Bobby Jindal Has Antiquated Views On Immigrant Assimilation

“Immigration without assimilation is an invasion" is not what most immigrants believe.

During Thursday night’s second-tier GOP candidate debate, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) proclaimed that “immigration without assimilation is an invasion,” telling immigrants to “learn English, adopt our values, roll up your sleeves and get to work.”

Jindal frequently says that he disagrees with people who don’t think immigrants should assimilate, and he believes that immigrants should not be "hyphenated Americans." In June, his super PAC began running an ad in Iowa in which he said he is "tired of hyphenated Americans. We're not Indian-Americans or African-Americans or Asian-Americans, we're all Americans."

Jindal’s rhetoric partially stems from his own upbringing. He has explained that his parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from India, emphasized raising their children to “become Americans.”

“My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans — not Indian-Americans,” he said in January. "If we wanted to be Indians, we would have stayed in India."

In May, Jindal told The Washington Post: “My mom was fully committed to raising us as Americans,” Jindal said. “That was a conscious decision. We ate food that would be familiar to other families in south Louisiana. She wanted to raise us like other kids in the neighborhood.”

Jindal himself went even further in adopting what he saw as American values, converting from Hinduism to Christianity in his teens. Throughout his rise as a politician, he has celebrated his process of assimilation to draw attention to his success.

But many experts and scholars of immigration say his views are from a bygone era, and both the idea and the process of assimilation is complicated.

In the early 20th century, most people supported Jindal’s idea of assimilation. The prevailing view was that successive generations would integrate into American society by learning “the dominant group’s culture.” However, in the 1960s, scholars began to call that definition into question because many immigrants began to embrace “hyphenated identities” -- adopting American values and culture but also preserving and celebrating the heritage of their ancestors.

In addition, there is no overarching definition of assimilation, as Jindal suggests. “Becoming American” is not a homogenous process. The ways in which immigrants assimilate can take on many forms and depend on factors like education, social class and where immigrants settle when they come to the United States. Some immigrants may choose to assimilate into whiteness and strip away most of their ethnic identities, while others may choose to preserve their own cultures. Most people find a balance between those extremes.

While immigrants who live in so-called “ethnic enclaves” are often criticized for not learning English or for only associating themselves with people of the same nationality or ethnicity, there are also benefits to living among fellow immigrants. Immigrant communities provide important social networks that help immigrants point each other to jobs, education, housing and other resources and opportunities.

At the same time, if immigrants are poor and do not have access to economic resources, subsequent generations can continue to reproduce that poverty, which can severely limit their abilities to assimilate. 

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