A major part of our identity is shaped by how culture shapes lives. Growing up we learn about cultura through our family and incorporate them into our own identity; our cultura brings us orgullo. People learn about the amazing and vibrant multicultural aspects of the country, whether it is through daily interaction or media exposure. One topic connected with culture is assimilation.
What is Assimilation?
In 2004, the Pew Hispanic Center found assimilation is “now broadly accepted as a way to describe the ways that immigrants and their off spring change as they come in contact with their host society.”
While mamá y papá may seem traditional and old school, assimilation is used to describe the changes the second, third, etc. generation Hispanics experience when we start to re-think nuestra cultura.
On the topic of assimilation and different generations, Kayleig Wade, a Chicano Studies major at Santa Monica College, says ”I am pretty assimilated, my sister is pretty assimilated, and that sucks. I wish [my mom] didn’t have to do that to feel that she’s successful in this country. Our generation’s parents’ decision to assimilate is affecting our generation in more negative ways they intended to.”
Kayleigh shares her mother’s experience with assimilation and how it has caused her to seek out and learn about her roots.
“[My mother] hates the fact that she still has an accent. She [says] ‘I don’t feel like I am taken seriously.’ She goes through a lot. She has a huge internal conflict because of the whole assimilation thing, because she’s here–she’s a successful teacher, she has a white name, she looks white,” Kayleigh says about her mother. “I don’t wanna be like that at all. I don’t wanna feel like they do,” she says.
What happens when our cultura is shunned and turns into negative stereotypes? Some tension and confusion may arise if people from different cultures are unable to understand each other. Think about a situation that includes people from two different cultural groups. People from the first group may only see people from the second group through the narrow lens of a stereotype or a set of stereotypes.
Effects of Stereotypes
This causes another confusing conflict, one that consists of a person carefully trying not to fit the definition of the negative stereotype. Claude Steele, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, states that “to remedy the situation, you cannot have homogeneity*; you must have diversity to create excellence.” Discrimination happens when people are labeled as the “Other.”
In some cases, the younger generation becomes self-conscious of the stereotypes assigned to their culture through the process of assimilation.
Natalia Toscano, saw a clear connection between a quote from the Zapatista movement and cultural dilemmas.
“‘Vivir en mundo donde quepan muchos mundos.’ One world in which many worlds fit–that’s what we should strive for. We’re all the same, yet we are all different. As individuals, we have our experiences that shape and mold us. Multiple cultures make up someone. That’s why I have a hard time figuring out what assimilation is. I think that’s why we have a hard time defining what [assimilation] is because what is it really? What culture are we really assimilating to? Is it that we are assimilating because we are not accepting a culture that we are supposed to be coming from? Is it because of skin color? My skin color is supposed to define [how] I’m supposed to act or how I should act and what I should believe in?”
Americans can learn to live in a positive and healthy environment that fosters equality and a complex national identity. As intelligent beings, we do not have to put aside our differences and instead celebrate the vibrant culturas that are present in the U.S. We are unique human beings and our identities cannot be completely reshaped to fit a one-size fits all perspective.
*Homogeneity: Sameness throughout, and therefore lacking variety.