"Social and cultural interaction between immigrants and established residents creates the cross-cultural understanding that helps all community members gain a level of comfort with one another and widens their appreciation for all cultures. It shifts everyone's attention to commonalities that can unite, rather than differences that can divide. This is especially important for improving the relationship between immigrants and African-Americans, two communities often pitted against one another in the perceived and real competition for jobs and other resources."
Sandra Smith, Community Research and Grants Management Officer, The Columbus Foundation, Columbus, Ohio
Our nation of immigrants has always been a culture of many cultures. The two-way integration process, in which the cultures of newcomers are valued as they learn the traditions of their adopted country, is not one of dilution or loss but one that enriches the fabric of the receiving society.
Culture plays a significant role in defining our identity and worldview. For newcomers, culture is the primary frame that shapes their interaction with other newcomers and with established residents in their new community. This interaction can occur anywhere and everywhere, such as the park, community center, school, and grocery store. However, such interaction will not likely happen or be meaningful without programs that intentionally bring people from different cultural backgrounds together.
This section highlights diverse approaches that promote social and cultural interaction. These approaches share many features that help lay the groundwork for building mutual understanding and trust across cultures, including opportunities for people from different backgrounds to:
- Share accurate information about the cultures involved. Accurate information, combined with frank discussions, can eliminate misunderstanding and misperceptions that create barriers to integration and community building.
- Get to know one another as individuals. Over time, such human connection is highly effective at breaking down harmful stereotypes about particular ethnic/racial groups or cultures.
- Raise questions, share concerns, and engage in a dialogue. Ongoing honesty and candidness, though sometimes difficult, are critical to creating authentic relationships. Concerns about immigration, race, and other tough issues should be addressed head-on.
- Build on the commonalities, but address the differences. The focus should be on helping participants identify shared interests and create shared experiences. At the same time, there should always be willingness to constructively address differences that arise along the way.
- Establish trust and work together on common issues. Effective programs not only help build trust over time but also help participants find common ground. The goal should be to engage stakeholders in joint problem solving and other efforts to strengthen the overall community.
Whether people are sharing stories, making art, or viewing performances or exhibits, these programmatic features are essential to facilitating meaningful interaction and exchange. Well-developed programs, over time, can lead to outcomes such as improved understanding and trust across cultures, reduced prejudices and misperceptions, formation of cross-cultural relationships, and collective action on communitywide issues.
The case-study examples in this section-- ranging from something as simple and accessible as a community garden to major multi-year festivals and multimillion-dollar museums--incorporate many of the programmatic features outlined above. By bringing together immigrants and native-born, they serve as powerful vehicles to integrate newcomers into the social and cultural fabric of their communities. Foundations looking for integration opportunities in which to invest should consider projects that promote cross-cultural interaction and exchange as a promising pathway to successful immigrant integration.