Integration is Assimilation

Story telling

I’ve been meaning to write this for as long as I can remember, but something always held me back from openly discussing this.

The reasons (or excuses) varied from worrying that I’d attract trolls, offend people with my words, dishonour a part of my cultural heritage, which many deem as admirable, or that my voice on such a topic didn’t really matter.

The power of writing often means that, for those of us who are writers, we will inevitably attract undesirable people who spew venom for no apparent reason and respond to our work with a knee jerk reaction without reading the actual content. Regardless, I can’t stay silent on this issue anymore.

The issue of conformity is a recurrent theme which seems to flow through everyone’s lives; peer pressure, an expectation to behave a certain way or deviate from a stereotype, altering our bodies and lifestyle choices to appease a mainstream opinion.

One aspect of conformity that I have – and continue to face – is based on my choice to not drink alcohol. At a glance, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal, in comparison to those who undergo procedures to physically look like an ideal form of beauty. But I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t take its toll out on me.

As someone of Panjabi descent, my ‘culture’ is infamous for breeding alcoholics, men and women who enjoy their drink a bit too much and believe that their self worth is determined by how much they can drink before they pass out or get arrested for getting into a fist fight.

It’s a nasty stereotype that ‘Panjabis are all alchies’ – granted there’s a fair few of us who drink, but at the same time, there’s a lot of us who do not touch the stuff for our own personal reasons.

Is it any wonder that we either become dangerously obsessed with or disenchanted with our ethnic heritages?

Sidelined with this, is a society whose social life and general mesh of cultures/lifestyles are seeped in the dizzying delights of alcohol and the brief escapism that it faces. The one thing that both cultures have in common is a shock when they encounter individuals who do not drink alcohol.

I cannot tell you the number of times, that acquaintances and work colleagues have tried to slip me alcohol or coerce me into drinking without knowing my reasons why – and why should they know what my reasons are?

This observation led me to consider the ways that the pressures of conformity exist on both sides of life; particularly for those of ethnic descent. For some, it may not feel like there are sides to pick or that they feel torn between the two. However, I have chosen to describe it as a tug-of-war, because that is certainly how it feels to me.

The title of tonight’s blog post is deliberately misleading and designed to be confusing. The bulk of most people truly do believe that ‘integration means assimilation’ without having any understanding of how separate both terms actually are.

In addition, it is apparent that the lines between what words mean and the impact that they are having upon our society, are becoming increasingly muddier as we enter a phase of political correctness and a society where we have started to fear everything that comes our way.

The whole notion of expectations, with regards to conformity, exists in many forms. Some of it often goes over our heads, but the vast majority of it is explicit in many areas of our lives, that some of us experience on a daily basis. Cultural expectations from our own various ethnic groups and heritages push us to the front of the crowd. We, become the unappointed ambassadors and reluctant leaders for our ethnic groups.

Culture is not something which we own nor is it something that we can ever hope to fully control.

We, the youth. We, the new generation. We, the ones who will change the world for the better. We are those who will one day rule the lands we live in and the businesses that dominate our lives.

Yet, we are still a generation who, despite our myriad of faces, personalities, talents and ambitions – remains to live in a constant state of limbo – be it financially, economically, emotionally, mentally, culturally and identity-wise – due to our neither-here-nor-there status.

Is it any wonder that we either become dangerously obsessed with or disenchanted with our ethnic heritages?

We grow up vehemently opposing the cultural beliefs and traditions which kept us locked down, yet it is ironic that we grow up to either implement those very same beliefs, or impose ones which are harsher upon ourselves and those around us.

We do all of this in the mistaken belief that they will ‘preserve our culture.’ We will begin to blacklist other religion’s festivals, in the name of preserving our own identity (which is as flimsy as pack of cards in the face of a hurricane) as we attempt to ‘out-culture’ and ‘out-religion’ each other to satisfy our egos.

It boils my blood to know that ideas of conformity are being pushed to the extreme in my ancestral motherland. How it hurts my heart to know that people are being killed for eating beef, being raped because they were out on their own, for belonging to a certain faith or ethnic group!

But to see various ethnic groups and communities continue to march down the path of regression, in the name of cultural preservation, is something which fills me with pain.

Culture is not something which we own nor is it something that we can ever hope to fully control.

Culture is as fluid as a running river; it changes in time, ebbs, flows, strengthens, wanes yet it will always exist in some shape or form. We cannot control the direction in which it flows, without it having devastating consequences.



6 thoughts on “Integration is Assimilation

  1. Like you, I have chosen not to consume alcohol, even though once upon a time I did. Now that I don’t, it’s the same questions over and over: “One won’t hurt”, “I would love to see you drunk” – the latter being based on the fact that I actually have the ability to be authentically ‘fun’, so an extreme version of this seems to entertain some people (in their heads).

    I don’t think I will ever consume it again, as it has been so long. This has made me reassess the people I socialise with and allow close to me. Amazing how many scattered when the drinking stopped…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading and leaving a comment 🙂 I agree, the whole shock of people not drinking is what grates me sometimes. I wonder how those same people would react if we asked why they drank and framed their own questions back to them!

      Same here; unfortunately growing up I saw how some relatives behaved with alcohol and how it more or less destroyed them and their own families. While I understand that most people who consume alcohol don’t go to that extent, it triggers that for me, which made me want to discuss the whole notion behind conformity etc.
      Good on you for sticking to your guns and not letting peer pressure get to you (I’m realising that is something which stays with us beyond adolescence!)


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