Integration vs. Assimilation

Shukura Babirye - Ecuador


November 18, 2017

Global Citizen Year emphasises the idea that we need to integrate to our communities to feel like we have fulfilled this 8 month programme. However, what does that really mean? 

Integration is defined as enhancing the community that you are in due to the adaptation of both parties in forming a new and improved social norm.

An example of this is when I brought up a question to my host mum about why she has to do a million and one things all by herself. She doesn’t usually stick up for herself, but she did that following evening she asked my host dad to help a bit more in the house and he now does. He now offers to sit in the worst seat at the dinner table and every now and again helps my mum organise the food for breakfast. Through this I am able to see the practice of integration in my family’s home every now and again. 

I have been struggling a lot this past month in finding a way to belong in my community, most importantly, in my Ecuadorian home. I have noticed that I have started to change myself as a form of adaptation to fit in with the social norms at home, and because of this I feel as if a bit of my identity has slowly been taken away just because I am changing myself to adapt to norms of the house, when another culture present is being completely disregarded. Is this truly integration? 

I FaceTimed my mother about how I was feeling about “integrating” in this programme because it is the pivotal item in ensuring that you get the absolute best out of your experience here. She mentioned that sometimes there is confusion between integration and assimilation. I then did further research where I found that what I was describing was to be in fact, assimilation. 

Assimilation is described as a process where outsiders change themselves to become part of the more dominant host society, soon conforming to the existing cultural norms of society. I then realised that because of assimilation this is how terrorist groups form, because they are told to disregard something that makes them who they are, and as a form of retaliation they do violent or peaceful protests. An example of this would be the African National Congress. This was during the apartheid where black people were completely degraded just because of the colour of their skin. Therefore, this group was formed in a way to violently fight against the apartheid. 

A peaceful example of this could be through the Gay Pride parades hosted all over the world as a form of acknowledging differences, and asking people to adapt and appreciate this new social norm.

It is really important that this programme and individuals moving to new countries to fully understand the difference between these two terms, because I didn’t and I mistook assimilation for integration. Integration isn’t about loosing identity, rather maintaining your beliefs and being able to celebrate your differences to work with other societies. It is seen as a mutual comprise. 

A really good way to remember, is that assimilation as being a soup, where ingredients are able to lose their identity as they are blended together. Where integration is linked a a fruit salad with a bit of granola where it tastes wonderful because the difference in flavour, colour, and size all contribute to make one beautiful dish. 

Never thought I would be making a culinary metaphor, but there you go.

Shukura Babirye