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Final project!
May 23, 2012, 7:34 pm
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Introduction:
to Assimilate or not to Assimilate

Assimilation to the U.S. mainstream has been something that every immigrant has had to go  through at one point in their lives, and there are still some people that go through this even after years of coming to the United States. Every immigrant that comes here has many ideas of what they think the American dream is.  Some
people said that the American Dream was working your way up from the
bottom and at the top there is a house and family and others said that it
starts from not having anything, working hard and later on achieving what you
want. Well my idea of the American Dream is sort of like theirs but I think
it’s more than that, for many immigrants in my opinion and from what I have
seen come here with nothing and being nobody (undocumented) in this country.
Their dream is to be an “American” meaning being a somebody in this
country (documented), and later on acquiring the rest, house, family, and just
moving forward from their past.

In the process of achieving the American Dream an immigrant specifically Latino
immigrants also needs to find a way to assimilate well enough to fit in to the
U.S. mainstream. Having a house and being able to provide for your family is a
great way to begin the process but then you have to make sure you learn the
language and the culture in which you live in. This might be hard for any
Latino immigrant to accomplish because having to put aside their language and
customs to learn a new one is difficult. For some of the older Latino
immigrants’ assimilation might be very difficult because it is not as simple to
learn something new especially a new language let alone the culture since they
have been use to one thing for so long. Younger immigrants especially those
that are here at a young age won’t have so much difficulty because they are
still young enough to mold. In this article I will demonstrate the struggles
that Latino immigrants encounter when learning how to assimilate into the U.S.
Mainstream.

What
is assimilation?

In class we talked about why assimilation to the U.S. mainstream could be a good
or bad thing and some people in class said it was a good thing because it’s
positive to learn new country’s language and culture. Some people argued that
it was a bad thing because it can cause divisions within families like parents
and children because parents might speak one language and kids speak another. I
personally think that it is a good thing; people can learn a lot about the
different culture and also the different languages. On the other hand I think
it’s a bad thing because some people loose themselves. People have many ideas
of what assimilation might be and in the article Migration and Spatial Assimilation Among U.S. Latinos: Classical Versus
Segmented Trajectories by Scott J. South, Kyle Crowder, and Erick Chavez
they give us as idea of what assimilation means. They state:

 Theclassical sociological model of assimilation essentially describes a process
through which members of an ethnic or racial minority group adopt the
attitudes, cultural traits, and ways of life of a dominant majority group (498).

From this definition we can first
see that a lot of people have the same idea of assimilation as they do.
Assimilation for any immigrant means that they will have to adapt to the
culture that surrounds them in order to be able to blend in and belong. This
might mean temporarily putting aside what they believe in order to “adopt” this
new way of living.

 

Latino
and Latina’s identifying with the American mainstream

Assimilation to the U.S. mainstream definitely has positive and
negative aspects to it. During a class discussion we pointed out these pros and
cons, and to my surprise a lot of debate came from this. One positive view to
this comes from the opportunity that an immigrant has to learn a new country’s
language and culture which later on expands ones education and knowledge. Some
argued in contrary to this because it can cause divisions within families like
parents and children. Parents might speak one language and kids speak another
which can cause a hard time communicating. In an article written by Tanya
Golash-Boza she talks about the different paths of assimilation and according
to her one of the influences in trying to assimilate has to do with the society
that you live in and the culture that surrounds you.

As mentionedearlier, Rumbaut and Portes (2001) specify three paths of assimilation.
However, these three paths do not account for the experience of all Hispanics.
The first path is assimilation into the dominant culture. This can be
interpreted as becoming white because it implies becoming an unhyphenated
America, and the unqualified term. American assumes whiteness (Tuan 2000). I
would suggest that this is an exaggeration and that some Latinos/as can and do
become (or remain) white in the United States, but that these are not the
majority of cases. At any rate, it is likely that those Hispanics who are
categorized as non-white will not be able to assimilate un-noticed into
mainstream American culture (32).

Tanya Golash-Boza makes an excellent point when she talks about the “first path” in
assimilation because when you really think about the journey towards becoming
more “Americanized” you go through this first. She also says that we assimilate
to the “dominant culture” which means that like a lizard we try to blend in to
whatever culture that surrounded us. Golash- Boza makes an excellent point at
the end when she says that Latinos and Latinas may do a good job with
assimilation but it doesn’t mean that they will “remain white in the United
states” and if they do it doesn’t mean that they will get accepted into the
dominant American culture. Going back to what she says about assimilation to
the “dominant cultures”, she says that not always does an immigrant “assimilate
into the majority culture and become white Americans” (29), but that in some
cases they “assimilate into minority culture and become black Americans” (29).
Assimilation has a lot to do with the culture that surrounds one, and yes the
dominant White American culture takes first place but a lot of times depending
on where you reside you won’t need to assimilate to any culture and keep your
own identity. A good example of this not having to assimilate happens right in
front of our eyes like instance Main Street Flushing, here we see a dominant
Asian culture, and not even Asian-American because the majority of people that
reside there don’t even know English and they don’t bother learning it because
they don’t have to. When you walk around that area it feels like you just
traveled to the other side of the world when you see the signs in Chinese,
Korean, etc. so they basically have no need to learn English. Everything
conveniently helps them in feeling right at home although they now live in the
United States, in this case making them very lucky to have a home away from
home and feeling comfortable in it.

What happens when you try so hard to fit in
and at the end of the day still fail at your attempt? Tanya Golash-Boza looks
into the subject of assimilation in a whole other approach from what I saw it
as. She proceeds to say that Hispanics still hold the label of “foreigner” even
after assimilating to white American Culture and feel discourage to even try to
assimilate. At the end of the day, they will always remain an immigrant or a
“foreigner” in the eyes of the white American society. I agree with this
because it can in fact discourage a Latino to try for something so hard and at
the end still remain viewed as what you try so hard to stray away from. This
makes their goal of assimilating to a “white American” become more difficult
than it should. Golash-Boza mentions this when she talks about the path of
assiminlation:

The second path of assimilation is downward assimilation into
minority oppositional culture. […] While it is undeniable that
African-Americans are also hyphenated Americans, people in the United States do
not assume that blacks are foreigners, as they do for Hispanics. The critical
difference here, and the difference that is most relevant for the arguments
presented in this paper, is that regardless of actual citizenship status, black
Americans are assumed to be U.S. citizens, while Hispanic Americans are often
assumed to be foreigner, […](32).

Tanya Golash-Boza makes another excellent
observation when she talks about the second path of assimilation. For an
African-American to fit into the mainstream American the struggle seems minimal
because no one questions them about where they come from. It is easier to point
out a Latino or Latina because of their features and assume that they are from
out of the country. Until now I never noticed this before and I see what she is
talking about, being from the Bronx I see a lot of Puerto Rican natives and a
lot of African-Americans but I never sat there and said oh he is a native from
Africa or Haiti, I never gave them a label of being from another country unless
I spoke to them and heard their accent. This is all hard to stomach in a way
because Hispanics have to go through a lot in order to reach the level of
assimilation that they want to. We have to deal with the label that we
sometimes get by our own “kind” when it comes to social class and skin color
which to them might seem negative when talking about social status in ones
country of origin but when looking at it from an assimilating point of view
some things might help. By this I mean that a lot of Hispanics have different
features, for instance one might look darker than the other and this may help
them in trying to fit in better to mainstream America because of this notion
that “black Americans are assumed to be U.S. citizens” more unquestionable than
a Latino or Latina person. I appreciate this article a lot because it helped me
see more and open my eyes. As a Latina-American born and raised in New York, I
never thought that maybe someone out there might see me as a “foreigner” or
immigrant.

Assimilation to U.S mainstream from the point of view of a
child

Richard Rodriguez autobiography “Hunger of Memory: Aria” closely relates
to what Tanya Golash-Boza
saying is her article when talking about the second path in assimilation. In
Richard Rodriguez autobiography about growing up we learn that he is of Mexican
descent and he had a lot of trouble growing up and trying to identify with what
he knew at home to what he would have to deal with in the outside world.
Richard had a hard time being able to adjust to his surrounding especially
because he lived in what Tanya Golash-Boza would call a “white American”
society, and was not fluent with the English language so automatically felt
like an outsider. This was something that made Richard feel uncomfortable when
he had to face the outside world, and he speaks to us about this experience in
his story.

I’d rarely leave home all alone or without reluctance. Walking down the sidewalk, under the
canopy of tall trees, I’d warily notice the –suddenly—silent neighborhood kids
who stood warily watching me. Nervously, I’d arrive at the grocery store to
hear there the sounds of the gringo—foreign
– reminding me that in this world so big, I was a foreigner. But then I’d
return. Walking back toward our house, climbing the steps from the sidewalk,
when the front door was open in the summer, I’d hear voices beyond the screen
door talking in Spanish. For a second or two, I’d stay, linger there,
listening. Smiling, I’d hear my mother call out, saying in Spanish (words): ‘Is
that you Richard?’ All the while her sounds would assure me: You are home now; come closer; inside. With
us (1579).

Here we can see first-hand what Tanya Golash-Boza said in her article that for some non-white
Americans it can be easier to assimilate but “Hispanic Americans are often
assumed to be foreigner” making it difficult for them to blend in. Richard felt
that outside his home he was seen as a “foreigner” because he didn’t know
English and he didn’t look like the “gringos” that lived in his community.
Richard didn’t feel comfortable leaving his home where everything was familiar
and warm to him, and go outside and wonder what people are saying and thinking
about him. It must have been very hard for him growing up not being able to
express himself the way he wanted to until he was home. Tanya Golash-Boza also
mentions in her article that a lot of times when Hispanics don’t assimilate
they give up in fitting in to U.S. mainstream, which is what Richard is doing
by not wanting to go out and get out of his shell. I think it is funny that he
says “I’d arrive at the grocery store to hear there the sounds of the gringo—foreign – reminding me that in
this world so big, I was a foreigner” because just like he thinks he is being
seen as a foreigner he is also looking at the “gringo” the same way, so I think
he could have used that to somehow feel better that he isn’t the only one being
seen like that, although the “foreigner” is a part of the larger population.
Richard also mentions that looking back on his childhood he is now more
embarrassed to feel the way he felt back then because it was something so small
compared to what was going on in the bigger picture.

Tanya Golash-Boza states a lot of times even though you assimilate to the best of
your ability you’ll still be seen as a foreigner by the “white American”
society. It might make some re-evaluate what matters most to some people, and
come up with a plan to exercise both cultures and ideologies. Richard and his
siblings has a hard time doing this after they became comfortable with their
new found “Americanized” size and this reflected on their relationship at home
and their parents. It’s always hard to balance having two identities and I
think it’s especially hard when you are young with no one to help you out with
the transition. Richard and his parents started to grow apart once he started
to embrace his white American side and communication was lost between them. No
longer did Richard find the same comfort in his home and in his parents as he
did not so long ago.

Matching the silence I started hearing in public was a new quiet at home. The family’s quiet
was partly due to the fact that, as we children learned more and more English,
we shared fewer and fewer words with our parents. Sentences needed to be spoken
slowly when a child addressed his mother or father. (Often the parent wouldn’t
understand.) The child would need to repeat himself. (Still the parent
misunderstood.) The young voice, frustrated would end up saying, ‘never
mind’—the subject was closed (1582).

This is one of the cons from the discussion we had in class. Students said that
because of assimilation and learning a new language, things would get out of
hand between children and parents, and no longer will parents we respected. In Tanya Golash-Boza article she mentions that “[she] would suggest that this is an exaggeration and that some Latinos/as can and do
become (or remain) white in the United States”, and by what is going on with
Richard and his family I agree with her 100%. It took Richard a long time to
realize that yes he was of Mexican descent but he is an American citizen. He
might off the bat felt like he was white in the United States but when he
started getting older he started to embrace it. For him becoming “American”
meant that no longer was the outside world something alien to him and he no
longer felt like being home was a safe haven for him, he actually now felt like
home was not what it used to be after he embraced his American side. I think
that becoming “American” to some might mean changing who they are completely
and not a lot of people understand that you can assimilate into the U.S.
mainstream without giving up their upbringing.

 

Assimilation
and the English language

         There are many processes when assimilating to mainstream American and one of the most
important ones as mentioned before was being able to speak the dominant
language which is English. Scott J. South, Kyle Crowder, and Erick Chavez wrote
the article Migration and Spatial Assimilation Among U.S. Latinos: Classical Versus Segmented Trajectories where
they speak about the process and steps of assimilation. From their research
they concluded that in order to assimilate into the American mainstream you
must adapt to your surroundings and in doing so one of the most important
processes is learning the language of the dominant society. Scott J.
South, Kyle Crowder, and Erick Chavez’s article explains that:

 

Fluency in English ostensibly enables Latinos to take full advantage of the amenities
and resources that are available in predominantly Anglo neighborhoods and may
also reduce discriminatory barriers to their entry into such communities.
Conversely, a limited ability to speak the language of the dominant group
likely relegates members of an ethnic minority to the residential enclave composed
of co-ethnics, where everyday exchanges can be carried out in their native
tongue. Accordingly, we hypothesized that English-language proficiency is
positively associated with the proportion of the population that is Anglo in
Latino movers’ neighborhood of destination (499).

 

In this article they explain to us why it is important for immigrants to learn
English. They mention that “fluency in English ostensibly enables Latinos to
take full advantage of the amenities and resources”, this is true because a lot
of the hospitals and government agencies mostly offer services in English
although they now have translators because of the high demand of them. With my
experience working for the court system it is a lot harder to get things done
when you don’t speak English. The process that can take about 5 minutes to an
English speaking person takes a non-English speaking person 3 times longer
because a lot of times there isn’t a translator around. Scott J. South, Kyle
Crowder, and Erick Chavez also say that because a lot of times because these
immigrants do not speak the language they incline to move to a neighborhood
where they can live around other people from their ethnic background and so
that they don’t have to struggle to do their everyday routine. Overall they
believe that at the end of the day if Latinos move where the dominant language
is English they’ll be able to learn the language quicker. I think that this is
true because they are forced to learn the language and even with their children
it would be a positive experience when they go to school because they can learn
the language.

 

Overcoming
the struggles with Assimilation

Julia Alvarez’s narrative from “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent: Daughter of
invention” was a very touching story about how her family had to come from the
Dominican Republic in exile because of some political issues that their father
was having. While living in the Dominican Republic they did go to an American
school, but that was all different when they came to New York. They would constantly
get picked on at school being the new comers and having an accent when speaking
English. The Garcia sister and their family ever wanted was to fit into their
surroundings. Although they knew some English it was still a bit of a struggle
for them but that didn’t stop them. I thought it was interesting when the
mother was arguing with her daughter and she says:

“The problem with you girls…” The problem
boiled down to the fact that they wanted to become Americans and their father—and
their mother, too, at first—would have none of it.[…] She spoke in English when
she argued with them. And her English was a mishmash of mixed up idioms and
sayings that showed she was “green behind the ears”, as she called it. If her
husband insisted she speak in Spanish to the girls so they wouldn’t forget
their native tongue, she’d snap, “When in Rome, do unto the Romans.”(1740).

Like Scott J. South, Kyle Crowder, and Erick Chavez’s article says English is a very
big part in assimilating is “fluency in English” and in this quote we see that
the mother is trying very hard to be able to communicate in English. Her
husband thinks that she should be talking to them in Spanish so that they don’t
forget where they are from and she simply replies with saying “When in Rome, do
unto the Romans”, basically that they have to adapt to their surroundings and
so what the dominant culture would do if put in that situation. Although her
mother had a hard time speaking English and would mix things up she didn’t care.
This was another point Scott J. South, Kyle Crowder, and Erick Chavez made in
their article “we hypothesized that English-language proficiency is positively
associated with the proportion of the population that is Anglo in Latino
movers’ neighborhood of destination”, their mother is adapting accordingly to
her surroundings and in doing so she is making her family do the same as well.

Conclusion

            Assimilation will forever be a part of an immigrants experience and there is no way around
it. Scott J. South, Kyle Crowder, and Erick Chavez and Tanya Golash-Boza both
had similar ideas in their article that all basically narrowed down to being
able to adapt to your surroundings so that you could be able to fit into mainstream
America. We also learned that during the processes one of the most important things
to do is to learn English. Once one learns English a lot of opportunities will
open up that will lead them to achieve the American Dream. We learned that
assimilation is a hard process because growing up raised believing one thing
and then growing up and moving to have to change those things you learned when
you were younger isn’t easy. That is why both articles say that a lot of times
people give up on assimilation and settle in some place where they don’t have
to, and live their lives in a little bubble.

Both Julia Alvarez and Richard Rodriquez had to learn this the hard way coming from
a family where the household language was Spanish and growing up wasn’t easy
for them. Both their parents wanted the best for them here in the United States
and we saw that in Richard Rodriquez autobiography when he told us that his
parents chose to move to a neighborhood surrounded by “gringos” instead of
going to the other side of town which was full of Latinos. They even tried to
speak English knowing that they might have not been saying the things the right
way but were getting the point across. With Julia Alvarez’s narrative it wasn’t
really their choice to come to the United States but they did and their parents
tried to make the best of it, especially their mother when talking to them in
English and trying to make the best of any and every situation they were in. In
conclusion we can see that as long as you are in it all the way, there is
nothing that can stop you from becoming an American.

 

Work Cited

Golash-Boza, Tanya. “Dropping the Hyphen? Becoming
Latino(a)-American through Racialized Assimilation.” University of North
Carolina Press
85.1 (2006): 27-55. Web. 30 April 2012.
<http://www.jstor.org/stable/3844404>.

Muir, Chris. “Assimilation Problem.” Web log post. Blogspot. Web. 09
May 2012. <http://blogizdat.blogspot.com/2006_04_01_archive.html>.

Rodriguez, Richard. “From Hunger of Memory: The
Education of Richard Rodriguez
.” 1982. The Norton Anthology of Latino
Literature
. Eds. Ilan Stavans, et al. New York: W. W. Norton and Company,
2011. 1575-1591. Print.

South, Scott J., Kyle Crowder, and Erick Chavez. “Migration and Spatial Assimilation Among
U.S. Latinos: Classical Versus Segmented Trajectories.” Demography
3rd ser. 43 (2005): 497-521. JSTOR. Web. 10 May 2012.

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