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Assimilation is Spiritually in the Best Interest of Our Immigrant Children.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

“Arturo”

It was Mr. Sanchez, a deacon of the Spanish congregation that rented the fellowship hall of our church for their services. I had just pulled into the church parking lot when he called out to me. 

As I gathered my Bible and Sunday school class notes from the passenger seat, he said to me in Spanish…

“Arturo, I’ve been meaning to ask you, why are you worshiping over there with the Anglos instead of here with your people?”

I was taken back by his question.  The only word’s that came to my mind as I got out of my car and started walking away were, “Because I like it.”

As I crossed the street from the parking lot to the worship building I felt anger swelling up inside of me.  I was upset that someone would use my ethnic heritage as a stick to manipulate me into changing churches. I also objected to the effort made to make me feel disloyal to my Latino roots because I was not worshipping in a Spanish-speaking congregation. And I especially did not appreciate the obvious attempt at proselytizing.

As I entered the worship center I was greeted by a number of other young bi-lingual Latino men like myself who preferred to worship in an English speaking service.

My experience is not uncommon for the 1.5 and 2.0 children of immigrants. When their English language skills increase while their ancestral language skills decrease, they will prefer to attend English-speaking services. 

I’m reminded of a story told by a Pastor of a Spanish speaking congregation who said that his own children and several other high school students from his congregation would sit in the last two pews of the auditorium during the praise time. But they would all get up and leave the service once he got up to preach to sit under the teaching ministry of the English speaking pastor.  The students commented that they preferred the livelier Spanish ministry praise time to the boring English praise time. But they better understood the teaching of the Word in English than in Spanish.

Christians at all levels of assimilation into a host country have the liberty in Christ to attend services in their language and cultural preference.  For the immigrant believer (1.0) to deny his children (1.5 and 2.0) and grandchildren (3.0) the freedom to attend a worship service in the language that best teaches and equips them in their walk with Christ, for the sake of preserving a cultural heritage can hinder their children’s spiritual growth. Believers need to hear the Word taught in their heart language and cultural context, which is not always the same as the language and culture of their ethnic heritage (Acts 2:5-11).

The reality is that you can’t fight assimilation. The immersion of immigrant youth into the educational system, culture and language of the host country will eventually draw 1.5’s and 2.0’s further away from the language and culture of their ethnic heritage.

In the days to come, I will be writing a series of blogs entitled, “Reaching the Nations Among Us,” to discuss how a local church can reach the immigrants in her community at all levels of assimilation. I would like to hear your stories of the issues you faced as a 1.5 or 2.0 descendent of immigrants.

That’s my opinion. I welcome yours. 

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2 comments

  1. assimulation – yes there seems to be no escape from this slow social “quicksand”. Unfortunately the dominate culture (white european)tends to reap more benefits than other people of color because the assimulation process caters to their social perspectives and expectations. A native language outside of English bears a strong cultural cord of identity. When it is lost, the cultural cord is weaken. But I also admit that English is a strong necessity to survive in America. I don’t have a solution other than to encourage parents to instill in their children (1.0, 1.5) the value and pride of their culture and language. Being bilingual should be considered a gift to embrace the opportunities of assimulation, and hold fast to cultural origins.


  2. Assimilation, whether we like it or not, is a natural sociological phenomenon that can only be overcome by creating intentional enclaves where ones cultural heritage, values, norms, and beliefs can be sheltered from the outside world. this position simply chooses to limit their participation in the host country. The Amish in Pennsylvania are a classic example. Another option is for immigrant groups to demand that host countries nullify existing laws, state policies, foods offered in school and office cafeterias so as not to offend their culture which is heavily influenced by their faith. This position chooses to replace the culture of the host country with their own. Some Muslim groups are insisting that America grant them special treatment that even Americans aren’t granted. Can you imagine the balkanization of America if all immigrant groups chose either of these paths? Every people group has value and should be respected. The church needs to recognize that because of assimilation she has the potential for ministering to all levels of assimilation within one family unit. Our calling is not to wrestle with the pros and cons of assimilation. Ours is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations among us be it in their language and cultural context, or in the language and cultural context of the nation in which they chose to make a new life.

    That’s my opinion, I welcome yours.



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