Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rainbow Assimilation -- Children of Latino Immigrants

One is four American youth is either an immigrant or child of an immigrant. While most of these youth are progressing well enough that they are creating well adjusted lives in the broad American culture, the number who will not is about one in five (20%) according to some scholar. The new immigration is not unlike the old European immigration before World War I. And many of the same issues seems to confront the new immigrant from Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The process of assimilation is complex. Some do not even like to use the term because it means "being like the whites" and depreciates the contribution of the new immigrants. But many observers still find it useful -- mutatis mutandi (changing the thing that are needing change in the comparison) -- and are adding their own wrinkles. Two scholars, Alejandro Portes of Princeton and Ruben G. Rumbaut of the University of Califonia, Irvine, have come up with a concept "rainbow assimilation".

All immigrants experience some measure of assimilation, even those who seemingly thrive in an ethnic ghetto. Most, stage by stage, adjust the dominant culture in postive and creative ways, contributing some elements of their old cutlture to the new mix -- as Mexican cuisine is now found in the super-markets and not just in the supermercado. But some some immigrant youth, Rumbaut estimate 20%, experience a "downward assimilation" reflecting the violance and gang culture. poverty and shadered dreams that had emerged in previous immingrant groups and poor black migrants from the south to northern cities.

The Remade in American series in the New York Times addresses the plight of Latino youth assimilating in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Half of Latino youth are now in the suburbs, 40% of the Latino poor as well. The alienation and problems of the inner city have followed them. Gangs flourish, school drop-outs and teen age pregnacies are as high, violence is only slightly mitigated. But the suburbs reluctantly received the immigrant and is rarely ready to assist them. Some more far-sighted communities are adopting an old formula to meet the needs of the immigrant -- community centers looking much like the settlement house of the early twentieth century. The Times story decribes the problems confronted by one such center, The Latin American Youth Center of Langley, MD. Langley is now a predominantly Latino town, mostly Salvadoreans and Mexicans, in black majority Prince George County. The article also follows the odessey of a young Salvadoran woman who seems on a downward path into long-term poverty.

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