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Three Parables for Integration

“How should societies integrate newcomers? How do newcomers develop a sense of belonging to the places where they have arrived?”

According to anthropologist Marcelo Suárez-Orozco “globalization defines our era.” He defines globalization as the “movement of people, goods, or ideas among countries and regions.” Essential to globalization is the impact of migration—from country to city and from nation to nation. Speaking to educators, Suárez-Orozco explained that there are 175 million immigrants and refugees worldwide. And those new migrants are changing the composition of the cities where they live. Orozco uses statistics to illustrate his point:

Leicester, England, will be the first European city with [a] non-white majority. Frankfurt today is about 30% immigrant; Rotterdam is 45% immigrant. Amsterdam will by [the] year 2015 be 50% immigrant. Sweden has 1 million immigrants. China alone has over 150 million internal immigrants. . . . In the New York City schools the children of immigrants are half the total population . . . with over 190 nationalities represented.1

 

Mireya Leal shares a picnic lunch through the US-Mexico border fence with her husband Raymundo Orozco.

How should societies integrate newcomers? How do newcomers develop a sense of belonging to the places where they have arrived? These are the questions Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, considers in his book The Home We Build Together. Sacks, a leader in the Jewish community and an advisor to politicians and policymakers, offers three different parables about the relationship between newcomers and their host societies as a way to provoke discussion about assimilation and integration.

In the first, a hundred strangers have been wandering around the countryside in search of a place to stay. Eventually they arrive at the gate of a large country house. The owner comes to the gate, sees the strangers and asks them who they are. They tell him their story. He gives them a warm smile. “How good to see you,” he says. “As you can see, I have an enormous home. Far too big for me, actually. There are hundreds of empty rooms. Please feel free to stay here as long as you like. I look forward to your company. From now on consider yourself my guests.”

A lovely story. But not entirely so for the strangers in the long run. They have a place to live, and yes, their host is exactly as he seemed at first, welcoming, hospitable. . . . However there is only one thing wrong as far as they are concerned. However generous their host, he remains the host and they are his guests. The place belongs to someone else. That is society as a country house.

The second: A hundred strangers in search of a home find themselves in the middle of a big city. They are there to find a hotel. It is large, comfortable, and has every amenity. The visitors have money enough to pay the hotel bills. They book their rooms, unpack, and stay.

The rules are simple. They are free to do what they like, so long as they don’t disturb the other guests. Their relationship with the hotel is purely contractual. They pay money in return for certain services. . . .

The hotel offers the newcomers a freedom and equality they did not have in the first model. They are guests, but so is everyone else. There is only one problem. A hotel is where you stay, not where you belong. You feel no loyalty to a hotel. You don’t put down roots there. It doesn’t become part of your identity. . . . Yes, after a while you recognize your fellow guests. You bid them good morning. You discuss the weather and football. But it remains a place where everyone is, in the biblical phrase, “a stranger and sojourner.” That is society as a hotel.

The third: A hundred strangers arrive at a town. They are met by the mayor, councilors and local residents. The mayor says: “Friends, we welcome you. It is good to have you among us. Sadly, as you can see, there is no country house where we might accommodate you. There is, though, something we can offer you.

“We have a patch of empty land: large enough to accommodate homes for all of you. We have bricks and materials. We have experts who can help you design your homes, and we will help you build them. . . . Let us do this together.”

So it happens. Unlike the country house, the newcomers have to build their own long-term accommodation. Unlike the hotel, they do not merely pay. They invest their energies in what they build. . . . They helped build it.

Sacks explains that it won’t always be easy.

The newcomers still occasionally seem strange. They speak and act and dress differently than the locals. But those long sessions of working together have had their effect. The locals know the newcomers are serious, committed, dedicated. They have their own ways, but they have also learned the ways of the people of the town, and they have worked out . . . a rough and ready friendship. . . . Making something together breaks down walls of suspicion and misunderstanding. . . . That is society as the home we build together.2

Excerpted from Jonathan Sacks’s, The Home We Build Together.

  1. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, “What Do We Do with Difference in a Globalizing World?” (lecture, Facing History and Ourselves, Brookline, MA, August 11, 2005).
  2. Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together (New York: Continuum, 2008), 14–15.

Connection Questions

  1. How has migration changed your community? What might you find on the streets today that would not have been there without immigrants?
  2. How do newcomers learn to adapt to their new communities? To what extent should they have to change their lives, habits, and customs to fit in? Visiting Germany in February 2008, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan encouraged an audience of Turkish immigrants to integrate in German society but stressed that they should resist assimilation. He proclaimed assimilation “a crime against humanity.” What do you think he meant? What is the difference between assimilation and integration?
  3. Sacks offers three parables as metaphors for types of integration. What is the moral he is trying to teach?
  4. Have you been a guest at someone’s home? At a hotel? What is the difference? To what extent do any of these models of integration represent how immigrants are treated in your community? Which model do you prefer? Why?
  5. Some critics have suggested that Sacks’ three models fail to acknowledge the dangers of terrorism and extremist ideology. The transit bombings in London and Madrid gave rise to concerns that newcomers may have ideas and values that are dangerous and cannot be integrated. How do you think Sacks would respond to those concerns? How should those concerns influence the way people think about the best way to integrate newcomers? What should communities do if migrants break the rules of their new community?
  6. 6. Why do you think Sacks advocates for the third parable, the home we build together? What does he see as the advantages of that model? Why does Sacks believe the third model “won’t always be easy”? Do you agree? What can be done by either host communities or newcomers to foster integration?

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