Biculturalism and Acculturation in the United States: Breaking The Status Quo

In today’s diverse society, many individuals are internalizing more than one culture in their day to day lives. Some, who may have been born in America, has family roots that go all the way back to a country in East Asia or Southern Europe. Research has actually shown that one out of every four individuals residing in the United States has lived in another country before moving to the U.S. And though many have no trouble in assimilating both cultures into their lifestyles (by the way they dress, by what they eat, or by being bilingual), many all around the world still struggle to blend both (or even more) of their cultures together.

It’s a common problem, especially among young adults and teenagers today. By trying to follow societal norms in fear of judgment and seclusion, many will try to “forget” their cultures that aren’t a norm in America (or wherever they currently reside). Some will choose to speak English more than their native tongue, not because English is the primary speaking language in the U.S but more based on what their peers will think.

Acculturation can be defined as a process of social, psychological, and cultural change that stems from the balancing of two cultures while adapting to the prevailing culture of the society. It provides nomenclature to the process in which an individual adopts, acquires and adjusts to a new cultural environment. But does adjusting have to mean fully disregarding another portion of your identity? Many would argue yes, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context.

Individuals that endorse high BII (Bicultural Identity Integration) see themselves as part of a “hyphenated-culture”, where integrating both of their cultures in their everyday lives is simple and effortless. Unfortunately, more individuals endorse low BII, where they exhibit “behavioral reactants” – a sense of reverse priming. Reverse priming refers to the notion that if individuals realize that they are being primed and, feeling they have been biased, over-respond in their choices which are now biased in the reverse reaction. In other words, relating to my experience, whenever I go to Pakistan wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I feel too American. If I go to my college classes wearing a Kurti (a collarless blouse that goes all the way down to mid-thigh without slits in the side), I feel too Pakistani and isolated from the general population.

However, there are many ways that we can promote biculturalism and facilitate the process of incorporating it into different parts of our lives. One is, despite whether you’re a college student or a high school student, join extracurricular organizations that promote your culture. For example, I joined MSA (Muslim Student Association) at my high school. Though it wasn’t a cultural organization by any means, many of the students and officers that were in that organization came from many diverse backgrounds – the main one being from Pakistan, where my family is from. Joining MSA was a great decision I had decided to partake in, as I fostered many great friendships in that organization. I also became more confident to actually start wearing a hijab and, ultimately, finally accepting my familial roots without caring what others would think.

If you don’t have an organization that caters toward your ethnic identity/language/religion, then start your own! The high school that I went to was huge, with over 3500 students attending it. Due to the extensive amount of students attending my high school, we had over 50 different organizations. Of course, many of you guys don’t go to high schools that are as big as mine, so take this as an opportunity to create your own organization. This will help you to find other students who may come from a similar ethnic background as you do, and may, fundamentally, help you to reconnect with your cultures once more.

Remember, this is a slow and learning process. It’s okay to not feel comfortable at first when trying to balance both cultures in your life. It’s not supposed to be easy. But despite how cliché this may sound, know that you are not alone. Thousands of other students across the country, and the world, are going through similar problems that you are currently struggling with. I still wrestle with it sometimes as well. But understanding that embracing both roots is vital to your individuality and uniqueness as it provides a sense of character and breaking the status quo that is, unfortunately, an accepted societal norm even today.

Uniqueness is valued. Being idiosyncratic is not a bad thing. Incorporating biculturalism into our lives is a common problem in today’s world today, but we will fight for it. We will promote it, whether it’s through creating our own organizations at school/college or joining one ourselves. Don’t lose a part of yourselves due to peer pressure or the fear of being isolated from the general population. Biculturalism is key to preferences of novelty and greater self-expansion motivation.

Remember: the way that you live is not the only way to live.

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