were Italian, Mexican, or Puerto-Rican, no one else could understand an immigrant as well as other immigrant could. Immigration thus became one of the determining cultural lives of those, who come to America in the search for a better life. Immigration either became a plague or a blessing, but it was always associated with the need for immigrants to lead a double life, which had to help them assimilate with the rest of the American society but also left some space for their cultural and ethnic uniqueness, which they were not always allowed to reveal in public. "Our cultural background factors into our everyday decisions: from what clothes we put on in the morning to what to put on our tables for dinner; whether we wait in line patiently at the bus stop or push our way to the front. How long we pause before we speak, the words we use, the food we eat and when we eat it, or even the cars we drive are different depending on what region of the United States we come from" ("Cultural differences in America").
From the article it is possible to learn that the cultural experiences of immigrant communities in America were as different as they were also similar. On the one hand, immigrants had to experience the pressure of discrimination and racial hatred. On the other hand, many immigrants also had a unique opportunity to learn the language, the value of diversity, and the benefits of becoming Americanized. Despite those differences, the lives of immigrant communities had one significant commonality: the majority of immigrants were destined to live a double life - being American in public and being ethnically diverse at home. Such disparity of individual behaviors had to help immigrants assimilate with the American society without losing their national and ethnic uniqueness, because being American for immigrants without separating themselves from their historical and cultural past was often difficult, if not impossible.