Strengthening the Burmese Refugee Association in Its Acculturation Efforts of Burmese and Karen Refugees to the American Way of Life
Acculturation of a people to a receiving country is necessary even if the need to stay in a receiving country is permanent or temporary. I agree that acculturation workers should be guided with most of James Tollefson (1989) basic assumptions of refugee camp curriculum which are as follows:
· SE Asians must be taught to work hard;
· Refugees must become self-sufficient;
· Refugees are likely to break laws; and
· Refugees must live up their cultural traditions.
I would add some assumptions that would guide the organization I am supposed to head, although hypothetically:
· The initial orientation especially of first generation migrants is very critical and should be looked into by non-Burmese and second-generation Burmese or Burmese-Americans. It’s should also include inputs from the refugees themselves; and
· Migrant vulnerabilities should be highlighted and coping mechanisms and best practices should be elaborated.
Before going to the details, it would be important to stress that acculturation signifies integration of a culture into a different mainstream culture. The ideal would have to be that the process would create a metamorphosis that is not detrimental to both cultures or would lean more to the mainstream culture in the sense that it is the mainstream and the benefactor. Reality indicated that degrees of assimilation occur in the first generation migrants and in greater instances to second generation migrants. The Segmented Assimilation theory noted the stratification of society by establishment of ethnic enclaves and emergence of ethnic community networks that is inherent in all migrant communities.
Gordon’s dimensions of acculturation identify modes of assimilation that would guide the Burmese Refugee Association in its acculturation efforts.
Bearing all these in mind, my priority programs will be to focus on first generation programs although subordinate reinforcement programs for second generation Burmese will also be proposed. The approach that I’ll use will be participatory as indicated in the initial paragraph. For refugees I will prioritize the following:
1. Development of the Initial Orientation Syllabus (IOS) or syllabi since different approaches may be used for Burmese and Karen refugees coming from the rural and urban areas of both Burma and Thailand. This will be an amalgamation of best practices in the refugee processing methods and procedures by congregational groups and Burmese migrants and Burmese-Americans. The IOS’ will be an overview on housing adjustments, options to acquire skills for employment purposes, need for American-English language skill acquisition and basic American-English, food adoption, basic legal awareness, financial management, clothing, etc.;
2. Comprehensive training of facilitators, counselors, and interventionists on Burmese and Karen cultures. Immersion in Burmese enclave or families will be required of them prior to actual services;
3. Counseling programs for those coming from areas where armed conflicts occurred or have experienced violence or are even involved in armed confrontations;
4. Crash course in English;
5. Development of the Second Phase Orientation Syllabus which will provide a more comprehensive explanation of the issues tackled in the IOS;
6. Funding researches on Burmese migrants’ adjustments to American mainstream to identify strengths and weaknesses of the initial procedures and determine to what degree acculturation has taken place considering Milton’s Dimensions of Assimilation and focused studies on second generation Burmese migrants’ coping strategies; and
7. Support programs for Burmese wishing to return to the homeland after the military dictatorship has been replaced.
My programs may differ slightly from existing programs since it has provisions for Burmese nationals wishing to return to the homeland. Second, it will institutionalize studies on migration realities and vulnerabilities to ensure that the integration processes and procedures worked or not. It also considers the need for a graduated integration process (overview and second phase syllabi) of assimilation. The BRA will not act as a patronizing benefactor but will ensure that the intervention it has in mind included inputs coming from migrants themselves and those who have the track record of having worked and lived with them. A culture encountering another culture or about to be integrated into it, should require understanding of each or having viewpoints from both. This should be a requirement to service providers in the integration process, otherwise, conflict could occur and resistance and resentment will typify each encounter between them and the refugees. The ideal assimilation process remains a hypothetical consideration. Always there will be results that may not be desired like that indicated in the segmented assimilation and the Class Conflict Theory focusing on labor.
Getting a Red Hot “Barbie” in the Face of Assimilation
If my daughter bugs me for a fifty-dollar “Barbie” and I’m a marginal wage earner, then it would indicate that my daughter has already acculturated herself to the consumerist society that we have in the face of my being light years away from the American Dream.
This is just one of the many problems faced by migrants in the process of assimilation. Indeed, migrants will have to work on the fringes of the labor hierarchy especially if they are not skilled or are semi-skilled in the job they have. The country I am coming into is an alien country for me. Bleeding hearts are helping me but the reality calls for me to live the life that people in this country are accustomed to or are born into. I am starting a new life at my age where I should have plans for my grandchildren.
There is a need for migrants to adjust rapidly to a life they are not used to. The country will not stop for them just so that they could keep pace with it. In trying to keep migrants keep pace, it has forgotten that the options for them especially on employment are very limited. Assimilation calls for a group gets absorbed socially, economically, and culturally. With this in mind, services are given that included crash course in English, skills acquisition, and placements from employment. Subsequently the migrant is on his own. With thousands if not millions in this situation, it would result to a large labor force that is unskilled and in many instances unaware of their labor rights and privileges, if there are any. Juxtapose this with millions of American citizens who are members of labor unions and apparently are bringing headaches to employers. The result will be finding cheap and uncomplaining labor. This is where the migrant labor is vulnerable to the predatory actions of employers and the vindictive displaced American labor.
Typically, migrants will almost work for anything since there is acceptance on his part that beggars could not be choosers (no insult intended here). Mainstream labor looked at migrants as union spoilers and foreign labor invaders. This created a tension between relatively privileged American labor and the more preferred and cheap migrant labor. Employers will prefer this type of condition to go on. The existing class conflict theory between employers and mainstream labor is supposedly offset by the new labor force which promises a winning stance for the employers.
These are the supposed conditions that migrant workers have found themselves into. Aside from having to learn at a bionic pace for adjustment purposes, you could be considered a scab by labor union members. If as Reich indicated that capitalists promote racial/ethnic groupings in order to divide and conquer and drive down wages, then it would be proper that a dialogue and understanding be called for between mainstream union laborers and migrant workers so as to lessen the prejudice suffered by the latter group. There would also be a need for the migrant labor force to consolidate themselves and establish a facility where redress and grievance are heard and acted upon. Failure to do these would not lessen the instances of mugging and injustices inflicted on migrant workers.
On a more personal level and considering my hypothetically self as a migrant laborer, I could surmise that the cultural assimilation assumptions put forward has forgotten to factor the resultant labor conflict of assimilation. It would seem that the perspectives of employers and mainstream labor are jaundiced on the migrants. The labor reception is not as assimilating and integrative as it would be. You could not also blame the American labor force, if your entry is a threat to their way of life. If we are to really be properly integrated, provisions on labor should be appropriately and comprehensively disseminated to raise awareness. Secondly, migrants themselves should be involved in advocating for legislations to lessen, if not, remove unfair labor practices.
For now my daughter will have to content herself with a red-hot corn husk doll. I could not explain to her that my being a minimum or below-the-minimum wage earner prohibits us from enjoying the comforts of consumerist society. I could not tell her that my English-speaking employer could fire me anytime if I depart from my supposed-migrant hallmark of humility and subservient respect to superiors. My American dream will have to wait awhile and content myself with pipe dreams of a culture and life that is already long gone.