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In the 1800s many minorities came into existence in the United States. At the beginning of the 1850s a mass migration to the U.S. began, which lead to the development of new minorities. Minorities arrived to the U.S. searching for a better future, while others were forced to immigrate especially Native Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans. These minorities were classified by John Ogbu into voluntary and involuntary minorities according to their response to their experiences in the United States. Minorities faced many obstacles in the United States such as discrimination, segregation, and diculturalization. However, their responses to this barriers, especially in terms of education and discrimination were different according to their experiences and classification of being voluntary or involuntary minorities.
According to Ogbu, voluntary minorities are immigrants who chose to come to the United States, while involuntary minorities were immigrants who were forced into the United States against their will. Voluntary minorities believed that America is a land of opportunity of upward mobility by adapting to society and getting an education. Furthermore, if they experience discrimination and inequality, they would preserve it. On the other hand, involuntary minorities adapted a negative view of American society based on their ancestor’s experiences of racism, which resulted in blocked mobility. In addition, they developed an oppositional identity and culture, leading to the creation of “why try, why bother” attitude which was equal to “acting white” or selling one’s racial heritage.
Native Americans and African Americans were one of the first involuntary minorities to experience deculturalization through discrimination and segregation. Native Americans welcomed Europeans to their territory, but they were betrayed and viewed as savages by the Europeans. The arrival of Europeans brought discrimination and segregation of Native Americans in the United States. Government began to impose restrictions that forced many Native Americans to leave from their land onto reservations, where many of them suffer because their land was their way of survival. Furthermore, since Europeans viewed Native Americans as savages, boarding schools were established as a way to “civilize” Native Americans according to Western culture. “Thomas McKenney believe in the power of schooling to culturally transform Native Americans. His opinion reflected the growing conviction among many European Americans that education was the key to social control and improvement of society (Spring 24).” For Europeans, education was their way to strip Native Americans of their cultural heritage and their identity through schooling. Even though, Native Americans were forced to become “civilized” or act white through education it did not work because they were involuntary immigrants. Since Native Americans were forced into Indian reservations, they were totally separated from the American culture and were able to keep their culture and identity. “The continued resistance by Native Americans led to demands in the latter part of the twentieth century for restoration of tribal cultures and languages (Spring 39).” Even though government and the American culture tried to “Americanize” Native Americans through education, their resistance was stronger which lead to the failure of this strategy.
As for African Americans, they were also involuntary immigrants and experienced deculturalization through discrimination, segregation, and slavery. Similar to the Native Americans, Europeans saw African Americans as an inferior race. They were totally stripped of their cultural heritage and identity and they were not allow to assimilate into the white culture. In other words, they were not able to achieve new identities and culture related to their backgrounds. However, when they lost their identity and didn’t not assimilated into the white culture, they created new culture and identity that was not related to their African backgrounds. “Thrown together under regimes of violence, Africans from varied language and cultural groups devised their own language (Spring 66).” This new culture and identity focused on Christian beliefs, gospel music, dance, and storytelling as a strategy to oppose the discrimination and oppression of white people. At first many African Americans were denied education but when they were given schooling, it was segregated schooling. Furthermore, African Americans developed and oppositional identity/culture in which African Americans opposed everything that was considered part of the white culture. “The biggest signifier of “acting white” and a source of strong opposition was speaking standard English.” (Ogbu 11). Many African Americans resisted and opposed everything that had to do with the white culture because they taught that if they assimilated to the white culture they are denying his or her minority identity.
On the other Asian Americans and Mexican Americans were considered voluntary immigrants, even though they also had faced many obstacles such as deculturalization, segregation, and discrimination their responses were different from those involuntary minorities. Asian American arrived to the United States in the 1850s in search of gold. The first wave of Asian immigrants were mostly uneducated cheap laborers with rural background, the second wave Asians were more urban, educated, skilled, and professional. While Mexican Americans arrived to the United States after California became part of the U.S. and after the 1960s. Both of these voluntary minorities hope to do better than they did back in their home countries or places of origin. “As a result, they are willing to accommodate and to accept less than equal treatment in order to improve their chances for economic success. They themselves, as well as people in their families and communities believed that what makes a person successful in the U.S. is education and hard work.” (Ogbu 7-8). By comparing their experiences in the U.S. and back home it provides them with motivation to work hard to succeed and take education opportunities as their only way for upward mobility. As stated by a Chinese parent “It is very important for my children to make good grades because the purpose for us to come is let them have a good future and become successful. I sacrificed everything for them to come and get an American education.” (Ogbu 8). Asian American parents make education a priority for their children because they have sacrificed a lot for them so they can have a better future and achieve all of their goals. Furthermore, voluntary minorities are “willing to learn to speak English and to conform to the rules and mores of the public schools and other societal institutions.” (Ogbu 10). Asian Americans and Mexican Americans see learning English as an opportunity for upward mobility and as just adding another language rather than just replacing their native language.
Overall, involuntary immigrants such as Native Americans and African Americans responses to education and discrimination varies from the responses that voluntary minorities such as Latino Americans and Asian Americans. Native Americans and African Americans resistance to “acting white” or being “civilized” had led them into low achievement and not taking education as a way to succeed in the United States. On the other hand, voluntary minorities, see education and school success as a major route to making it in the United States. They focused more in being successful and educating themselves that they accept the unequal treatment and discrimination of the white culture. Their experiences when they arrived to the United States shaped their way of thinking towards education and how they responded to the educational opportunities presented to them.
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