In a recent conversation about welcoming international students, one of my friends said excitedly “we can help them assimilate!”
I nodded and smiled, and the conversations moved on from there. Ever since then, though, I’ve been thinking about that interaction.
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The word “assimilation” made me think of Japanese internment; of how we as a country ripped apart the lives of those we saw as “other.”
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Instead of working towards “assimilation”, can we work towards “code-switching”? Can we help people to competently navigate the confusing waters of multiple cultural contexts while honoring their story and their identity – by honoring who God has made them?
Code-switching is natural for me, as a child and grandchild of immigrants. I know the rules of people-engagement at home, and I know the rules at school and at work. I know that what is “common sense” or “good manners” differs in each context, and usually am quite aware when I deliberately break the norms, defiantly challenging perceptions of “right” and “normal.”
I refuse to assimilate. I refuse to deny the experiences, gifts, and heritage that God has given me. I refuse to deny the rich inheritance of stories, values, experiences, and history in my parents’ stories. I also refuse to “help someone else assimilate.”
I don’t want them to give up their identity, to feel like who they were and where they came from is not valued.Bla Fleur Guess Black Shoulder Black Women's Bag vOqw5YO
What I do want to do, though, is to equip them to read the clues in whatever context they’re in, and know how to succeed. I want to help people understand that in different contexts, the same value can be expressed differently. I want them to see that being a good employee or student and the respective expectations of communication, respect, and assertiveness can look different in different cultures, even in different companies.
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