Can Hot Dogs Make You More American? Thoughts on Assimilation

26 Mar

The immigrants in this country are not a very assimilated group. They stick out at first glance, with their differently colored skin, distinctive height, and other such physical features. I guess it’s not polite to talk about the physical things they can’t change, though.

It doesn’t stop there, however. Half of them don’t even seem to try to speak the language. Even the ones that do try to learn often speak it incorrectly, or with an accent that makes it difficult to understand. They tend to cluster together, too, living in the same few areas of town. They frequent businesses owned by other foreigners, speaking their foreign languages, eating their foreign foods, buying their imported items. It’s preventing them from becoming patriotic, assimilated citizens.

Many of these foreigners don’t have their immigration paperwork in order, either. Some of them come in and out of the country every few months on tourists visas, even though they’re living here, sometimes working under the table, and that is breaking the law! Sure, some of these people have married citizens or have children who are citizens, but who’s to say that they’re not just using that as a way to get their papers?

Worse than that, right here in this city, these foreigners are taking the best national resources for themselves. The areas of town where they crowd together are nice areas, where some good, legal citizen could be living instead. Many of them have high-paying jobs, which, once again, could be going to citizens. Many of them aren’t even contributing properly to the economy and paying taxes; instead they are doing work online or running some overseas business, thus bypassing the local economy.

There is no uproar here about this immigration problem, however, because this is Mexico, and these immigrants are white. Because racism is alive and well all over the globe in different forms, and yet it is never discrimination against white people, even when they are the minority, even when they do the exact same things that black and brown people suffer for.

So I walk around unsanctioned, speaking only English to my children, trusting that they will learn Spanish sufficiently in school and in society at large. When people do comment about it, they are curious or encouraging, not aggressive and hateful. I speak Spanish pretty well, but even after more than a decade of practice, I make mistakes. I go to work at a decent-paying job, where my job is held exclusively for foreigners. Nobody questions my right to be there. When I first moved here, I came on a tourist visa, because I hadn’t yet been able to figure out how to get a visa to live here, until months after I’d moved here. And when I did finally go to the right authorities for my immigration paperwork, they were incredibly helpful, and I was entitled to a lot of things just by virtue of having a child with Mexican citizenship. (Plus the immigration officials here are so nice they are saint-like, which is not the typical experience in my country). Being a white immigrant here is a similar story to what white people in rich nations decry: not assimilating. Except nobody is denouncing the white immigrants here, or anywhere else.

(For example, this article points out that there are an estimated 50,000 Irish immigrants in the US who don’t have their paperwork in order, and yet they’re not being targeted for deportation. More evidence that the real goal is to make the country whiter.)

 

salsa

Are you an assimilated immigrant in Mexico when you know how to make good salsa? Are you assimilated in the US when you can grill hot dogs? Who gets to define this stuff, anyway?

So you can imagine my dismay when I was reading about a bill being proposed in the US to limit the number of legal immigrants coming into the US. Of course this might have personal repercussions for my family, potential reducing the chances of my husband getting a visa. Beyond being worried about that, though, I was struck dumb when I read one explanation of the reasoning behind it:

“In the House of Representatives, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, expects to propose a companion bill to reduce immigration. He is concerned about immigrant enclaves growing in metropolitan areas.  ‘When you have so many immigrants being admitted, they tend to cluster together, they tend to maybe be a bit more slow in learning the English language, to becoming acculturated, to becoming patriotic Americans,’ Smith says.” (from this article from National Public Radio)

First I was pissed because he should have said “be slower” and not “more slow” (or said learn more slowly, if that’s how he wanted to say it). If you’re going to talk smack about other people learning your language, then you better have perfect grammar and diction yourself, fool. Secondly, I bet you a million dollars he has not learned any other languages and has no clue what it takes. (Plus many immigrants already speak English, too, but obviously these “representatives” of ours do not give a damn about facts.)

So, okay, maybe I’m being petty about the language thing. What about the whole humanity aspect? Let’s say I’m not overreacting. Let’s say it’s just exactly what he says. Let’s pretend he’s even worried about immigrants’ well-being. He wants them to speak the national language so they have equal access to all that the US has to offer. How is limiting the number of immigrants coming into the country going to help people learn English and culturally adapt? Is the reasoning that if they feel more isolated and set apart, they will become more patriotic? I know; perhaps the theory is that they will be forced to learn English faster if they don’t know anybody who speaks their language. So does that mean that we will also be putting caps on how many immigrants who speak the same language can be in one city, just to make sure they don’t meet up and speak their language too much? Should we limit how many immigrants are in one neighborhood? Bar foreign languages from the street? Is that where he’s heading with this? Because limiting the number of new legal immigrants to the country, especially when you’re preventing people’s husbands, wives, children, and mothers from coming in, is not going to teach people better English.

If the goal were actually to help new immigrants speak English and be a more integral, connected part of US society, there are ways to go about that. (Why, why, why does my country not use any of the research about ANYTHING?!?! Why do we even have research, people?) For example, my favorite librarian holds English practice exchanges, where English speakers (citizens, immigrants who are fluent, etc.) pair up with English language learners for conversation and camaraderie every week. I suspect that helps people learn English and feel like they’re part of our fabulous community much more than potentially denying entry to people’s family members- because, sorry, we’ve reached our limit for this year. Let’s be honest. Legislative actions like these are not about helping immigrants, or about keeping us safe. It’s not about having a more unified-yet-non-homogenous country. It’s about having a more homogenous, whiter country. It’s about keeping out more of the “different” people.

Not only is his opinion full of hypocrisy and racism, but it also reflects an utter lack of empathy. I suspect he is as clueless about being uprooted (willingly or not) as he is about language learning.

He obviously doesn’t fathom what it’s like to long for pieces of home. To need to express something that’s deep in your spirit, and not have the right words in your adopted language. To feel your heart soar with a certain song and not have anyone to share it with. To crave certain fruits or certain dishes so desperately that nothing you eat tastes good for weeks on end.

He doesn’t understand anything about needing someone to recognize you. How there are completely trivial things that become crucial, because the need for recognition, understanding, and acceptance is essential. For me, this translates into things like wishing that someday I could just go out and purchase biscuits and gravy, instead of taking all the time to make it myself. It means that every winter I cry at some point because I might never eat my mama’s chili on a cold night again. It means that even if there’s karaoke in English, no one will understand the irony in my song choice. (Nevermind that I only used to do karaoke like once a year.) It means there’s no place to publicly dance in my style, to my kind of music. It means that I would kill for a group of people to play spades with. (Nevermind that it’s just a card game. This is life! This is me!) I’ll even admit that now I have even watched the Kentucky Derby, out of sheer nostalgia, although I never cared when I was there and I’m even a bit ethically opposed to horse racing. (Don’t worry, though, I don’t want to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken or anything else that absurdly unlike me. I want home comforts and a context for my identity, not cheap grease with my state’s name on it.)

When you live far away from where you became you, there are certain things that you need to be your security blanket. You’re putting down your roots somewhere else, and the sun will still shine to nourish you, but even plants grow better in good company. Anybody who’s ever been outside of their comfort zone knows that your soul needs bits and pieces from home to keep yourself in perspective when you’re in a different context. This is my truth, and this is the reason that all immigrants need some quality time with folks from their country- and preferably folks from their region, and even better if it’s family. Everyone needs recognition, even (especially) immigrants and refugees.

So let’s not use immigrant communities and languages as an excuse to further a white surpremist agenda, please and thank you. Let’s call out racism for what it is, and instead work to build bridges between our cultures and languages. If you’re in Louisville, Kentucky, you can even pop on down to the library to share and get to know your community better. And if you are in Puerto Escondido and you know how to play spades (or want to learn), please come find me!

 

P.S . Please note I am not against folks who travel or live somewhere and don’t know the language or don’t otherwise “assimilate.” Everyone has their own reasons and their own process.I am not against white people in my adopted city, either, obviously, although I am very against hypocrisy and racism. I am not saying the description above fits all foreigners in this area (just like there is no uniform immigrant experience in the US), but it truly is the case here that white folks are doing the exact same things that black and brown immigrants do in other places, but in the US and elsewhere they get not just criticized, but also threatened, beaten, deported, and killed over it. Reverse racism does not exist!

2 Responses to “Can Hot Dogs Make You More American? Thoughts on Assimilation”

  1. Peg March 26, 2017 at 6:13 pm #

    Been apologizing for Trump since I arrived in Tulum. And, apprpos the title here, I just ate roasted hot dog boitanos (snacks, I may have spelling wrong)… at a locals bar after the beach today.
    I am so tired of the US and it’s smug NIMBY shit.
    We ac only work hard to kick them out in midterms👢

    • exiletomexico March 27, 2017 at 8:16 am #

      Hope you’re enjoying your trip!
      I find that lots of folks here are very understanding, because most people can’t stand Peña Nieto and didn’t vote for him.
      Take care! Enjoy!

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