Biculturalism and How to Create Multiple Identities Essay

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A number of studies have been done in recent years to explore the unique effects of a bicultural identity, how a bicultural identity is formed, and what forms a bicultural identity will take. Research integrates assimilation theories as well as social constructionism. The reasons for the emerging literature include improving psychological health and well-being, improving social and cultural health, and also reducing or eliminating racism and negative stereotyping. Elashi, Mills & Grant (2009) point out "83% of Muslim individuals reported an increase in implicit racism and discrimination following September 11th," making the Muslim-American cultural, ethnic, and religious cohort one of the most important populations in America to understand through sociological data (Elashi, Mills & Grant, 2009, p. 379). Discrimination may be related to the dominant or white culture's fear of non-integration of existing or new immigrants and perceived threats to an imaginary cohesiveness of the dominant culture -- something that is ironic given the heterogeneous nature of the United States. Given that 69% of Muslim children in USA attend a public school, it is also important to understand how schools and educators are responding to issues related to multiculturalism versus assimilation and how educators can help children mitigate problems personally as well as promote a more educated and culturally aware society in general (Al-Romi, 2000). The main themes that emerge in a review of literature on biculturalism in general and on Muslim-American biculturalism in specific include the nature of biculturalism, how Muslim-Americans navigate biculturalism, how problems like discrimination are dealt with personally and within communities, and how biculturalism serves as an adaptive feature.

Is A Multifaceted, Fluid Identity a Problem?

There is no consensus in the literature on whether bicultural identities versus assimilation into the dominant culture leads to better psychological or social outcomes. In fact, the research seems to show that current generations of Muslim-Americans, even first-generation young people, experience relatively little identity conflict. In a survey of 97 Muslim Americans aged 18 to 25 years old, Sirin, Bikmen, Mir et al. (2008) found that very few of them had experienced any identity conflict, and had found creative ways to merge their multiple identities or to move between their different social circles seamlessly. The only predictor of a stronger Muslim versus American identity was strong religiosity, which is understandable given the role of religion in shaping identity in general (Sirin, Bikmen, Mir, et al., 2008). Similarly, given the tendency for many American communities to promote secular values, a strong religious identity within a secular community might lead to the individual forming a stronger connection with their religion than with a secular American culture.

In another survey of Muslim-Americans aged 18 to 25 years old, Elashi, Mills & Grant (2009) found that "although some integrate their Muslim and American identities, about 40% of Muslim-Americans aged 18 to 25 years feel that their identities are separate or in conflict," (Elashi, Mills & Grant, 2009, p. 379). These results conflict with the Sirin, Bikmen, Mir, et al.

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(2008) research, and yet the majority (60%) still reported no conflict in the Elashi, Mills, & Grant (20009) study. The differences in data do reveal some of the tremendous diversity in the findings in general. Overall, most of the research does seem to show minimal identity conflicts for young Muslim-Americans cultivating a bicultural identity. In a survey of 15 Muslim Turkish-American in elementary and middle schools, Isik-Ercan (2015) also found no identity conflict, instead showing how the young Muslim-Americans used innovative ways to negotiate identities. In fact, no children in the survey rejected any one of their identities -- Muslim, Turkish, or American -- and integrated their tripartite identities well. It is worth noting also that none of the subjects in the Isik-Ercan (2015) research perceived being American as conflicting with being either Muslim or Turkish, and in fact, did not view being American as being Christian. At the same time, all of the subjects did experience sense of "otherness" in school and were aware of discrimination (Isik-Ercan, 2015). The results show how biculturalism may become a strong mitigating factor against discrimination and that biculturalism can be a buffer that can build resilience either by improving psychological strength or creating community cohesion.

Conflicts with the Dominant Culture: Pressures to Assimilate

The research shows different patterns of conflict. For example, Lambert & Taylor (1988) found that generally in urban areas in the United States, the members of dominant cultural groups including both white and African-American strongly supported the preservation of heritage or cultural traditions for new or existing immigrants, and that bilingualism was also supported. However, middle class whites tended to be the most negative in their attitudes towards multiculturalism and towards other ethnic and racial groups (Lambert & Taylor, 1988). The negative attitudes towards different religions, cultures, and languages is felt as discrimination, either covert or overt, and can have a strong effect on how a person navigates their multiple identities, whether or not they choose to "pass" as white/American if they can, and on their rejection or total embrace of their heritage culture.

Stigma can be a pervasive problem for minority groups and particularly for Muslim-Americans in a post-9/11 setting. The same is true for Muslims living in Europe. Kunst, Tajamal, Sam & Ulleberg (2012) measured both direct and indirect effects of different forms of religious stigma on the national affiliation of 210 Norwegian-Pakistani and….....

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Al-Romi, N.H. (2000). Muslims as a minority in the United States. International Journal of Educational Research 33(2000): 631-638.

Bagby, I. (2009). The American mosque in transition. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 35(3): 472-490.

Britto, P.R. & Amer, M. M. (2007). An Exploration of Cultural Identity Patterns and the Family Context among Arab Muslim Young Adults in America. Applied Development Science 11(3): 137-150.

Elashi, F.B., Mills, C.M. & Grant, M.G. (2009). In-group and out-group attitudes of Muslim children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 31(2010): 379-385.

Greenman, E. & Xie, Y. (2008). Is assimilation theory dead? Social Science Research 37(2008): 109-137

Isik-Ercan, Z. (2015). Being Muslim and American: Turkish-American children negotiating their religious identities in school settings. Race Ethnicity and Education, 18:2, 225-250, DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2014.911162

Kunst, J.R., Tajamal, H., Sam, D.L. & Ulleberg, P. (2012). Coping with Islamophobia: The effects of religious stigma on Muslim minorities' identity formation.

LaFromboise, T., Coleman, H.L.K. & Gerton, J. (1993). Psychological impact of biculturalism. Psychological Bulletin 114(3): 395-412.

Lambert, W.E. & Taylor, D.M. (1988). Assimilation versus multiculturalism. Sociological Forum 3(1): 72-

Nguyen, A. & Benet-Martinez, V. (2013). Biculturalism and adjustment. Jouranl of Cross-Cultural Psychology 44(1): 122-159.

Schwartz, S.J. & Unger, J.B. (2010). Biculturalism and context. Human Development 2010(53):26-32.

Sirin, S.R., Bikmen, N., Mir, M. et al. (2008). Exploring dual identification among Muslim-American emerging adults: A mixed methods study. Journal of Adolescence 31(2008): 259-279.

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