Should Existing Cultures Also Assimilate?

In yesterday’s edition, I discussed the issue of English as a requirement for an assimilated immigrant. In the previous chapter, we discussed that it is the citizens who have shown that they do not want immigrants to be required to speak English in order to assimilate. The narrative by the Anglo-Saxons is that Mexicans refuse to assimilate. It is erroneous from the onset.

The fact is that the Mexicans did not immigrate but were absorbed by Manifest Destiny. This is where we run into the problem of definition. The word “Mexicans” is routinely misused. It is used to define a culture/heritage as well as a nationality.

The Mexican culture or heritage is perpetuated, incubated and maintained by US citizens who embrace their cultural identity. As US citizens, not only do they have the freedom and the right to keep their traditions, and language intact, but they also make the laws that govern the land.

Remember how we previously looked into the inability to make English only laws? That is because, although, the narrative creates the illusion that the majority believes that English is a requirement for assimilation, the fact is, that the perceived minority does not agree. The laws of the land are made by the majority, as such, the majority does not see English as a requirement for assimilation.

What is even more important to note is that it is not the immigrant who is dictating the values of the country but rather the citizens that have every right to do so.

Accepting this we must now address the inconvenient truth, is the Anglo-Saxon culture the true dominant culture of the country?

I submit to you that it is not. Rather the narrative created by this minority gives off the impression that it is a majority, which it is not.

As discussed previously, although a movement has existed for many years to make English the official language, it has failed each time. Even forced language indoctrination has failed. Rather than Spanish disappearing, it has, instead continued to grow in the country.

This is the reality that many like to ignore. It is easy to blame the immigrants, but the reality is that they are not in the position to make the laws. They simply cannot.

The Mexican heritage continues to grow across the nation. As such, and accepting the original premise, doesn’t it make sense that Mexican immigrants are assimilating into the dominant culture? Just because it does not fit the narrative does not negate the facts.

Why Mexicans Are Already Assimilated

Now we need to address the fundamental question, should Mexican immigrants be required to assimilate in the US?

I submit to you that they are already assimilating, just not the way the vocal minority expects them to.

Before I delve into why they are assimilated, let us take a moment to discuss other groups of immigrants that many showcase as examples of the assimilated immigrant. Although it encompasses other immigrant demographics, for example, the Italians, Irish, Indians, Germans and Pakistanis, among others, the majority of those offering examples of assimilation generally point to the Asian immigrants. Therefore, let us use them as an example of immigrants that some believe properly assimilate.

Prior to the 1960’s immigration diversity was not a problem because the vast majority of immigration came from south of the border. This is true today as well. Fundamentally, it is a question of numbers. Around the 1960’s, diversification started to be noticed because the immigration dynamic started to change due to access from a larger part of the world. Transportation became easier and costs to travel decreased. In addition, the US started to look further out purposely attempting to diversify its immigrants, welcoming and encouraging other nationalities that did not traditionally immigrate.

As a result, another type of immigrant started to immigrate. Prior to creating a policy of diversified immigration, the typical immigrant was in search of economic opportunities. The Chinese and the Irish are examples of this, as well as the Mexicans. Economic immigrants are still a significant portion of the immigrants, however, there are many that immigrate for political and even cultural reasons.

Therefore, it is important to separate the economic immigrant from the other immigrants. Those immigrating for political and cultural issues do so with the intent of making the United States their home. As such, they are likely looking forward to embracing their new country’s ideals and language. This is not true for the economic immigrants. Like the Chinese that built the railroads, economic immigrants, today, are basically contact workers coming to work.

A 2013 Pew study showed that the immigrants that come from another country, besides Mexico, or Latin America, were twice as more likely to become a US citizen, unlike the Mexicans, for example. There are many reasons for this but in essence it has to do with the economic aspect of it. Economic immigrants are not looking to abandon their cultural identity and assume another one. They are looking at immigration as a temporary stay, not a permanent one. This is especially true for the Mexican immigrant that is close to their country at any given moment.

Notwithstanding this, language is central to the examples of other immigrants. Assimilation is more of the result of the need to communicate then it is about making the dominant culture comfortable. Spanish speakers have much greater access to others that speak their language, then Asians, for example. As Spanish speakers enter the US, they have a much better opportunity to find others speaking their language with a strong historical presence in the United States, then those from Asian countries. It is basically a case of numbers and proximity to their countries of origin.

Spanish is the dominant language south of the US border and it has a strong historical presence in the US. English and French are the dominant languages on the north, but with a much smaller population. Asians, on the other hand, and other European and Middle Eastern immigrants, must traverse a large expanse in order to arrive. Because of this, their numbers are much smaller than their Latin American counterparts.

Unlikely to find a significant support base of similar language speakers, they must adopt by adopting the common language – English. However, the phenomena of being successful by adopting English in the United States is quickly disproven by visiting certain communities where English is not the common language. Although much smaller, these communities dispel the notion that Asians are assimilating out of respect for the wishes of the majority, but rather they adopt English out of necessity when required to. For example, there is a small Asian presence in El Paso that is much more comfortable in Spanish then they are in English. This is because they need Spanish to communicate with their clients.

Therefore, the empirical evidence demonstrates that Asians, for the most part, adopt the English language out of necessity rather than because of a quest to assimilate.

One likely question that some readers may have is that some may believe that I am an assimilated immigrant. I am an immigrant legally in the country, but although eligible to become a US citizen, I have chosen not to do so. Through the years, I have experienced the shocked reaction of many friends and colleagues when they first realize that I am a Mexican citizen. It is not that I hide my nationality nor that I do not speak Spanish in front of people, although some assumed that I was monolingual in English before hearing me speak Spanish.

It has more to do with me not waiving around a Mexican flag in every encounter that I have, and not that I hide it. Almost everyone that has ever dealt with me personally will likely tell you that I am an assimilated immigrant. Some would have argued that I was US born and raised until they found out otherwise. Obviously, I write in English.

So what does that say about me, an assimilated immigrant?

Therein lies the fallacy of an assimilated immigrant. I am equally comfortable in English as I am in Spanish. I am as comfortable eating Menudo as I am eating Apple Pie. I love both. But, I am also very adept at eating Sushi, as well, yet that does not make me an assimilated Japanese. I am sometimes surrounded by individuals that believe immigrants are destroying the United States and yet they assume I am one of them. Clearly, I do not look like an immigrant to them.

As comfortable as I am in their midst, there have been times that in places, like Segundo Barrio, in El Paso, one or two people have looked at me with apprehension and outright hostility because I did not fit their typical mold of the Mexican-American they expect people in their midst to be. One Mexican-American woman, that I was dating at the time, told me that my Spanish was “rude” and “obnoxious”. It wasn’t because I was making fun of Spanglish or correcting someone, but rather because my Spanish seemed elitist to her. In other words, I had not assimilated into her culture in the United States.

One Anglo-Saxon woman, that I had been dating on and off for some time, was literally shocked when we crossed the border and I produced my Mexican passport in order to be allowed in. To this day I cannot forget the look of incredulity in her face. It wasn’t like I was hiding who I was or pretending to be what I was not. I never even considered that she did not know since I was constantly traveling back and forth between Mexico and the US. She just assumed, like many El Pasoans, that I had a reason to travel back and forth between both countries. That I spoke Spanish was something that she admired about me, but, apparently, she never thought about my citizenship.

In other words, to her, I was just one of the hundreds of thousands of other Mexican-Americans in her midst. For her, I was Mexican, but not the kind of Mexican that required a passport to visit with her. Therein lies the crux to whole debate – are Mexican immigrants assimilating or are they refusing to.

Furthermore, am, I, an assimilated immigrant or not?

I argue that I am not, although I speak and dress the part.

I adopt to the situation, like all humans do. I do it for selfish reasons, whether it is for business opportunities, for friendships or basically just to go about my business without the drama of being from Mexico. Another way to look at this is from the perspective that I respect the traditions of those that I am around at that moment. I stand for the US national anthem out of respect, but I do not put my hand on my heart nor do I sing the anthem. I defend Mexico and its traditions when I feel it is appropriate, but I do not walk into a bar looking to tell everyone what Lee Greenwood’s song, “God Bless the U.S.A.”, really means. As a matter of fact, I like the song and I actually know many of the lyrics.

Nonetheless, all of those are selfish reasons, however you look at them. We are all selfish in one way or another. As such, wouldn’t it be reasonable to accept that immigrants assimilate for the sake of selfishness?

I believe that they do. They assimilate into what they believe is advantageous to their individual needs at that moment. If speaking Spanish allows them to live their lives, then that is what they do. If becoming multilingual allows them to reach their goals, then they do that. We all do that.

Whatever their life goals are, they will assimilate to attain them, not because assimilation is required of them, but because that is what it will take them to get what they want. For some, that may not be enough, because it does not fit their perception of assimilation. In other words, they don’t look like them.

That leads us to the most important question, should assimilation be an obligation for immigrants?

For the answer to this we go back to the fundamental reality that is the United States, a predominant culture that has created significant pockets of Mexicanism within its midst. It may not be the ideal and it may not be what some individuals want, but it is the reality. This truth demonstrates to us that Mexican immigrants are assimilating, just not in the ideological or linguistics that the vocal minority expects from them.

I created a whitepaper version of the essay for those that want the complete set in one PDF. It can be downloaded by visiting this link.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

4 replies on “The Fallacy That Immigrants Should Assimilate – Should Existing Cultures Also Assimilate?”

  1. Interesting thoughts. Economics has a lot to do with what we all do. I think that proximity to Mexico encourages Mexican immigrants to maintain emotional ties with Mexico. Early 20th century immigrants from Ireland, Italy, etc were not close to their homelands so when they came here they made a mental break with their countries of origin. You mention the Spanish-speaking inhabitants of the Southwest before that area became part of the U.S. I’ve known several people whose ancestors owned land in New Mexico territory, which was New Spain before that. They all say their ancestors are Spanish, not Mexican.

  2. 19th and early 20th century immigrants came to stay but usually settled in areas where they already knew someone. Often large numbers from a village would settle in one spot. Sometimes they disagreed with prevailing opinions. An example is German communities in Texas that opposed Texas secession from the Union before the Civil War. But they didn’t wave the flags of their country of origin, nor did they protest against and bad mouth their adopted country.

  3. No matter if you are here legally. The animosity Mexicans face in the USA, the reason Trump gets such a receptive audience, is because there are millions of Mexicans here illegally.

  4. Singapore has a permanent resident immigration class for economic immigrants who come to work but don’t want to become citizens. They can convert to the citizenship track if circumstances change. But it clearly establishes who is pursuing citizenship and who is simply there for purely economic reasons. This essay is enlightening because the one thing it omits is patriotism or the willingness to sacrifice for love of country. Our failure to distinguish via immigration status between purely economic immigrants and those who truly want to embrace the values of our country, means our ranks of “convenient” citizens are growing. It is sad. When we overhaul our broken immigration system I hope we do create a permanent resident class that is large enough that economic immigrants can opt for that status instead of clogging up the green card line. I also hope we end birthright citizenship for people not documented to legally reside in the US and limit the ability of immigrants to become citizens and transit back to their home countries and convert that to dual citizenship. In short, we need to make it easier for folks who are “all in” to become citizens and for folks who simply want to work here to be here without having to pretend they want to be citizens. Our country is not made stronger by folks who see a US passport as no more than a convenient way to cut red tape. And Martin I do respect the fact that you haven’t pursued citizenship given your loyalty to Mexico. You are correct in prior statements that the oath of citizenship is more than “just words.”

Comments are closed.