Assimilation...WTF is it, anyway?
I'm back, after a long haitus; I don't know how often I'll write. But I'll try to write quasi-regularly. I miss it, very much. Soon, I'll do an "update" blog, to let you all know what I've been doing. Right now, though, I'm writing about something completely random, and something that I enjoyed.
I’ve been having a pretty hard time lately; it’s the deepest depressive episode I’ve had to deal with in about 2 or 3 years. I know it’s something I have to deal with, and I’m more than willing to do the work involved to get through it. Sometimes I’d really hard, and I want to give up, but I know I can’t. If I give up, the demons of my depression win. I refuse to let anything win in my life like that. I’m not someone who lets things happen to them, but who goes out to make things happen for myself.
I’ve worked really hard over the past 20+ years to make a life worth living, versus having a worthless life. It seems like a very small difference to many, but for me, it’s the world!
This won’t be about my depression, though; it’s about one of the ways I cope. I ponder things when I’m depressed. Sometimes it’s silly things, like why do so many people like the colour pink. Other times it’s something I’ve run across, something political, or social, and I think about it for awhile. This unedited mental pondering, these mental exercises, help me focus on something other than my own feelings of worthlessness, or the darkness I share with my mental demons. Having something outside my own emotions to focus on, even something light and fluffy like watching my cats play with feather toys, lets me take the pressure off of myself; I stop trying to “get better” and amazingly it happens, a little at a time.
One thing I’ve been pondering lately, and again if I’m honest, is the idea of assimilation.
I live in Tucson; on the south side—which for many people means I love amongst those “brown people”, drug addicts, murderers, prostitutes, gang violence and anything else you want to pin on Hispanic people, and Mexican immigrants.
It’s not like that at all down here.
I live in a quiet neighbourhood, with kind, loving neighbours. We wave to each other every morning, we wish one another a good evening when we’re getting the mail after a long day at work. We keep an eye on each other’s kids at the park, and make sure we drive carefully to avoid the football and soccer games in the cul de sacs.
One of the clarion calls I hear, almost every election season, and always in conjunction with cries against immigration is “Assimilation”!
The idea is that whenever someone immigrates to the US they need to magically turn into someone acceptable to the rich white people who claim to be “real Americans ™”. How this is supposed to happen, and how quickly, is often up for debate, but boils down to “speak only perfect English/American/whatever local-regional dialect is common where you live, eat food that’s deep friend and smothered in cheese, and wear the confederate flag on everything that it can be hung on.
I have always thought this idea was stupid.
Thing is, the US is a huge country—we have, what 350 million people living here. We have several different climates and eco-systems, from freezing cold winters, to deserts to balmy springs near the ocean. Millions of us have families who immigrated since our founding, and many of us celebrate our heritages through festivals, parades and holidays.
How is that different from any other immigrant? How is that different from families who immigrated last year, or last decade? They can celebrate their heritages, too, can’t they?
I think they can, and should.
I also think white people who move around this country of ours ought to assimilate, too.
Wait, how does that work, you’re going to ask.
Well, I don’t mean that if you’re from New York, and you move to Mississippi that you need to automatically start speaking Southern, eating chittlings and hating people of colour while shooting automatic weapons into the air and screaming “Murica, Fuck yeah!”. But I do mean that you should be willing to try to make a home wherever you live—and some southern food is absolutely amazing! It means that you can’t expect everyone around you to be “just like the people back home”, and that you have to be willing to celebrate the good things about where you’ve chosen to make your life.
I’ve been talking with my partner, about how we’ve assimilated to life here in Tucson. Some of the things we take for granted now are things we never heard of or saw before we moved here.
For instance, tortillas…
Let me tell you about tortillas “back home” in Michigan: they’re thick, white-flour disks of barely fried or baked bread things. They’re so thick, in fact, that you can peel them apart and use them as pita pockets… they are so thick and relatively tasteless that you over fill them when making burritos so that you’ll have something edible. They don’t even split open, they stretch! It’s an amazing architectural feat, these stretchy things, but they don’t taste very good. They also last forever on the pantry shelf. They don’t even go stale.
Now, let me rhapsodize about real tortillas. They’re thin, tasty, amazingly yummy, and will split right open if you over fill them. These toasty, melt in your mouth skins of goodness are made locally to me, and I can buy them direct! I can get them made in the store, freshly fried or raw; I can get them made with flour or corn. They’re used just to hold the fillings, not to add bulk, or to fill you up.
I have to freeze them, as they have no preservatives… Freeze them! It’s awesome!! They’ll go stale within a couple days, and keep for about 1 week in the fridge.
That’s a fucking tortilla!
Same with hot chocolate mix; there’s a fabulous one called Abuela’s, just add milk, and it’s a cinnamon infused chocolate yumminess that makes your heart sing.
Enchilada sauce is another thing.
Same with real, fresh jalapenos.
Good Mexican food—it’s not spicy and overly hot. It’s yummy, savoury, and the refried beans and rice are to DIE for.
Switching from food, to another cultural thing I’ve found that I’ve adopted: calling small children mijo or mammas. Why it’s a thing to call little boys “mijo” (my son) even if they’re not your kid, I don’t know; same with calling little girls “mamma”s. I’ve found I call cats that, too, at my work. I don’t think twice about it. Same with being called “baby” by older Hispanic men and women; I know that there’s nothing sexual about it. I tend to call them abuela or abuelo, (grandmother or grandfather). I’m too old to be a “mammas”, now I guess, but it’s ok with me.
I avoid certain streets turning Tour de Tucson, so I don’t accidentlly kill a bicyclist. I know where the good bars are, and which parts of town have the best little holes in the walls for food, drinks and fun stores. I can get from my house to wherever, a hundred different ways, and don’t think twice about hearing “detour on Valencia”; I just go another way, and don’t feel stressed out about it. I make jokes about monsoon and dust storms; I always carry a water bottle with me; I buy sunblock cream about 4 times a year, and never run out; I have aloe gel for the occasional burn. I celebrate Dias de Muerta, Cinco de Mayo, and Cesar Chavez day.
I might not be from Tucson, but I live here, and I’ve made a life here. I love our mountains and our cactus, our flowers and our sand. I love this city, and this state, and I am home.
If some old guy called me baby back in Michigan, I would be uncomfortable. Down here, I smile, and get a smile in return. It means I belong.
Isn’t that what assimilation is all about? Finding out where you belong.
I don’t think that we should ask immigrants to assimilate, or demand that they change their everything to make us white people comfortable. I believe that we should all work to assimilate, into that melting pot we like to claim. Let’s all give a little, and share a lot. That’s what makes home, home: when we’re all comfortable, sharing and loving. When we’re all welcome.
Thank you, Tucson, for letting me assimilate, for welcoming me home.