No matter how much we assimilate, it won’t be enough for some people

I remember being five years old, new to this country, fidgeting in my seat in kindergarten class, needing to use the restroom but not knowing how to ask because I didn’t know a word of English. I ended up soiling my pants. Once the smell permeated the room and it was obvious where it originated from, the teacher looked disgusted and the mostly white kids laughed at me.

At 10 years old, I was hanging out with a white neighbor of mine, and another kid I didn’t know too well, on my neighbor’s front lawn. Several cars drove by playing loud Mexican corridos, some waving Mexican flags out their windows. “Oh I forgot, it’s national spic day” my neighbor’s friend said disgustedly. The date was May 5th, 1994.

At 16 years old, I was hanging out with a group of friends in their driveway. We were being a bit loud and rowdy, as any group of teenagers can be. Suddenly we hear a man yelling, and we turn around to see an elderly white man screaming at us to shut the fuck up. He pulled up his shirt to reveal a handgun tucked in his waistband. “Fucking spics, next time I won’t ask so nicely.” 

At 21 years old, I was a Corporal in the Marines. Hanging out with fellow NCOs in their barracks, drinking and cracking jokes as Marines do. Then the jokes turned racist, and I objected. One of my sergeants turned to me and said, “Gonzo, we’re all brothers here. You’re not a spic, you’re a Marine! Don’t take offense like a little bitch.” There I was, a brand new NCO holding my anger and disgust in for the rest of the night. 

Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash

See, maybe the problem isn’t so much that we won’t assimilate. Maybe it’s that there are still way too many people in this country that want nothing to do with us. They keep moving the goal post. They will never consider us American, no matter what we do. 

Let’s talk assimilation. Who gets to decide when we’ve assimilated? I have lived here 30 years. I speak your preferred language, I served in the military, I got educated, I’ve stayed out of trouble. Hell, I even married a white girl. We’re not together anymore and I don’t know if her parents wanted “brown grandbabies” or not, but they have them and I think they love them, even if they did vote for Trump. 

Here’s the thing – if all of the above checks your nice little boxes for assimilation, I guess I’m there. However, if you insist that I never speak my native tongue again, I will resist. If you insist that I forget my ancestors which include proud Purépecha warriors who were never conquered and Irish immigrants who chose to fight for the Mexican army during the Mexican-American War because they too were despised like we are now in this country, I will resist. 

If you insist that I must turn my back on my culture, I will resist. If you insist that I must look down on my brothers and sisters that “can’t speak the language” or are undocumented or don’t fit your image of what an “American” should be or look like, I will resist. 

You do not get to pick and choose what are the best parts of us and simply discard the rest. Unfortunately for you, we clearly are not going anywhere. We might never fit Tom Brokaw’s definition of assimilation, or anyone else’s. I, for one, will make no apologies for that.