Biculturalism demands that one should maintain the cultures of his/her origin despite moving into a different culture. The identities of such people, therefore, has different elements, emerging in different forms and has varying performance when applied in different contexts (Wiley and Deaux, Ch. 3, Para 4.) A bicultural individual believes he/she can learn and assimilate the norms of both cultures and live efficiently in more that two cultures. This can occur, but the individual remains more comfortable with one culture than the other meaning that one of his cultures is more prominent than the other. These people tend to refer to general culture in historical ethnic identity rather than self-experience to fit in (Wiley and Deaux, Ch. 3, Para 5). However, this does not mean that their acculturation is any simpler or they perform excellently on both cultures. They still experience personal, as well as societal problems related to acculturation. This paper examines the effect of biculturalism on multicultural individuals and how they deal with them.
To examine the effect on an individual, a bicultural identity integration (BII) is applied. According to Benet-Martinez and Haritatos (2005), BII refers to the extent at which an individual who has internalised two cultures perceives them as conflicting or compatible (Benet-Martinez and Haritatos, Pg 1, Para 1). Benet-Martinez and Haritatos (2005) concluded that the conflict and distance created by multiculturalism have unique personalities, acculturation and social demographics precursors.
To achieve a bicultural identity, an individual makes one of the following four choices. One undergoes assimilation which is identifying with the dominant of the cultures, and integration where one identifies with both cultures at a high level of understanding. There is also separation where an individual resonates with the culture which is not dominant in the society or one becomes marginalised by identifying with none of the cultures or identifying with the cultures at a low degree (Benet-Martinez and Haritatos, Pg 4, Para 1).
The effect of biculturalism is felt by an individual from within and without. An individual feels the pressure to define oneself when in a bicultural setting. This is even more complex when a multicultural individual is involved into the comparison with a monocultural individual. One is under pressure to classify oneself as a member of a social category. This is known as self-categorization where one decides to identify with a certain social category and conforms to the attributes of those who share the category. One undergoes psychological stress in choosing to clearly define the category, to which they belong, with each category having distinct elements. He or she can also choose to remain in a bicultural category which has attributes different from the original cultures (Wiley and Deaux, Ch 3, Para 10).
One must also define the degree of motivation to express the elements of identity category that has been chosen. One must also decide how important the identity is to his well-being. In a bicultural identity, one must decide how significant each culture is and the degree to which it can be expressed in their lives. A balance between the cultures must struck to identify one as a bicultural individual (Wiley and Deaux, Ch 3, Para 11). In a bicultural identity, one must define and understand the beliefs, history traits and attributes of the cultures within which one is living. This helps to determine, if the two identities are conflicting or compatible.
According to Wiley and Deaux (2011), a bicultural identity is subjected to interpretation by the society itself. The society which is described as the audience affects bicultural identity depending on the point of view. The society could have an in- or out-group perspective or both. In attaining a bicultural identity, one is put under scrutiny by two groups, one which identifies with the individual and one that does not resonate with ones attitudes. The audience can be supportive, therefore, facilitating biculturalism or it can have a group perspective that does not condone association with an in-group (Wiley and Deaux, Ch 3, Para 17). A bicultural individual is also subjected to membership criteria where one’s identity is questioned by the audience. One must be able to legitimise their identity, especially when they do not conform to the prototype traits of the audience. This occurs when immigrants are expected to assimilate the cultures of their new homes by foregoing their original cultures (Wiley and Deaux, Ch 3, Para 18). Immigrants are either not given absolute recognition for their hybrid culture or are not fully assimilated into a new group’s identity.
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The identity of a multicultural individual in a bicultural setting is defined by the status that one is accorded. If a person belongs to a minority group, a low status in the society is accorded to that individual (Wiley and Deaux, Ch 3, Para 21). The individual is expected to be contented with the accorded status without questioning how or why. A collective identification is hard to achieve when the society subjects one to classification by ethnic groups. Multicultural individuals find their cultures incompatible when subjected to a discriminatory identity approach.
To adequately identify two cultures, a high level of cognitive complexity is required. A multicultural individual must show cognitive advantage in knowledge beyond culture and language elements (Benet-Martinez, Lee and Leu, Pg 390, Para 4). However, this is subjected to the experience of an individual in the bicultural setup. To excel in bilingual identity and culture assimilation, one must be involved with the two cultures at a high degree, so as to learn through experience. Understanding is mostly helped by a vast understanding of the languages that are involved. One must be able to connect the cognitive knowledge of two cultures to self-experience. These experiences may be personal or from historical basis, regarding self-identity or social identification and attitude. A bicultural identity must comprise of vast knowledge on the two cultures, as well as linguistic competence of two cultures. Most people find it hard to adapt to the bicultural identity when they cannot comprehend what is happening around them.
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In conclusion, the bicultural identity of a multicultural individual highly depends on the bicultural competence of the individual. According to Benet-Martinez and Haritatos (2005), this is involved by the level of involvement in the cultures. A high degree of competence means that an individual is equally and strongly involved in both cultures, and is comfortable in both cultures in identity and skills acquired (Benet-Martinez and Haritatos, Pg 11, Para 3).