Assimilation, Multiculturalism and the Challenge of Marginalized Groups

  • William Clark


Multiculturalism has been advanced as an alternative to normative assimilation theory. Multiculturalists argue that it provides a more nuanced solution to the incorporation of immigrants in immigrant driven societies such as the United States. However, rising nationalism and fears of separatism have raised questions about the efficacy of multiculturalism and reinvigorated assimilationists. But, debates between multiculturalists and assimilationists are largely stalemated discussions of how society might best incorporate new arrivals, because they ignore the fundamental issue of very large marginalized groups. This paper will argue that the debates might better be directed to issues of inequality and marginalization as the central issues of incorporation. While all immigrants are to some extent marginalized, the large and growing undocumented population (especially in the US) challenges the notion of how incorporation will proceed at all. Both assimilation and multiculturalism assume a legal basis to society and the recognition of shared political values and the respect for national consensus but the growing number of undocumented (unauthorized or illegal immigrants) are in effect outside of either the assimilationist or the multicultural model. They are often outside of the formal labor markets, residentially isolated, and have poor of non-existent skills. They are unlikely to be able to acquire the economic and cultural gains that will led to assimilation, or enable them to participate in a multi-cultural society. They are more likely to live separate lives and thus increase the divisions within society. I use data on undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles to illustrate the vulnerability, marginality and the problems encountered by these immigrants and use this to extrapolate to issues of assimilation and multiculturalism.


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