Cultural Relativism and Immigration to the U.S.


Cultural relativism argues that all individuals and cultures are equal. This is in line with Glalzer (2011) argument on cultural relativist theory, which is based on the concept that all individuals use a filtered lens of their culture to assess the world. This would greatly affect a multicultural country like the United States both locally and internationally. The cultural relativism operates based on two assumptions. On the first, an individual cannot make a moral judgment of other cultures as their judgment is based on their personal culture. The second assumption is that the moral obligations of any culture are founded by the West’s legal concepts and thoughts.  

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Cultural Changes in America as an Immigrant

Kivisto (2015) defines multiculturalism as the de facto state of both ethnic and cultural diversity in a particular state. Some scholars view the United States as a salad bowl while others as a melting pot. Caduff (2011) explains that the populations in the U.S. comprise of a richly diverse population from different countries. Traveling and being an immigrant in America would not mean forgetting about my culture and be fully assimilated to the culture of Americans. However, the expectation is that of moving in a multicultural country that accommodates individuals from other countries leading to a shared culture.

The official language to use in America is English. Language is intrinsic to culture as highlighted by Raptahana and Bunce (2012) indicating that in the U.S. there is no specific culture. The issues of diversity have made the U.S. follow English as the official language. This makes it hard to communicate customs, beliefs, and values. Contrary to the languages used by immigrants that foster a feeling of solidarity and identity, I feel that the aspect of language in the U.S. does not provide a unique form of identity with the country. It would be thought that sharing and using English as a national language would assimilate one to be an American, but the first language remains the mode that an individual can share values and identify with traditions. 

Challenges Faced by Immigrants

The major factor that causes obstacles of immigrants in the U.S. is attempts to adjust to the melting pot, which has led to distinct flavors to the country’s culture. There are beliefs that immigrants “create pockets of isolation”. Such an argument is against the issue of ethnicity and race. Caduff (2011) explains that the internal colonies that are within the United States borders were founded on social systems that were influenced by social class and race. 

Glazer (2011) explains that the art of crossing cultures causes the immigrant to be in a new culture where they are likely to lose all familiar things. For example, traveling to America may demand that an individual learns different methods of transportation, new food choices, and hygiene routines. It takes time to learn new habits and if not tackled positively may result in stress. The language barrier is another challenge facing immigrants as majorities do not use English as their first language or they may not be fluent in speaking English. It is challenging to enroll in an English class and balance with work or other vital areas of life. From a cultural relativist approach, it is evident that morally, relativism is likely to cause tolerance as a way of excusing intolerance.

Volpp (2011) explains that moral relativism is challenging to a society where many scholars use it to dictate that there is a universal objective to molarity. However, this is not the case, as some aspects remain immoral to varying populations. Volpp (2011) also argue that molarity is relative to cultures. For example, some cultures have a varying moral practice where for example a majority of immigrants originates from countries where sexual morals and treatment are strict in comparison to the U.S. 

Areas that are Difficult to Change

One area that I feel cannot change is language. This is why even after taking English as a lesson in America; it is highly likely to be influenced by the first language. For example, I had a friend from India who even after learning English, their spoken and written English language was greatly influenced by their first language. This may be the reason why we have stereotypes in the country where one can identify a language based on their pronunciations. This is in line with Lonin and Montrul (2010) argument on positive transfers and negative transfers. Lonin and Montrul explain that the first language hinders an individual from learning the second language.  

Religious belief is another area of culture that is unlikely to change. For example, I have a Muslim friend who came to the United States and have retained her religion. This is against the argument of cultural relativism, as majorities do not acquire the universal culture. In this example of my Muslim friend, I know of Arabs who irrespective of living in a country where people dress in short skirts, shorts, or dresses they still wear hijab and jilbabs. When the West people wear their hair long, the Muslim women will not display their hair. This indicates the significance of moral relativism in any culture. 


Caduff, C. (2011). Anthropology’s ethics: Moral positionalism, cultural relativism, and critical analysis. Anthropological theory11(4), 465-480.

Glazer, M. (2011). Cultural relativism. available via www. utpa. edu/faculty/mglaazer/theory/cultural_relativism. html last accessed on 17th June.

Ionin, T., & Montrul, S. (2010). The role of L1 transfer in the interpretation of articles with definite plurals in L2 English. Language Learning60(4), 877-925.

Kivisto, P. (2015). Incorporating diversity: Rethinking assimilation in a multicultural age. Routledge.

Rapatahana, V., & Bunce, P. (Eds.). (2012). English language as hydra: Its impacts on non-English language cultures (Vol. 9). Multilingual Matters.Volpp, L. (2011). Framing cultural difference: Immigrant women and discourses of tradition. differences22(1), 90-110.

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