Why I don’t want to assimilate

Today I was at the airport, placing an order at Einstein Bros Bagels. The gentlemen that tended to me appeared to be of East Asian descent. They had dark skin, spoke broken English, and spoke to each other in their native tongue. As they spoke to each other I listened in amazement. For a moment, I imagined myself walking through the streets of India. I imagined hearing sounds of people talking, music playing, and people dancing. For a moment, I experienced a visualized vacation to another continent. Breathing in the beauty of their nationality and culture, I told them, “Hearing you speak in your native language sounds amazing.” They both seemed taken back, but quickly smiled and said a very sincere “Thank you.” I could sense that they felt a sense of appreciation and pride in that moment.

As I walked away, I began to think about experiences that I’ve had since childhood. As a 2nd generation Mexican-American, I could only dream of people embracing my cultural uniqueness. Instead I’ve found myself in the crossfire of two cultures that simultaneously demand my assimilation. My childhood and adolescent socialization was confusing. Some days, I heard white-kids call me names like “Mojado” or “Wetback”, as they tried to insult me based on the color of my skin. Yet on the very same day I could be called a “Gringo salado” (salty white guy), because I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, or because I had friends that were white. In school, my teachers taught me how to be a proud and productive American citizen. Yet, my family, church, and community members, would try to persuade me to embrace my heritage. Early on, I realized that it was an impossible task to please either party. Even now, in adulthood, it is still common for me to encounter people who frown upon my unwillingness to conform to their expectation of who I should be.

Truth be told, I don’t want to assimilate. …. I’m quite comfortable being me. I want to continue to eat beans, rice, and tacos with a side order of meatloaf and greens. I want to speak in Spanglish, daily, and be proud of my accent even if it sounds like I’m ordering “extra she’s” when I want more queso. I’ll gladly blare my playlist that includes neo-soul, 80’s jams, country, and my girl Selena. I’ll wear my botas on Sunday and my Pumas the next. I am me! I’m 100% Mexicano y cien-por-ciento Americano. I’m Chicano through and through. And perhaps people may not like it, pero no me importa.

Y asi es! Hasta la promixma! Vamonos!!!

John Garay

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Foter.com / CC BY-NC