Assimilation is Not Erasure: Updating the Discourse of Assimilation in America And Encouraging Cultural Collaboration
The discourse surrounding immigrant populations in America often revolves around the term "assimilation." This term is defined in a number of ways, and is often used to suggest that newcomers to the United States should adopt values and traditions that are "American" in place of their own unique values and traditions. This pattern of thought is unproductive, and serves only to divide the people of America. Why should we encourage cultural conformity, when the American people are already so diverse, so adaptable? MALA aims to update the current discourse of assimilation, and offer a more nuanced definition wherein assimilation is understood as a process by which different cultures and traditions coexist, and interact with each other.
Assimilation should not be an instrument of erasure. Successful assimilation does not mean that one set of cultural traditions should yield for another. Rather, it means the melding of culture, and the celebration of diversity. Assimilation should be considered as a means of collective cultural contribution, not cultural suppression. Through this collective contribution of culture, Americans have built a vibrant national identity that is both unique, and fluid. MALA seeks to highlight the individuals on the forefront of this fluid identity, and to celebrate their contributions to the ever-evolving American society.
American greatness hinges on our own willingness to carve out spaces in our communities for new ideas, fresh perspectives, and intersecting identities. Our strength can extend only as far as our empathy; our momentum as a nation can continue only so long as we are willing to look upon our differences as powerful, and not divisive. Diverse perspectives and experiences are what made this country great, and what will continue to make us great; by celebrating these perspectives and encouraging the interweaving of cultures into the fabric of American society, MALA hopes to update the discourse, and create space for the progress that is necessary for the success of us all.
Thanks to your support, we are celebrating a significant milestone!
Join us at the historic Library of Congress on July 24th, 2017 in Washington D.C as we debut "Muslim American Journeys." These stories have been archived and preserved for generations to come.
As part of NPR's StoryCorps oral history project, The Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA) has collected over 350 stories of Muslim Americans - many of which are archived in the Library of Congress as part of the program. To date, MALA has collected, archived, and preserved over 350 stories of Muslim Americans. Many of these stories were also archived into the Library of Congress through our community partnership with StoryCorps, and several were even aired on NPR programs.
The event celebrates this groundbreaking effort - and in the process spotlights Muslim Americans’ diversity, individuality, innovative contributions to mainstream American society, and assimilation as proud citizens.
“Muslim American Journeys” provides ordinary Muslim Americans a platform to share their personal journey – and an opportunity for recognition. The program’s wide range of storytellers (e.g., ethnic, sectarian, religiosity, converts, atheists, immigrants, native-born, liberal, conservative, etc.) defies common stereotypes of Muslim Americans. Emphasizing individual journeys humanizes Muslim Americans for the general public – MALA seeks to be at the forefront of showcasing compelling portraits from the broad and diverse Muslim American community.
We thank our donors, partners, and story-tellers for this collective achievement!
“We have to give people things not to escape to...but things they can run to, to reaffirm that … if you’re feeling something and you wanna speak it … someone will be there to hear your truth.” - Director Barry Jenkins of Academy Award winning film, Moonlight
There are few things more intimate and brave than sharing one’s story. Storytelling is offering the gift of vulnerability- of shedding the layers we shield ourselves with as we go about our daily lives and offering someone, for just one moment, an honest glimpse into where we came from, and who we became. Storytelling is reveling in our similarities and engaging in each other’s differences to gain perspective and understanding. It is the chance to stray away from the narratives assumed by the media and stereotypes, and to frame our own stories in the way we understand them, and the way we want to be understood. For this reason, diversity and inclusion is an inherent and imperative aspect of the storytelling process. Telling the same stories over and over and ignoring the voices that are heard the least, creates a singular culture that isolates anyone different and creates factions in a society.
Bringing diverse voices to the table and offering a broad range of stories helps foster society to understand each other, and provides each of us with choices. Hearing the experiences of people we think are entirely different from us, and then finding a commonality in their story through which we can relate is a reminder that no matter where our histories differ, we are rooted in our sense of humanity. Simultaneously, hearing how profoundly different our lives have been is not necessarily always about relating, but rather gives those who have struggled the unique voice they inherently deserve.
MALA promotes diversity by celebrating differences in cultures, perspectives, backgrounds, and traditions. We strive to create awareness by sharing the unique experiences of hundreds of individuals and giving them a platform to be heard; to inspire, and be inspired. MALA sees diversity as a strength that can unite people from every walk of life and provide them with an opportunity for self-growth and enlightenment.
By including stories from individuals of many different backgrounds, MALA hopes to bridge understanding, create meaningful dialogue and set the stage for real change. Through empathic story-telling, we can begin viewing diversity as a reflection of ourselves - our hopes, our dreams, our heartbreaks and challenges, our unwavering beliefs, and most of all, our commitment to a better world. Listen and share our latest stories below:
MALA promotes diversity by celebrating differences in cultures, perspectives, backgrounds, and traditions. We strive to create awareness by sharing the unique experiences of hundreds of individuals and giving them a platform to be heard; to inspire and be inspired. MALA sees diversity as a strength that can unite people from every walk of life and provide them with an opportunity for self-growth and enlightenment.
No matter where an individual comes from or how they were raised, each person has a valuable lesson to share and an important contribution to make that MALA seeks to promote.
MALA thanks StoryCorps and its affiliated partners in our efforts to archive, collect, preserve, and promote stories from our community.
The Method Behind the Power of Personal Stories
The catalyst for change that we want to come from our personal stories is to push the conversation in a positive direction. This can effectively challenge stereotypes, build bridges, and inspire action. There is no glitz and glamour when telling our personal stories. This uniqueness is what makes each individual’s story special. Not only are our stories diverse and complex, they provide a look into what life is like for Muslim Americans inside and outside of the United States. We all have a story to tell. It is all a matter of listening to what we have to say.
When reading our stories, there is a sense of relatability. The stories we produce tell the first person narrative from a genuine place. The storyteller leaves themselves open to criticism and can start a discussion that could possibility open the minds of those that were originally not receptive. It is a cathartic feeling. This is how we do away with stereotypes. Not every person is the same; one person does not represent a whole group. We have to start looking at people as individuals regardless of their outer exterior, and connect through shared humanity. With this, personal stories tear down the veil of preconcieved notions.
Our stories have the potential to build bridges. The personal stories we present are a sounding board to learn more about not only the storyteller, but also the broad range of diversity within the Muslim American community. Different walks of life can share past and present beliefs. From this, we brainstorm ways to end divides that exist. Additionally, our stories extend an olive branch. This is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of continued progression toward recognizing commonality.
Just by having a story told is enough to inspire action. When there is an issue or cause that we are uncertain about, we wouldn’t think to do something about it. If we only get one person inspired by our personal stories, then we have done our job. That one person could be the spark to inspire others and so on so forth, causing a chain reaction toward a movement for change.
This Isn't Easy Work
Unfortunately, within our current political climate, we are barraged by anti-Muslim rhetoric. The rhetoric being spewed is a result of a rise in bigotry and intolerance, a concept that has led to extreme levels of tension, marginalization, and the disenfranchisement of people from an entire group. In turn, we may experience ignorance in our society, something that has to be addressed if we want our future generations to inherit a nation of diversity and acceptance, not one of hate and intolerance.
MALA’s work is imperative for combatting both bigotry and anti-Muslim rhetoric because it takes back the Muslim-American narrative, renews it, and allows for us to see Muslims in a new light. These stories have the potential to completely alter the way we understand Muslims both locally and abroad. It allows for a new level of understanding and respect for the people we interact with on a daily basis. Essentially, MALA’s work is a reminder that the United States is a melting pot—a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation filled with incredible individuals.
However, our work doesn’t stop there. We may start with the step to take back the Muslim-American narrative, but we have to continue to sustain it and maintain records for future generations to see—another endeavor that MALA has proudly undertaken through its relationships with StoryCorps and the Library of Congress. It’s an opportunity to shift the discourse from something negative to something positive and fruitful; an opportunity for Muslim-Americans to shine and show the world that we are here, we are diverse, and we are contributing to make the world a better place; it’s an opportunity for growth.
Success is a Learning Curve
Our organization has failed forward and come out stronger than before by taking the time to reflect not only on changes within our organization, but changes in society globally for both Muslims and non-Muslims in and out of America. As our mission states, we’ve attempted to preserve the unique stories of Muslim and non-Muslim Americans at a time like now when bigotry is on the rise. Although it is a controversial and extremely sensitive topic, we learned that the only way to creating change is creating awareness, so we decided not to run and hide from such a prevalent issue but rather face it head-on and help amplify the voices of thousands of individuals and provide them with a medium to help dismantle stereotypes.
Although we promote the journeys of Muslim Americans, we realized the importance of the incorporation of non-Muslims as well. You don’t have to be oppressed to fight oppression, and this is something we hope emphasize even more through our projects and initiatives. There are thousands of people working to create a brighter future for Muslim Americans and other minority groups who deserve to be heard and their dedication deserves to be recognized and taken as an example.
Archiving, collecting, and preserving stories has thus far been an effective method of creating awareness, sending powerful messages, and creating a safe space for dialogue. At MALA, we constantly strive to improve and grow with each experience and we hope to make this a more widespread project.
Lessons Learned For the Future
At MALA, we work constantly to take our work to the next level and increase the benefit it has on our community. Our previous experiences in the production of our stories aids us in this more than anything else. We believe our work is most effective towards resolving and reversing bigotry, which is often the culmination of years of ignorance that turns into prejudice. Such a harmful construction can be toppled by the power of education and awareness. By emphasizing this in our work, we believe that we can make great strides in melting away stereotypes and prejudices.
Furthermore, it is important to recognize the significance of individuality. In recent times, the ease of generalizing people to singular characteristics has been extremely prevalent. As a society we frequently forget that, despite outwardly functioning as a unit, we are not a single block. Each of us is a piece of the puzzle which, at this point, has not been entirely figured out. Out of many, we are one. Together we comprise a mosaic – not one individual is exactly like any other. We are different colors, have different struggles, and believe in different things, but at the end of the day we come together to form something beautiful: the human image. In our work, we will strive to make clear that these differences do not divide us but, as we accept and embrace them, unite us.
Moreover, each person’s voice matters. When the need to take action arises, people will often not initiate a movement or speak out. When everyone does this, the result is a collective action problem. In order to successfully challenge stereotypes, build bridges, and inspire action, it is necessary for everybody to contribute their experience. As we move forward, we look to expand the volume of individuals who share their stories and broaden the audience who listens and reads them. Though it will take great numbers of us to bring change to the world, it is each person, one by one, who carries a torch into the future.
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