Bicultural Conflict and Acculturation



America is a melting pot, as people usually say. Perhaps, America is the unique country that welcomes millions of immigrants for centuries. Consequently, due to great numbers of newcomers arriving daily, many psychological problems are present. Among those, bicultural conflict is one among the first and the most important issues that psychologists study seriously in order to make this country a better place to live. As Antonia Darder (1991) stated, “Biculturalism refers to a process wherein individuals learn to function in two distinct socio-cultural environments”.

Bicultural conflict

Depending on the original country of the newcomers, the bicultural conflict will give deep or shallow effects on their lives. While European origins usually feel that there are small changes when being resettling here, other immigrants especially Asians such as Chinese or Vietnamese confront a culture shock – a great conflict between the two cultures, the dominant and the original. Betty Lee Sung, a professor of Asian Studies  at City College of New York, (1989), stated, “Imagine for a moment how wrenching it must be for an immigrant child who finds his cumulative life experiences completely invalidated, and who must learn a whole new set of speech patterns and behaviors when he settles in a new country.” Naturally, culture is a habit system that deeply permeated into the unconscious minds of people. Now, suddenly, most beliefs must change. The wish to keep the roles of genders or the parents in the family, the parenting, the marriage bonds, or some religious beliefs is eliminated forcefully. Above all, the language barrier is the most important problem that new arrivals find it is hard to solve before a new life can start.

Commonly, newcomers make a very serious mistake. They vaguely understand that they are confronting bicultural conflicts or a culture shock. In fact, they blame on their personal fates. “Often times, teachers, and parents are not aware of these conflicts and ascribe other meanings or other motives to the child's behavior, frequently in a disapproving fashion. Such censure confuses the child and quite often forces him to choose between what he is taught at home and what is commonly accepted by American society.” (Betty Lee Sung, 1989). Being misunderstanding, the parents or the teachers may lead simple cases to more serious ones, when the children get frustrated and run away from home.

Vietnamese Americans faced the similar problems. “Though they work hard to improve their lives by taking advantage of American opportunities, they are also strongly committed to retaining their culture, values, and customs.” (Saito, 1999). Most Vietnamese origins prefer to have better educations to build new lives in this country. The parents usually force their children to learn more and more to have stable lives. Because most of Vietnamese newcomers were victims of the Communism regime that took over all of their properties, they experienced that they would not have much chance to succeed in business in the new land. Therefore, they have only one choice to gain economic success: Education. They study both English and Vietnamese. “While Vietnamese parents encourage their children to learn everything that public schools can teach them, they also have established Vietnamese language classes in their communities in order to involve the children in Vietnamese community life, promote maintenance of their distinctive culture, and socialize them into accepting the goals and ambitions of their elders (Saito, 1999). Another researcher discovered, “Vietnamese American children who are the least assimilated into American youth subcultures tend to show the highest levels of academic performance.” (Zhou & Bankston, 1998). At all areas where Vietnamese-Americans gather in a great number such as in San Jose and Orange County in the state of California, in Houston, Texas, or in Seattle, Washington State, people can see thousands of business signs that carry tittles such as M.D, Eye doctors, Pharmacists, Optometry, Dentists, and Attorney at Law. Several Vietnamese-Americans are selected as President, Vice-President, or Board Members of High School Districts or College District. Two Vietnamese-Americans are elected as State Assemblyman; one in California and one in Texas. However, there is a truth about the owners of those offices and the elected ones: they once had to deal with the most critical times of their lives when the new culture and their old one clashed with each other.

As Sung BL (1985) stated in the Journal of Comparative Family Studies, many aspects of conflicts happened on many battles: aggressiveness, sexuality, sports, tattling, demonstration of affection, education, thrift, dependency, respect for authority, heroes and heroines, and individualism. Parental authority is the most serious problem that happens in every family. In their old country, parents were the persons who made decisions while the children just obeyed until they became the parents of their own families. In this country, parents are nothing comparing with friends or teachers. Many parents know very little about “what to do” in cases their children turn bad. The fathers have to hold off their anger as well as their hands that usually swung to their children when they still were in Vietnam. The mothers cry and pray to God. Both of them just look at their children packing up and leaving for their own homes immediately when the children get eighteen. No punishment applied. The parents are afraid to be cuffed by police.

The gender roles are reversal, too. In Vietnam, the husband made ends meet; the wife just stayed home cooking, raising children, and cleaning up. Here, both of them have to work. The females may work harder than the males and earn more money than what the husbands make. In some families, the values of the females are increasing higher and the males’ decreased obviously.

Then, at dinners, a most argued issue is present: the perception on American Culture. While parents want to keep some old special traits of their own culture, the children deny them totally. “Parents and children differ about what aspects of American culture are desirable. The children consider "being American" in terms of wearing fashionable clothes, enjoying personal freedom, and being "cool"; they want to do things like going out late at night and spending their parents' money. Parents, conversely, describe the positive side of "being American" as taking advantage of educational opportunities in the U.S. and having a professional career.” (Zhou & Bankston, 1998). 

Another aspect about the bicultural conflict within Vietnamese communities is the different notions between the children who were born in Vietnam and the ones who are born in this country (or who are raised in this country since they are still very young). “Cultural conflicts between immigrant parents and children born or reared in the United States are common. In the case of the Vietnamese, differing life experiences of the children growing up in the U.S. and their immigrant parents can turn the generational gap into a chasm.” (Rumbaut, 1997; 1999). Young people, naturally, want to blend with their American friends and be respected by American teachers. They do not want to be left behind and hate to be considered as the babies of their parents. While the Vietnamese parents always look down on their children as their young, tiny, soft, and inexperienced boys or girls; the children look at their parents as the old guys who belong to the old history beyond the sea. Except the young ones who grown up in Vietnam before arriving in the United States, most of the children feel that they need to be hurry out of the old house to catch up with new friends who have independent lives.


Wikepedia defined, “Acculturation is the exchange of cultural features that results when groups come into continuous firsthand contact; the original cultural patterns of either or both groups may be altered, but the groups remain distinct.” (Kottak 2007). Also, in Wikepedia, “acculturation can be conceived to be the processes of cultural learning imposed upon minorities by the fact of being minorities. If enculturation is first-culture learning, then acculturation is second-culture learning. This has often been conceived to be a unidimensional, zero-sum cultural conflict in which the minority's culture is displaced by the dominant group's culture in a process of assimilation.”

Generally speaking, Aculturation is different with Assimilation. In the website, a definition is stated, “As used by social scientists, assimilation is allowing one's original culture to be overridden by the dominant culture. Acculturation is acquiring the capability to function within the dominant.” In fact, some minority cultures are blended in the dominant one. Although the bodies are still the same with the original, but the spirit is exactly the same with the Americans’. They live independently from their own communities, speak English as well as Americans, marry Americans, watch football and baseball, never wear their traditional clothes, and never join their own community’s meetings or festivals. On the contrary, Chinese and Vietnamese are the examples of the people who acculturate well. While struggling to succeed as well as Americans do, Chinese and Vietnamese-American still keep their traditional festivals, religious gatherings, community meetings, and their own language. Bilingual language is the must in most Chinese and Vietnamese families. Therefore, they acculturate in their own ways. Mostly, Chinese-Americans earn respects in business. Chinese restaurants are seen everywhere. Chinese instant noodles are welcome by many Americans. Banking is a succeeded business among China towns, too. People can find most of everything in China Towns, where a needle to a huge building is sold. In the other hand, Vietnamese-American preferred earning college degrees. Very often, a B.A or a B.S degree appears in every Vietnamese-American family. The website stated, “While only 24% of the overall American population completed at least a 4-year degree, among Asian Americans the college-completion rate was 42% as of 1997. And the college-completion rate is climbing. Among Asian Americans aged 25-29, fully 50% had at least a bachelor's degree. The higher educational levels have translated to higher rates of entry into professional positions (43% vs 27%) and higher median household incomes: 42% of AA households earned more than $75,000 as of 2000.” 


Bicultural conflict is inevitable in the process of acculturation. However, the conflict is not detrimental. On the contrary, it helps a great deal in the development of this country. The “dual identity” contributes many interesting traits to this Melting Pot. Many new inventions are perfected with the contribution of other cultural beliefs. In addition, the bilingual or trilingual language, gradually, create confidence to the people who speak two or three languages. They can communicate with the dominant groups as well as with their own community. From the well-established bases of minority communities, new ideas and new inventions are blossomed and make this country prospected faster and better.




Betty Lee Sung, The Experience of Adjustment: Chinese Immigrant Children in

New York City, 1989, The Center of Migration Studies of New York, Inc.


Sung BL, Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 1985, Summer;16(2):255-69  

          Retrieved from:

Zhou, Min- Bankston, Carl I…III. Eric Clearinghouse on Urban Education, 2003, New York.

          Acculturation. Retrieved on January 26, 2008, from: