It’s been long thought that assimilation is the best strategy for a migrant in a foreign country. Specific cultural features of migrants predetermine their negative position in the hosting society. That’s why they should get rid of their cultural specifics, values, ideas, religion, ethnic identity, native language, and become an indistinguishable part of the majority.
At the same time, international practice has proved that it’s not necessary to deny your ethnic identity for the sake of the host society in order to feel comfortable. It’s enough to respect its culture, to speak the language and not to break the laws of the new country of residence. Ethnic orientations and orientations on the host community’s culture can be independent of each other.
In other words, the incoming migrants have the right to choose: they can assimilate fully or partially, or become bi-cultural.
Raisa Akifyeva decided to find out how those who come to Russia from the CIS countries make this choice. She carried out in-depth interviews with families of labour migrants from Central Asia who live in St. Petersburg and attend volunteer Russian language courses (13 people with children of school age from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kirgizstan). The purpose was to understand how children and parents assimilate, what influences children more, the outer world, or the family, and what is the role of a child in the migration-related decision-making process.
The results of the study were published in the paper ‘Children and Parents in the Migration Context: Dissonant or Consonant Trajectories’ in the journal Etnograficheskoe Obozrenie.
Akifyeva found that first generation migrants are not keen on assimilation. People are busy at work from dawn to dusk, speak their native language with friends and family and are attached to their cultural traditions, ideas and values. Their aim is to get adjusted to the new living conditions, but not to assimilate. The older generation of migrants come to earn money and can easily change location if the working conditions are better elsewhere. That’s why it makes no sense for them to become Russians.
But their children who attend or have attended a Russian school, unlike their parents, are trying to distance themselves from the parents’ community, decline to self-identify with them, and don’t want to speak their mother tongue. ‘While first-generation migrants would rather identify themselves as migrants than with the locals, no matter from what country they come, their children, on the contrary, may refuse to identify themselves with the parents’ community and refuse to communicate with its representatives’, emphasized the author.
Both parents and the environment promote this denial of ethnic self-identity. Parents encourage children to communicate with the locals and motivate them to use Russian language with friends, and being at school after classes makes them forget the mother tongue and fully assimilate in society.
Russian schools, in their turn, don’t practice bicultural education and are not aimed at preserving ethnic practices and forming bilingualism.
Akifyeva noticed that parents encourage cultural focus on the host communities, not with the aim of acculturation or assimilation, but with the purpose to get important skills, which may be useful in the future, no matter in which country they might live and work. But children understand this differently. As a result, they distance themselves from their countrymen and forget their native language.