How does one exhibit the capacity to integrate new culture-based knowledge into one's repertoire of theories and perspectives? 

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Especially with the recent political turbulence across Western Europe and in the United States tied to the issue of legal and illegal immigration, the question of integrating new culture-based knowledge into existing cultural frameworks is certainly timely. As the Netherlands, Germany and France all prepare for national elections and the United States has recently conducted an election during which immigration was among the more emotional subjects discussed, the problem of integrating the new into the old has been given new impetus. And, while the issue of Muslim assimilation into historically and traditionally non-Muslim societies is more fraught with emotion than most previous eras, the issue is not new. The United States, as it is daily pointed out, is a nation of immigrants, and some of the waves of immigration were hardly welcomed by the status quo establishments. In fact, the history of organized crime in America is closely tied to the cultural obstacles faced by Irish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Each wave of immigrants confronted hostility and racial and/or religious discrimination to greater or lesser degrees. Each one, however, gradually assimilated and subsequent generations consider themselves Americans first and foremost.

Large migrations to American shores continued throughout the twentieth century, as Vietnamese and Laotians fleeing tyranny following the US withdrawal from Southeast Asia made their way here, followed by immigrants from Somalia, as well as the ongoing migrations from Mexico and Central America. Each has experienced challenges integrating into the Anglo-European culture that itself displaced the indigenous cultures that preceded the Spanish, British, and French explorers who settled North America. Note, here, though, how the Anglo-European migrants did not incorporate their cultures into that which already existed. Subsequent migrations did integrate.

So, the question at hand is how to "exhibit" or display the capacity to integrate new culture-based knowledge into existing models. By examining the dynamics involved in this nation's history of immigration and cultural assimilation, the answer to the question becomes fairly apparent. Integrating "new culture-based knowledge" implies precisely that: merging the new with the old in a manner that does not displace the latter but merely adds the former. Looking at American history offers a particularly instructive guide precisely because this is a nation of immigrants. Perhaps the more difficult challenge is that which confronts Western Europe today.

Whether the city is Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, or London, the situation is largely the same. Each of these old, venerated cultures has witnessed a large influx of migrants from Islamic nations--migrants who, as most people do, cling to their own unique traditions and practices. The problems occur when the "new" cultures clash so dramatically with the "old." When the "new" includes practices anathema to the "old," conflict, including violent confrontations, are inevitable.

Exhibiting the capacity to integrate the new with the old has historically been a matter of displaying ways in which different waves of immigrants have incorporated their cultures into the broader national culture that existed. Especially in their earlier periods, ethnic groups formed their own, often insulated communities. "Chinatowns," "Little Italys," "Koreatowns," and other ethnically formed neighborhoods became staples of the cities in which they took root. They are identifiable sections of larger metropolises, but they are also integrated into those metropolises. Social histories of the United States and texts on human geography are replete with discussions of this phenomenon. Over time, perhaps one or two generations, these communities become a vital part of the larger culture contributing to and taking from it freely. Additionally, the integration is not seamless but inevitably will entail some degree of what is called "acculturation," in which the clashing or merging cultures form a single culture that exhibits characteristics of each but not all of either.

The sources linked-to below will provide additional insights into these demographic processes, and Chapter Two of Developments in the Theory and Practice of Citizenship (edited by Simon McMahon, 2012), "Universalizing Citizenship as Identity," by Francis Luong, is particularly instructive as well.