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Cultural Identity and Integration of Immigrants

The concept of cultural identity should not be viewed as a static phenomenon or as a fixed set of values that have to be shared by every person belonging to a certain group. Leading scholars such as Stuart Hall and Homi Bhabha believe that culture exists only in individual experiences and perceptions of people. These perceptions are changing, and they are affected by a variety of factors such as educational background, economic status, values, and so forth. They can be called context-dependent. The main argument put forward by Hall and Bhabha is that the formation of identity does not follow a universal pattern or formula that can be applied to every person.

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Moreover, an individual can be influenced by more than one culture, and he/she can attempt to reconcile the values of several cultures. These issues are eloquently described by Hanif Kureishi in his novel The Buddha of Suburbia. It explores the experiences of Karim, a mixed-race adolescent who strives to find a community to which he can fully belong. To some degree, this novel contrasts the experiences of first and second-generation immigrants. In particular, the author shows that first-generation immigrants can be driven by the need to achieve economic prosperity; yet, they want to retain their cultural identity at least to some extent. For example, Karim’s uncle Anwar is opposed to Western culture. He feels nostalgic about India, but he does not want to return there. In turn, Haroon also feels attached to Buddhism. Thus, first-generation immigrants resist complete assimilation with a foreign culture.

In contrast, second-generation immigration is more willing to integrate themselves into a new society. They attempt to find meanings in their relations with other people. Karim is torn between two cultures and identities. He views himself mostly as an Englishmen, but he acknowledges the fact of his so-called otherness, in part because he is often reminded that he does not fully belong to this community. To a great extent, this behavior can be explained by the racist attitudes of many people who are prejudiced against Karim. They cannot fully accept him. Nevertheless, he remains open to new ideas or values that a new culture can offer. This example is important because it shows that cultural values or norms are not necessarily passed from one generation to another. More likely, they are formed through continuous interaction with parents, peers, or media.

Overall, this case supports the thesis that cultural identity is a very dynamic concept that largely depends on individual experiences. Moreover, it shows that Stuart Hall’s idea of cultural hybridity. One can mention another character of this novel, Jamila. She does not reject her Indian heritage, but it is not decisive for her. More likely, her identity can be defined by her political and social views. She supports feminist ideals because, in this way, she can reject the values of her father, who forced her into marriage. This case supports the ideas expressed by Stuart Hall and Homi Bhabha. Cultural identity is not a fixed set of values, rules, or norms that exist in every generation. More likely, they tend to transform with time passing. In some cases, second-generation may not be willing to accept the norms or values of their parents. In some cases, such behavior can be explained by the fact that some cultures can be perceived as inferior. This is one of the problems that Hanif Kureishi raises in his novel. This literary work illustrates that a person can be forced into conformity by other people. Thus, the formation of cultural identity can be affected by negative forces such as racism.

On the whole, it is possible to argue that cultures cannot exist in a state of isolation. Such an assumption is too simplistic. Contemporary societies are based on continuous interactions of different cultures, and their values or norms often have to be reconciled. Stuart Hall and Homi Bhabha urge people to acknowledge the complexities of modern culture. In turn, Hanif Kureishi gives readers insights into the experiences of various immigrants who attempt to integrate into a new society. One can also say that there is an increasing need to examine the interactions of several cultures and people’s perception of culture. The thing is that in the future, a growing number of people encounter problems similar to those ones experienced by the characters of Hanif Kureishi’s novel. The theories developed by Stuart Hall and Homi Bhabha give deep insights into the formation of a person’s cultural identity. It is a dynamic process that does not follow any particular pattern. One can say that it is shaped by a variety of forces such as the attitudes of parents, social interactions, or openness to new ideas. A successful interaction of different cultures is possible provided that society accepts the idea of diversity and recognizes the differences between people. Without it, a great number of people can be victimized, as is the case with Karim. This is the key point that people should remember.

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