Friday, October 20, 2006

Ask a Cuban-American

Dear Cuban-American,

Why are foreign cultures--Hispanics in particular--so afraid of American "annexionism", yet when they come to another country--say America, for sake of argument--they bring their "culture" with them (The very culture they're allegedly fleeing), to the point of "conquering" the land without firing a shot. It's hard to find a single English-speaker in Florida or California anymore! And in Texas, Wal-Mart, of all places--symbol of America's obsession with hugeness--has ZERO English-speaking employees! What happened to the idea of immigrants assimilating themselves to their new surroundings? Or is that a hopelessly out-of-date idea from another century?

Dear Yanqui,

You didn't ask a question there, but several related ones. I'll break down my answer into tasty bite-sized morsels (not necessarily in order) for simplicity's sake.

1. Annexation. (In my best Andy Rooney voice) Did you ever wonder how we came to be such a great big country, from sea to shining sea, when we started out as 13 little states on the Atlantic coast? Well it's because of annexation. The United States acquired most of its territory through war and through purchases. Notice I'm not judging the actions, they were accepted means at the time. But still, whether the land was purchased or conquered, the people that were living there at the time suddenly found themselves to be citizens of a new country. While the successors of those people are probably very happy that this happened, I'm sure that at the time it was a little disconcerting, as would be for you today. Cuban nationalists, like liberator José Martí had real reasons to fear annexation, after all the same war that liberated Cuba from Spain saw Puerto Rico become an American territory. And remember that Florida was a Spanish colony for longer than it has been an American state. Today, Latin American politicians, particulary ultranationalist ones (as fidel castro tries to portray himself) use this historically-seeded fear of annexation as a cornerstone of their rhetoric. But the fear is unfounded. Times have changed and the U.S. will not be waging any wars of territorial conquest any time soon.

2. You put the word culture in quotation marks. I take it then, that you don't believe Hispanics have authentic culture only some faux facsimile of culture. I won't harp on the ignorance of that sentiment (if that's the way you feel) but I will say that it's not culture that that Hispanic immigrants wish to flee from. It's political corruption and economic problems they are leaving behind. They come to The United States wanting the same things all of our forefathers wanted: self-determination and freedom, you know, a little something called the American Dream. I don't understand exactly how a human being is supposed to shed his culture at the border. Is that some new super-fast sociological process that I'm not aware of? Enter this booth a dirty culture-less Mexican and exit as an erudite, red, white and blue American?

3. The answer to your question about assimilation is that it's a slow process. It's a melting pot not a boiling pot, the recipe for cooking new Americans takes time you just can't put them in the microwave, they get all soggy that way. And speaking of melting, that implies that not only does the new person get absorbed into the pot but the pre-existing elements of the stew will now acquire some of the flavor of the new ingredient. Think about that next time you're enjoying your American pizza or your American bratwurst while you are watching your American football that was derived from British rugby.

4. Conquering the land without firing a shot, an argument that we hear from the Pat Buchanans and Tom Tancredos of the world. It's an obvious attempt a demagoguery that ignores history. To illustrate let me take you back in my Cuban-American time machine, if we Cubans can engineer anything like a boat from a pre-castro taxicab, we can make a time machine. My time machine is not a Delorean though, it's a 1958 Cadillac El Dorado, That's Spanish for "The Gold", by the way.

We're going to New York at the turn of the 20th century. Now we're walking through an area called little Italy, some might call it a ghetto. Oh my God, nobody here speaks English! They are reading newspapers that are printed in Italian. Don't these people understand that this is America? That English is our language?

You see, we've already been conquered by the Irish, the Italians, the Polish, the Jews from many countries, etc. etc. Yet today we don't speak Italian or Polish or yiddish. We don't dance a jig, except on St. Patrick's day after too many pints of Guinness. As I said it takes time (a generation) for immigrants to integrate themselves more or less seamlessly into the greater society. The thing is that you are seeing is multiple waves of Hispanic immigration so you can't categorize so quickly. I'm Hispanic but I was born in Philadelphia. I speak Spanish but as you can see I'm also fluent in English. In short, not all Hispanics are in the same place along the assimilation continuum.

5. The idea that you can't find an English speaker in Florida or California is laughable. According to Geoscape International, a leading demographics research provider, 35.6% of Californians are Hispanic and Florida is only 20.1% Hispanic. Assuming that all Hispanics only speak Spanish, which as I just explained, is not the case, that means that you could still speak in English to 2 out of every 3 Californians and 4 out of every 5 Floridians. Oh, I forgot to mention the Asians. They are the real "problem" you know, dirty little Asians driving badly while they speak some strange language!

6. You found a Wal-Mart with ZERO English-Speaking employees? Well I'll be damned! I wonder how it is that they manage to order their merchandise from the headquarters office in Bentonville, Arkansas. Is it possible that perhaps you are exaggerating a tiny bit? And Wal-Mart is as American as apple pie, so what's the problem with Hispanics wanting to shop and work there? I thought you wanted them to assimilate. Wanting a big Korean flat screen TV for under a grand isn't part of the American dream anymore? Where have I been?

Note: This feature is a complete rip-off of the wildly successful column called "Ask A Mexican" by Gustavo Arelleno (That non-English-Speaking Mexican bastard).

If you have a question for this annexionism-fearing, no-culture-having, Wal-Mart shopping Cuban-American, email it to me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that you should have started youe answer with "Dear Redneck." I am a Cuban-American-Yanqui!