Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What's it Take to Be 'Fully American'?

At the Los Angeles Times, "Trump wants immigrants to 'share our values.' They say assimilation is much more complex":

The foreign-born share of the U.S. population has quadrupled in the five decades since the establishment of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which ended a quota system based on national origin that favored white European immigrants. In 1960, 9.7 million foreign-born residents were living in the U.S. In 2014, there were 42.2 million, according to census data and the Pew Research Center.

Kevin Solis, who works for the immigration advocacy group Dream Team LA, said politicians’ statements about assimilation just add fuel to an already sensitive subject.

“When you say, ‘They need to assimilate,’ you’re already beginning with the false notion that they don’t want to, that they’re coming here as an invading force,” he said. “It’s coded in the sense that these are ‘other’ people, foreigners who want to do harm to our nation, and that’s not the case.”

Jim Chang, an information systems specialist from Irvine, recalled meeting with one of his son’s teacher; she kept repeating what he was saying.

“I know he was repeating, you know, saying it more than once because she was worried I didn’t understand,” Chang, 53, said.

Though he spoke English fairly well and understood it even better, Chang said his Korean accent meant he would always stick out.

“It doesn’t matter if you have 12 years or 20 years in the U.S. If they hear us sound a little different, they judge,” he said.

That’s something he said he believes his son, a fifth-grader, shouldn’t have to face. Chang speaks Korean to him, but his son, Jimmy, responds in English.

“I realize that we don’t plan to return to live in Korea. We belong in California now,” Chang said.

But Carmen Fought, a linguistics professor at Pitzer College, said that everyone has an accent regardless of how well they speak English. Whether it’s the Cajun or so-called “Minnesota nice” or “Bronx” or other accent not quite on the radar of American pop culture, everyone in the U.S. speaks with an accent, she said.

Not all accents, however, are perceived as equally American.

“A way of speaking that’s associated with a group that’s stigmatized is also going to be stigmatized,” Fought said. “There’s also going to be racism and prejudice against that way of speaking.”

Karen, a 24-year-old honor student at Cal State Fullerton, is an aspiring certified public accountant. She volunteers for the IRS — where her ability to speak Spanish is a major asset — helping low-income people fill out their taxes.

The night Trump was elected, Karen — a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipient who asked that her last name not be used because she fears deportation — suddenly felt as if she stood out even though she was an infant sleeping in the back seat of a car when she was brought to the U.S. illegally from Mexico.

Karen hasn't been back to Mexico since then but grew up in the overwhelmingly Latino community of Huntington Park, watching Spanish-language television with her grandmother and working in a Mexican restaurant.

Moving to Orange County for college was like moving to a different world, Karen said. At least until Trump’s election, she felt that she was safer as a college student than her parents, who have labor-oriented jobs.

Her younger brother is a DACA recipient also, and she had him move in with her so they could remove their parents’ address from their federal forms.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong anywhere,” she said. “In Mexico, I would be seen very differently because of my accent. It’s like, god, what do I do? If I were to go back, I wouldn’t have anything back there.”

“On the one side, the Hispanics tell you, ‘You’re way too American.’ On the other, you’ll have the Americans telling you you’re too Hispanic. It’s hard to be in the middle.”

“What makes me American? It’s not only the 24 years of my life,” she said. “It’s that this is all I know.”
We obviously need to scale back immigration, and drastically. It shouldn't even be controversial to have to assimilate into the dominate culture. The fact that these people are even questioning it, suggesting that they shouldn't be judged because they're illegal, is reprehensible.