After 30 years, my husband, born in Colorado and raised in Utah, still feels like an outsider in Minnesota. Although he drinks pop and answers “you bettcha,” he never played duck, duck, gray duck. Worse, he will never be a Vikings fan. He hasn’t assimilated.
What does it take to be a Minnesotan? Or, for that matter, an American? The Aug. 3 Community Voices column insisted that immigrants must assimilate to be true Americans. The question is, what does assimilate really mean?
Star Trek fans immediately think of the Borg, an alien species of cyborgs who sucked up new civilizations, taking whatever would improve their species and erasing the rest. “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”
In a way, I guess our country does that. We’ll take immigrants’ manual labor, intellectual abilities and money-making ideas, along with their best recipes, but tell them to leave the rest of their messy culture behind.
To my grandmother, who immigrated from Germany, assimilation meant learning English and understanding enough about our society to be able to work and support a family in a new country. However, during two world wars, she was not considered very American. In fact, she feared being interned like the Japanese.
Assimilation is a two-way street. Immigrants can try to assimilate, but the country has to be willing to accept them. Wars, cold wars, 9/11 and other geopolitical events can certainly hinder that acceptance. Poverty, skin color, ethnicity, and religious differences can also complicate it.
Normally, time takes care of assimilation. It is a cliché, but the last ones off the boat become the scapegoats of those who came ahead of them. In the nineteenth century, some employment ads stated Irish Need Not Apply. That sounds ridiculous today, but many of the groups we now consider assimilated were once considered less worthy — less American — than the groups who came before them.
I was taken aback by the previous column, which specifically mentioned Congresswoman Ilhan Omar as an example of an immigrant who has not properly assimilated. I never planned to be a defender of Omar, but she was chosen by the people of the 5th Congressional District with 78% of the vote. Much like our president, she has said some dumb things on Twitter. She certainly has lots of company in that category.
Omar is a refugee from Somalia who has lived in this country since she was a child. She earned a degree from North Dakota State University and is a fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She has been politically active in her community and is respected enough to have been elected to the Minnesota State House and now Congress. This should be the quintessential immigrant success story, yet, somehow, she is not assimilated? She is not American enough?
We expect politicians to represent their constituents, solve problems,and be outspoken advocates for their positions. Some of Omar’s political views may be different than mine, but this country values diverse opinions and freedom of speech. Our founding fathers were a radical squad who vehemently disagreed on how to structure our republic, yet they are all considered American patriots.
That same column added Halloween and Christmas as somehow being American traditions under attack by unassimilated immigrants.
Today’s version of Halloween may have had pagan and Christian roots, but now it is a money-making celebration to sell costumes and candy. According to USA Today, $9 billion was spent on Halloween in 2018.
Sure, some schools no longer have Halloween parties, but it is not because they are anti-American. Schools cite many reasons including the cost of costumes or issues with some being too frightening, others too sexual. It is a waste of academic time and an oversupply of sugar, plus some groups, including some traditional American religions, consider Halloween an inappropriate holiday.
As for Christmas and the phony “War on Christmas,” I’ve never heard that blamed on immigrants before. I thought the problem was the American Civil Liberties Union and those terrible atheists from the ‘60s.
This country has always had non-Christians who put up with our ingrained celebration of the Christian sabbath, Christian holidays and interminable months of Christmas carols pumped into every shopping mall in the country. Personally, I choose to be politically correct and wish my non-Christian friends “Happy Holidays” because, well, I am not a jerk. If someone wishes me the “wrong” holiday greeting, I’ll happily accept it.
In truth, I wonder why so many people insist that immigrants, like other non-traditional groups of Americans, be more like them — look like them, dress like them, marry like them, celebrate their holidays and even share their political beliefs. I guess that would make for a very uniform, but boring, melting pot.
Personally, I’d rather think of America using a salad metaphor. Start with basic iceberg lettuce, add homegrown Minnesota heirloom tomatoes, then get exotic with bok choy, edamame, feta cheese, jalapenos, adzuki beans, water chestnuts, Italian parsley, kalamata olives and a multitude of world flavors. On the side, let’s have fry bread, focaccia, tortillas, nan, matzo, pita, sabaayad and lefse. E pluribus unum — out of many, one.
Me? I’ll pick the olives out of that salad. I don’t have to like all the ingredients, but there’d be something for everyone.