Guilt, Shame, and Assimilation

The Texas Panhandle has an amazingly high number of immigrants and refugees, given the comparatively sparse population. It began in the 1940s through the 1960s when Koreans, Vietnamese, Laotians, Germans, and others came and settled, and became really good citizens and members of the community. Some also arrived from Argentina, the USSR, Communist China, and eastern Europe and found places. In the past years, hundreds of refugees came from Thailand and Burma, Ethiopia, and other locations where Christians faced persecution. They too did pretty well after initial rough spots (like dealing with woman in positions of authority). The more recent influx of people brought by the federal government have come from Iraq, Syria, Somalia, North and Central Africa, Pakistan, and other locations. The cultural collision has been a challenge. Trying to fit tribal, shame-culture newcomers into a high-trust, guilt-culture world is not easy to put it mildly.

A friend of the family watched one such collision several years ago. Two Somali siblings were enrolled in a reading catch-up program in the public school. The girl, the older sibling, was having trouble until someone found two small, illustrated books of poems for kids, one with Emily Dickinson and the other Rudyard Kipling. The girl latched onto Kipling and enjoyed the Dickinson, and so the teacher set the books aside as “hers.” The younger brother heard about it and had a temper fit. How dare a mere girl get something when he was the boy and he should get something even better! The teacher and the classroom volunteer told him how the cow ate the cabbage. His sister was trying harder, she was doing better, she had earned the right to read the books. That he was a boy didn’t matter. It was quite a shock to his eight year-old system. Interestingly, something clicked, and when the family friend crossed paths with the boy ten years or so later, his sister had just finished optometry school and he was part-way through advanced nursing training, and they’d assimilated very well.

What about the children and adults who remain in their shame-based culture? Everything that goes wrong is from outside. What matters is how things appear from outside. How does something make the family look? Is the daughter’s school success and her brother’s failure bringing disgrace to the family? If so, take her out of school and complain that her brother is not being treated fairly. As more and more immigrants from these cultures are settled in the Panhandle, and are discouraged from assimilating either by well-meaning (and in my opinion dangerously naive) social-worker types, or by their fellow culture-members, trouble seems to be brewing. I had one of those face-palm moments when I heard someone, a very puzzled someone, saying, ‘”I don’t understand why they didn’t get along. Somalia and Ethiopia are neighbors.” You want the short list or the long list?

I fear the gulf is growing wider rather than narrowing. The tribal mindset still kicks in among second generation Americans of various ethnic origins who are otherwise well-adapted. For a while it seemed like every week a Laotian or Thai gent was getting arrested for assault. Apparently a feud had broken out over something that never made the news, but the ongoing fights filled the docket for a while. It has since faded, or moved out of the view of law-enforcement. I’m hearing second-hand that a lot more problems are being reported in the immigrant neighborhoods than are making the news, and I’m not surprised. And these are people born here and encouraged to assimilate. The newer immigrants?

It must come as a rude shock that wife-beating and beating one’s daughters are considered crimes, when they are tolerated or encouraged in the home culture. And that in the States, people are expected to take care of property not their own (rental houses and apartments, public parks, schools) as well as not taking objects left in plain view on driveways and yards. After all, back home, if it is not tied down or taken back within the house/walled enclosure/tent, someone was foolish or did not want the thing and so why not take it for your own use? (This is not limited to people from the Eastern Hemisphere. Since about five-ten years ago, in parts of New Mexico you can’t leave chili strings or wreaths or decorative pots or children’s wagons and such out anymore because non-locals will carry them off.)

When a critical mass of people from a low-trust, shame-based culture move into a high-trust, guilt-based culture, there is going to be confusion and stress, even if they share the same language. Add language differences, and people discouraging the new arrivals from learning how to fit into their new world, and nothing good is going to emerge in the short run. In the long run? It’s hard to say. I try to be optimistic and think that once a generation has passed, the children and grand-children will be good Americans and fit in just fine.

And then I read the national and international news, and I wonder.

8 thoughts on “Guilt, Shame, and Assimilation

  1. It never occurred to me until now (I know, I’m slow) but Obama was raised in a shame based culture, and he has never assimilated well.

      • Which is one of the aspects of shame culture – everything is from outside. Someone else failed you, a family member did not act properly, it is the will of $DEITY$, it’s a conspiracy.

    • I hadn’t realized that.

      My most recent insight, some time back, was that having been raised in a Muslim controlled area, he does not realize that Islam has less coercive power here.

  2. The time is coming when the ‘outside’ it going to come ‘inside’ and get those non-assimilation’s types attention… And I predict it will not be pretty, or friendly…

  3. Long term, I officially dunno. I am not a mind reader or a heart reader. I understand that forecasting populations is like the weatherman picking out the next ten dates a place will be plastered by a tornado. Events I do not predict will happen that will change the probable shape of the future.

    The way of revenge is to enter and be cut down.

    The way of handling this problem is to walk, and be as crazy an American as possible.

  4. When my mom was in high school, she had a rival.

    This gal was from The Other School, they both ran the same events, THAT was who she was going against.

    They get to college, and there’s several thousand people who they don’t know…. but they happened to go to the same college. Ran into each other the first week.

    It’s now some 40 years later and they’re still best friends.


    You shove new folks into a place they’re comfortable– put mom in with a group of folks from her high school– and they’ll stay as they are.

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