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The Acculturation of Arab Immigrants in the U.S. Presented by Mohamed Abu-Qaoud. What is Acculturation?. The process of adapting to a new culture May involve learning the dominant language, adopting new values and behaviors

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The Acculturation of Arab Immigrants in the U.S.

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The Acculturation of Arab Immigrants in the U.S.

Presented by

Mohamed Abu-Qaoud

What is Acculturation?

  • The process of adapting to a new culture

    • May involve learning the dominant language, adopting new values and behaviors

  • Debate with regards to relation to concepts of assimilation and integration


  • There has been little research conducted on the acculturation of immigrants from Arabic-speaking countries

  • Surprising since Arab immigrants have been coming to the United States since at least 1854, and they may number up to three million today

More on Arab-Americans

  • Represent diverse regions from the Middle East and North Africa

  • Heritage of common linguistic, cultural, and political traditions

  • Most (47%) from Lebanon

  • Only 23% are Muslim; majority are Christian

Acculturation of Arab-Americans

  • Studies suggest that Arabs find acculturation to be more difficult than many other immigrant groups

    • Especially true for those who are Muslim

  • Feel as though they are viewed more as Arabs, and less as Americans

  • Why is this so?

  • Look at the acculturation of Irish immigrants for answers


  • Today the United States is home to over 44 million Irish-Americans

    • About 400,000 Irish-origin residents were already present in 1790

    • Greatest immigration during The Irish Famine of 1846-1850.

  • Initially regarded as inferior, and faced discrimination

More on Irish-Americans

  • Climbed occupational and social ladders through politically appointed positions such as policeman, fireman, and teacher

  • Second and third generation Irish were better educated, wealthier, and more successful than were their parents and grandparents

    • Example: Kennedy family

Acculturation of Irish-Americans

  • One of the most successfully acculturated groups in America

  • Many believe that Irish immigrants face fewer obstacles to the “migration adjustment process” due to certain characteristics of this group

    • Well-established ethnic communities

    • English-speaking Europeans

    • Share many American values

Factors Affecting Acculturation

  • Hypothesis:

    • Longer residence in the U.S., a high number and distribution of the immigrant group, as well as intermarriage will lead to greater acculturation

    • Distinguishing physical characteristics of the group, cultural and religious differences, and discrimination will lead to a lower level of acculturation

Length of Residence

  • Past Studies:

    • Length of Residence is positively correlated with acculturation and life satisfaction of immigrants

  • Comparison between Irish and Arab immigrants:

    • There were Americans of Irish heritage present before 1790, but most Irish immigrants did not arrive until late 1840s

    • Even though the first Arabs immigrated around 1854, the majority has not been arriving here until relatively recently

Size and Distribution

  • Past Studies:

    • Not much research relating size of immigrant group to acculturation

    • Dispersed groups have a higher level of acculturation and are more likely to intermarry

  • Comparison:

    • Arab-Americans concentrated in various regions of U.S.

    • Irish-Americans were initially concentrated, but sheer number and length of residence has led to dispersion


  • Past Studies:

    • Intermarriage is positively correlated with acculturation of an immigrant group, but those that are more acculturated are more likely to intermarry (feedback process)

  • Comparison:

    • Irish immigrants are more likely to intermarry since they are more similar to the majority population with regards to physical characteristics, culture, and religion

    • As a result, Irish immigrants are more acculturated, and thus further likely to intermarry

Physical Characteristics

  • Past Studies:

    • Physical characteristics that distinguish immigrants from the majority population are likely to hinder acculturation

    • This is probably because they make the immigrants easier targets for discrimination

  • Comparison:

    • Some Arabs have darker skin tones, and distinguishing physical characteristics

    • Irish look very similar to the majority population in the United States


  • Past Studies:

    • Discrimination is negatively correlated to acculturation. In fact, the effect of intermarriage on acculturation is somewhat dependent on a lack of discrimination by the mainstream culture

    • In the U.S., discrimination against Arab-Americans is more tolerated than against other minorities

      • This is especially true following the 9/11 attacks, which involved Arab terrorists

    • Americans view Arab-Americans as “outsiders” even if they were born in the U.S., and can no longer speak Arabic

Cultural and Religious Differences

  • Past Studies:

    • Such differences are negatively correlated with acculturation

    • Intermarriage is more closely related to religion than to ethnicity

  • Comparison:

    • Arab cultures have more traditional cultures, and Islam is the dominant religion

    • Ireland is more similar in political and cultural values to U.S., and the majority religion is Christianity

Positive Aspects of Acculturation

  • Mental Health

    • There is a negative correlation between the rate of acculturation and scores on the depression and anxiety scale

      • The less acculturated an individual, the more depressed and/or anxious he/she tends to be

      • This results in strain on marriage and family life, possibly leading to divorce

  • Satisfaction of Life

    • There is a strong positive correlation between acculturation and a high quality of life in the U.S.

Increasing Acculturation

  • Dispersal of individuals from immigrant groups

    • Necessitates that the immigrants adapt to American culture

    • Increases intermarriage

    • Dispersal may occur naturally as the length of residence of an immigrant group in the U.S. increases

  • Reducing Discrimination

    • Balancing media portrayals of Arabs in order to diminish stereotypes

    • Educational forums for communities

Negative Aspects of Acculturation

  • If immigrants become completely assimilated, the diversity which makes America unique in this world could be dramatically reduced

  • Immigrants may lose their sense of ethnic identity

  • Problems within the family caused by cultural conflicts between children and parents


  • It appears that length of residence, distribution, and intermarriage all have a positive correlation with acculturation, while distinguishing physical characteristics, cultural and religious differences, and discrimination have a negative correlation with acculturation

  • Discrimination seems to be the most important factor affecting acculturation. While reducing discrimination will be a very difficult task that will take years, this must be made a priority.

  • I believe that the key for happiness and success for immigrants in the U.S. is to make the adjustment to the new culture while also maintaining a part of their ethnic identity

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