Some of the synonyms of assimilation seem to grant the term a softer complexion: acclimation, familiarization, and adaptation. However, the synonym conformity acknowledges my perception of the word.
Growing up, I lived in a place where there was a majority of white people. The “other” were the Mexicans: some immigrants, first generation, second generation, and so on. Therefore, many of the racism older individuals felt and instilled in their children was towards Mexicans. I remember hearing terrible names like “wet-backs” and harsh conversations about immigrants regarding the Texas-Mexico border.
My family didn’t say the worst of the things I heard, but they certainly have the angry, racist views imprinted on them by the repetition of these comments. If you look at my Facebook feed since the Presidential Campaigns began, it is a constant battle between many of my Southern Conservative friends and my new Liberal friends. What saddens me the most is that so many who repost these memes about Hillary Clinton being a liar or that immigrants are taking our jobs were never given the chance to make-up their own minds about these topics. They are raised hearing the same thing I heard. They never left Texas or changed the type of people they surrounded themselves with. They never broadened their horizons.
I never planned on moving to Chicago, Illinois. I don’t like large cities, crowds, and had never been around homeless. The transition was a rough one, and I struggled my freshman year. I ended up at Illinois Tech on a full ride scholarship. Reflecting as the wise 3rd Year that I am, I realize how much I have learned, experienced, and changed since moving here. Sure, I miss Texas and the things I love of my hometown. Nonetheless, I have found myself between the Southern raising and the Liberal move.
Assimilation would be a hot topic in my hometown. We base our town’s income on tourism to a small town “rich with the culture of German pioneers”. Therefore, when Spanish signs or foods find themselves in our grocery stores or banks, some have a tendency to proclaim this is America! We speak English here! Yet speaking German is respected and encouraged in Fredericksburg. See how the heritage of white, dominant culture is revered as American?
Should immigrants be required to assimilate? If you think so, I have to ask: how would you claim assimilation fully into America? Further, what is the definition of an American? Some of the definitions of an American: “a citizen of the United States of America, a native or inhabitant of the Western Hemisphere, an Indian of North or South America”. Interesting, isn’t it? An American could be a citizen of the U.S. Okay, well if that is all it takes, then those with citizenship have assimilated, have they not? Well, the Americas extend from North America, including Canada, to Central and South America. Are they Americans? What about the Native Americans, who did not believe in owning land, but we took it from them anyway?
Today, assimilation means fitting to the majority of the population of the United States. The white population; conforming to what they deem it takes to be an American. In different areas of the country, this means different things. In Chicago, it even means different parts of the city. There are places where you only need be a contributing member of society. There are places where you may never be considered an American based on how you look, speak, dress, or your religion.
Immigration should not be about assimilation. There are obvious things immigrants have to abide by in our laws that may not agree with parts of their culture, but immigrants should not have to mold to a majority’s definition of an American. The Melting Pot is an attempt to claim that America is an inviting, rich country of many backgrounds. When I hear melting pot, I think of many ingredients being melted down and mixed into a homogeneous mixture- that cannot be separated. I never liked this idea. I like to be identified as more than just “white”, although my family isn’t totally sure. I know my dad’s side of our family is very German, and I enjoy knowing that. I understand that a Mexican-American identifies that way for the same reasons I like knowing I am part German. If we seek to create one type of American, this country will never have opportunities to change or grow. Immigrants should not lose their heritage while trying to be American. Instead, they should be allowed to add to our country by introducing new ideas, customs, traditions, and experiences. So when the idea of a salad was introduced to me, I knew this was a better way of thinking about immigration to the United States. We should seek to create something that has individual ingredients, but come together to make something wonderful.