The Oracle

The American melting pot is a whiteout

A second-generation immigrant thinks about American assimilation in light of the Brokaw controversy.

Alyxandra Sego, Senior Columnist

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Last March on UnivisionNews, Reverend Samuel Rodriguez responded to the Tom Brokaw controversy. While many of Brokaw’s opposers accused the NBC news anchor of racism for suggesting Hispanics need to assimilate more, Rodriguez both challenged the false narratives about Hispanic immigrants and the view that assimilation is a racist practice. The quote in question?

“Hispanics should work harder at assimilation…They ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all of their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities, and that’s going to take outreach on both sides, frankly” Brokaw said.

According to Rodriguez, “There is zero evidence to conclude Hispanics are assimilating at any slower of a pace than previous waves of immigrants.” However, he argues that assimilation is “beautiful,” “necessary” and “American.” Rodriguez believes that assimilation makes Americans strong.

As the daughter of a Cambodian refugee, I want to note that I understand the economic necessity that assimilation poses towards new-coming minority communities. A few years after my father came to America, he removed himself from the Cambodian community and temporarily lived in a small town in North Dakota to assimilate to the English language better. There is evidence that Cambodians are the least integrated, poorest and least likely of Asian Americans to speak English. In the long run, his emphasis on adapting has helped him establish relationships with white Americans and holding down jobs. In retrospect, those of his siblings who have not taken similar measures either find themselves in more complicated economic conditions or haven’t acquired citizenship. On the downside, his choice of heavy assimilation resulted in an accelerated loss of culture. For example, neither I, or any of my siblings are able to speak Khmer while many of our cousins can.

“We are the world’s melting pot for a reason, and generations from diverse backgrounds have worn this as a badge of honor,” Rodriguez stated. I would agree that some Americans have seen the model of the melting pot as something to strive for. However, in my experience as a second generation immigrant and knowing many other people who identify as minorities, biracial or adoptees from other countries, the melting pot serves as an erasure of culture. Many of us have forgotten our languages, traditions and other cultural ties. For many of us, that loss is deeply felt.

“To give into the petty debate over the rightness or wrongness of assimilation is to completely miss one of the most beautiful, unique and unifying aspects of what it means to be American.” Rodriguez stated that America is not a multicultural society, although a multiethnic one, and to him, that is a good thing. Rodriguez believes that Americans should be unified by a central ethos and ideals that are “tied to its founding story and its prodigious contributions to the history of the world.” Both Rodriguez and Brokaw assume that a functioning nation requires all of its citizens to be fully assimilated to be united under these common “ethos.” This fallacy in reasoning requires people to be stripped of their original culture to find unity as if a common ethos fundamentally hinges on aspects like common language or not having pockets of multicultural communities.

Perhaps the most valid point made by pro assimilationists is in terms of economic opportunity and that people need to be unified in order to form a national identity. Being fluent in English is a major economic stepping block in American society; however, America is one of the worst countries when it comes to lingual multiplicity. The majority of Americans can only speak one language and there seems to be an odd discomfort when surrounded by people who speak different languages, often pressuring minorities to speak English and as fluently as possible.

With modern technology I believe it has never easier to be in a truly multicultural society with various languages and communities. People can speak multiple languages, have different religions and have differing cultural ideals and still be united under a common “Americanness.” Jewish communities have long been an example of a minority that preserves its cultural heritage while still economically integrating. Although the nation needs common rules and some cultural standards to function peacefully, it doesn’t need to be based on a melting-pot sameness of cultural homogeneity. Any advocate of full assimilation cannot deny that the common culture that immigrants would assimilate to would be one based on American whiteness, eliciting the danger of cultural and linguistic erasure as western culture continues to globalize. Unlike Rodriguez, I don’t think these issues are a “petty debate.”

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The student news site of Hamline University.
The American melting pot is a whiteout