Cultural assimilation has long been understood as a one-way process: immigrants and their kin gradually adopt the cultural values of their host society and shed their own. In countries such as the U.S., where white people are the demographic majority, scholars see assimilation as valuing whiteness and the norms and practices associated with it.

Tomás R. Jiménez and Adam L. Horowitz critique this framing in their recently published qualitative study. Their research examines how immigrant origin populations (immigrants and their kin) impact traditional understandings of ethnoracial hierarchy in the U.S. Based off of fieldwork and interviews conducted in affluent city of Cupertino, CA, Jiménez and Horowitz’s research explores how the traditional bond between ethnicity/race and achievement is contested by the Asian American immigrant community in the Silicon Valley. Where highly educated Asian American and immigrant families are the clear majority, the authors maintain that whiteness does not have the social cache it does in other parts of the country. Rather, in this community, whiteness widely embodies “lower-achievement, laziness, and academic mediocrity.”

Jiménez and Horowitz believe their study provides support for the notion that assimilation is a multidirectional process. Immigrant groups in the U.S. can restructure social norms not only for themselves, but also for third-plus generation Americans. In short, immigrants are influencers of the society as much as they are the influenced. Though the findings in this rather unique case study raise additional questions about the future of race relations across a diverse American landscape, they do provide an example of how even long-established norms are constantly challenged.