familism and facebook

vasilis asked a good set of questions the other day:

“I wonder, doesn’t immigration break apart the extended family into nuclear family fragments? Does anyone actually bring along all 52 first cousins with them, along with spouses, children, parents etc? Of course ‘familismo’ values will be carried over the border, but to what degree can they be instilled in the next generation in the absence of all these people in their daily lives?”

now that i’ve thought about it a bit, though, i wonder if the picture he paints isn’t one that was more true of 20+ years ago than it is today in our über-connected world. i mean, i can follow in real time how my 12 year-old first cousin-once-removed’s gymnastics competition is going — or commiserate with her on how horrible her school lunch was today — and she lives in a different country! i can keep in touch with her and her brother and all my other cousins’ kids in a way i couldn’t do with their parents. back in the day, it was the odd phone call and even (omg) letters. now it’s email, facebook and txt messaging. instant gratification for the familist! (~_^)

and anyway, we’ve seen that both italian-americans and r.c. irish-americans are more familistic than anglo-americans, and … how long have they been in the country now? how long does this assimilation business take anyway?

assmiliation? pshaw. here from “Who is to blame for fractured Britain?” published last year in the telegraph:

“What ruined our community and the personality of our neighbourhood were the young Eastern Europeans who poured in from 2004 onwards. I am not criticising the character of these young migrants. They were generally hardworking, eager and ambitious. But they arrived all at once in large numbers and, most significantly, had zero interest in integrating. They lived and socialised exclusively together, watched Polish television channels via their satellite dishes, chatted to family back home for free on Skype, set up Polish shops to sell Polish food, newspapers and books, and they learnt only as much English as they had to. Seeing shop after little shop put up the words Polski sklep marked the end of the village I knew.”

mexicans in the u.s. don’t even need satellite television. they’ve got univision which is available on cable. any idiota can hook it up. i don’t know how much mexicans/hispanics in the u.s. use facebook, or if they’re all still on myspace, but they’ve (nearly) all got cellphones afaict and, i’m sure, can txt pretty easily to family members back home in mexico/wherever.

nope. i have a bad feeling that modern communications — not to mention the ease of travel nowadays — prolly lends itself to greater opportunities for immigrants to practice familism if they want than ever before. i know i can.

previously: hispanic family values and anglo-american vs. mexican family values and familism in the u.s. of a.

(note: comments do not require an email. boo scary!)

7 Comments

  1. I was mainly thinking of the economic and social function of the extended family in the country of origin. Someone with 52 first cousins in southern Italy will probably be in business with some of them or will be employing some of them or will be working for one of them. If employed by the state they will be handing out favors to most of them, if not they will be receiving favors from whichever family members are in the employment of the state. A member of the same family in the US will not be able to participate in this family “business structure” unless they set up a Corleone style import-export company of sorts. This way the extended family cannot bring their economic and social functions to the US, so it fragments. I notice that you have concentrated on the measured tendency to keep in touch. This is a very reasonable approach since the whole issue can be settled only on the basis of measurable variables, essentially though it proves that the values are retained, it does not prove that the function of the social structure is retained.

    Immigration will break up the extended family, providing it with an American fragment. If the American branch retains its values (it does at first) and the second generation marries members of the same national background who retain the same values, then familism and the separate national identity may persist for generations. If they marry outside their national/religious group, then they will assimilate fast. You note that Italians and Irish, who are Roman Catholics, have retained a separate identity for generations. I note that as Catholics they have been marginalized for decades relative to Protestant or even Orthodox groups by mainstream American society. So it seems to me that marginalizing a group will increase its cohesion. For comparison, how often do you meet someone who readily self defines as German-American? German-Americans are by far the largest ethnic group in the US, but being mainly Protestant they blend in perfectly. In my opinion religion is a factor here and at least in the past it has determined rates of assimilation. Furthermore the fact that both Italians and Irish immigrated to America in large numbers at the same time offered them increased opportunity to marry within their national group.

    First generation immigrants will cuddle together and many may not be able to ever learn proper English. What is extremely important though is the spoken language of the second generation. What language do the kids of the immigrants speak when they are amongst themselves? If American born second generation Hispanics speak English amongst themselves they will assimilate, if they speak Spanish amongst themselves assimilation will be delayed for a generation (on the basis of this criterion the Irish are unique).

    It is true however that 21st century communications and transportation make it easier to retain a separate national identity, indeed Mexicans do not need to endure 20 days at sea to go back home as other immigrant groups did in the past. It would be interesting to consider how they would feel about moving freely between the two countries if they had better job prospects back home. In Europe for example eastern Europeans who can come and go freely do just that, they follow the job market even if it leads them back home.

    Reply

  2. Excellent, vacilis, but a quick correction: A quibble. The aggregate British ancestry is larger than German. But 3-400 years later, people named Taylor or Cooper don’t know what their ancestry was and figure they are “just American.” The identification is self-report. Schmidts know they are German even if they can’t point to an ancestor. Even within the family, people were identified as German long after they were identified as English, Welsh, of Scots-Irish.

    I agree that staying in touch is not quite the same, Vacilis. From a distance, you can avoid the relatives you don’t like. This matters quickly. I have two sons adopted from Romania as teenagers eleven years ago. They had lost touch with most, but not all relatives. They have kept up the contact with siblings, and because of that, have been back for weddings and visits and kept some knowledge of others. They occasionally give or get a favor from that group. But really, it’s only the siblings and the in-laws that have importance. The siblings have moved to Norway to work, and one of my sons is now there with them. Those may go back to Transylvania when they have children, and I don’t know what that will bring. Chris will vacation there, but he won’t live there. So he is very close to a few Romanian relatives, about the same as the nuclear family here. But nothing more. And the other son is in Nome, looks fair to marry an Inuit, with even less contact with Romanians.

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  3. @vasilis – “A member of the same family in the US will not be able to participate in this family ‘business structure’ unless they set up a Corleone style import-export company of sorts. This way the extended family cannot bring their economic and social functions to the US, so it fragments.”

    good point. and point taken. however…

    “…though it proves that the values are retained, it does not prove that the function of the social structure is retained.”

    …it’s the values — which i would call behavioral traits (innate ones) — that i’m mostly interested in. if you take a familistic population and transplant it to the u.s. but without so many of each familiy’s family members, you’d still be transplanting a whole load of people given to nepotism and corruption. perhaps their nephews won’t be there for them to be nepotistic towards, but they’ll find someone else to/with whom they can exchange favors.

    i’ve really responded to your comment with a whole new post. (^_^) here’s the punchline from that post:

    “familism, then, i think — although interesting in and of itself — is a symptom of a set of underlying innate behavioral traits, namely those connected to familial altruism. the more ‘genes for familial altruism’ (whatever they might be) your population possesses, the less universalistic, etc., etc., it is going to be — and vice versa. familism reflects another aspect of human biodiversity, and is not just an example human cultural diversity.”

    Reply

  4. @vasilis – “Immigration will break up the extended family, providing it with an American fragment. If the American branch retains its values (it does at first) and the second generation marries members of the same national background who retain the same values, then familism and the separate national identity may persist for generations. If they marry outside their national/religious group, then they will assimilate fast.”

    it took (i think) the english ca. 400 years(?) to go from being inbred/clannish/particularistic anglos and saxons (and jutes!) to outbred/individualistic/universalistic englishmen via steady outbreeding and natural selection (see the “english” section under the mating patterns in europe series below ↓ in the left-hand column) — and maybe a couple of hundred years of further evolution to reach the early modern liberal democratic state that we (or, at least, i) think of when when think of the english. a couple of generations of italian- and irish- and mexican-americans marrying out just isn’t going to be enough, i think. (especially if the italians marry the irish who marry the mexicans!)

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  5. @vasilis – “For comparison, how often do you meet someone who readily self defines as German-American?”

    my step-father? and his four kids — and his grandkids. and my father’s second wife. oh, and the blamuellers who used to live next-door when i was little. and a couple of kids i went to grade school with (names of mischer and brockerhoff!). and high school, too, come to think of it — a girl i was friends with named schindler. very german-american. celebrated oktoberfest every year with her and her parents.

    @vasilis – “Furthermore the fact that both Italians and Irish immigrated to America in large numbers at the same time offered them increased opportunity to marry within their national group.”

    that is a problem, i agree.

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  6. @avi – “But 3-400 years later, people named Taylor or Cooper don’t know what their ancestry was and figure they are ‘just American.'”

    yes, indeed. that’s why i skipped the “just american” group from the gss and just dealt with those who said their ancestry was from england/wales (“anglos”). that latter group could be mixed, too, but hey … you gotta work with what you got!

    Reply

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