Assimilate: to bring into conformity with the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group, nation, or the like; to adapt or adjust dictionary.com
In my Afro-Caribbean Literature class, we have studied the themes of identity and assimilation. After reading the novel When I Was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago, I considered that I may have been misled in my view of assimilation.
Assimilation is often forced onto minorities by the majority’s standards of beauty, intelligence and social norms. Minorities either denounce their own culture and adopt the majority’s standards as their own, or be labeled inferior or strange because of their nonconformity.
In the novel When I Was Puerto Rican, the speaker Esmeralda learns English, strives to become fluent and feels like her audition into Performing Arts School was diminished because she recited her monologue with a Puerto Rican accent.
I argued that Esmeralda’s assimilation was based on her desire to reach her personal goals, and not by social approval. She saw learning English and speaking without an accent as a means to help her thrive in her new environment, New York.
I turned my paper in yesterday, but now as I reflect on my assertions
I no longer believe my conclusion is true
Esmeralda didn’t learn English and attempt to mimic native English speakers for personal satisfaction, she did it because she had to. Her goals were based on how she knew she would be treated is she stood out: considered inferior, an outsider, unAmerican. Her differences would project that she did not belong.
In thinking about my paper, I compared Esmeralda’s adaptation to a new culture to my adaptation to college. I grew up in a small town, and graduated from a high school where I was one of the 7 African-Americans in the high school. I now attend a college that is 7% African-American and I serve as the Black Student Association Secretary.
In adjusting from my hometown to my college campus, I now use words that I haven’t used before, I dress differently, I think differently, I eat differently etc. I didn’t believe that I had assimilated, I considered my change in my perspective and attitude as a part of maturity and personal growth, and some of it is.
As I learn more in class and grow as a young woman, my mind should expand and I should think differently than I did three years ago. If I have learned words that better describe my thoughts then I should use them, and if my attitude has changed for the better; if I am more compassionate, kind, patient, giving and accepting because of the people I have met and my gratitude for life then I have changed for the better. But if I have changed myself to fit into the paradigm of success and acceptance someone else has created, then I have not grown I have diminished. I have assimilated.
Assimilation is a system of oppression created by the majority members of a society, but it is carried out by minorities of a culture by a desire to feel accepted.
Esmeralda’s goals to succeed in her new environment were for personal reasons, but she based her success on how she was treated by those around her, by whether or not she was accepted, and to become accepted Esmeralda was forced to assimilate, distancing herself from her native tongue- her language.