Transculturation is one of the processes leading to cultural change that takes place as a result of contact between societies. Transculturation occurs in individuals. It is the change that happens to an individual after adopting a new culture. This can occur with consent, such as immigration to another country, or as the result of colonial conquest and subjugation, as well as during times of war, ethnic conflict, and when couples of different races marry.
To understand how transculturation fits into the overall process of cultural change, it is helpful to distinguish it from diffusion and acculturation, two processes that also contribute to cultural change when societies have contact with each other. Oritz worked to describe the process by which a conquered person selects the aspects of the dominant culture to assume. During a speech made at the Club Atenas in Havana on December 12, 1942, Ortiz described the four phases of transculturation.
The example he uses to define the phases is the white man enslaving the black man. He clarifies that this is only one example by stating:
“These stages in inter-racial relations are not peculiarly Cuban. Sociologists have observed them in every continent. Nor are these stages peculiar to the white-master-vs.-Negro-subject relationship, for they occur among all human races as well, and in all epochs and locales-in short, wherever there is an impact of dissimilar cultures due to economic conflicts.”
Phase One – Capture by an oppressor
The white attacks and enslaves the black by force. The black may fight the oppressor, may rebel, and may try to escape or take their own life rather than succumb to enslavement. The white believe the black people are inferior. This is consistent with ethnocentrism – the belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture. The black man is conquered and treated as a subject.
Phase Two – Compromise
This phase usually happens during the first generation of individuals in the new culture. The white, or dominant culture, exploits the black, or subdominant culture. The black makes adjustments to their behavior to avoid negative consequences. If physical attraction leads to offspring, both races undergo a change of perspective based on the mixed race offspring. The black man, resigned to the loss of homeland and connection with the past ways, takes another step toward adjusting himself to the new land and new ways of life. The dominant and the subdominant are still wary of each other, but without some of the outright hostility of phase one.
Phase Three – Period of Adjustment
The third phase of transculturation occurs during the second generation of conquered people in America. The black man tries to imitate the traits of the white man. The individual’s mimicry of the white man who wields power over him creates ambivalence in how the subordinate feels towards his superiors. On the one hand he respects the power of his superiors, and on the other hand he scorns their oppression of him. The subordinate’s search for balance between respect and scorn for his superiors is a form a personal struggle.
This phase is perhaps the most difficult. The adjustment is not quite complete and new issues, such as the mixed race child, become problematic. The lighter skinned children receive preference and the darker skinned lead a “back door” existence. The dominant white tolerates the black mans whitewashing. The black man hates himself at times, but is not free enough to fight the system. He begins to accept the language and customs of his oppressor.
Phase Four – Self Assertion
Although the black man has accepted the customs and language of the new country, he is no longer ashamed of his heritage. He begins to have dignity in attaining self-respect. Inter-racial cooperation continues to increase, although there are still pockets of prejudices and continued discrimination, especially economically.
At the end of Ortiz’s speech, he alluded to a fifth phase that might occur in the future.
Phase Five – Integration
Ortiz envisioned a time when cultures could fuse and conflict would cease, giving way to a new society culturally integrated, where racial factors no longer held divisive power. This is occurring in portions of the world today. Globalization is forcing societies to learn to live in closer proximity. Transculturation is one of the personal aspects of globalization.
Transculturation occurs in a multitude of situations where cultural learning is imposed or embraced by the individual acquiring another culture and letting go of a previous culture. It can be a planned reaction of the minority to the immersion in the dominant group’s culture. There are several options the minority can choose, based on their motivation. These options include assimilation, separation, integration, and marginalization.
Today in multicultural societies, children of an immigrant family might be encouraged to embrace both the dominant as well as the ancestral culture. This inclusivity of the old and the new is what Ortiz envisioned back in 1942 when he proposed the fifth phase of transculturation – integration. He envisioned “mutual understanding as a means of achieving national integration.”