My current work is on child migrants and integration. While I’m uncomfortable with some of the terminology (especially integration), there are interesting things to be said. Here, though, I want to make a ‘signal and the noise’ argument about the way that religion or other ideas of ‘cultures’ isn’t always the most important thing going on.
I go back a few years here, to the arrival of two migrant families in my street. Both were in the UK for education of a male adult, and both had kids. One family was from a place that was once part of the British Empire, where English is an official language. The other was from the middle East, with Arabic as the home language, and the family had enough adherence to religiosity and cultural norms that the dad was a regular mosque attender and the mum stuck to Arabic attire. Further, the mum didn’t speak a word of English. On paper, the former would have been a far safer bet for integration into the local community. In the end, the opposite was true, so what else was going on?
I’d argue two things were key here, life-stage and personality. The first family had their first child not long after arrival, and were staying in. There may have been some engagement with parenting groups, but they kept themselves to themselves. The second family, however, already had two kids in nursery and key stage 1 age. This meant that the parents were doing the school runs, and having to engage with their kids’ integration. So as the children made friends, and learned English organically, the mum ended up learning some English too. Being outgoing, she also was chatty to other parents, even when her English was at its most basic, and was apologetic for this. She quickly made friends too, and the whole family were regular visitors to other homes on the block.
When the two families left to return home the difference could not have been more stark. The first family moved out without fanfare. The second family had multiple leaving parties, at their home and others, with much food shared.