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Hispanics should never assimilate: Tom Brokaw and the myth of assimilation

Tom Brokaw’s profoundly ignorant remarks about Hispanics and assimilation were surprising and shocking, but the rush from many in the Latino community to prove…

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You remember what Brokaw, a man who for years was one of the country’s most influential journalists, said last week: “Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. ...They ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities.”

Nothing new. Brokaw’s words became scandalous only because he is who he is, but in fact he was expressing an all too common view about Hispanics. What was surprising was that someone with so much prestige in a field like journalism, where being objective and well informed are essential to the job, could spout so many tired and discredited clichés about the country’s largest minority. To make the shallowness of his understanding of our people even more evident, Brokaw didn’t even distinguish between recent immigrants and the millions of Latinos born and raised in this country since times immemorial.

“A lot of this, we don’t want to talk about,” he added. “But the fact is, on the Republican side, a lot of people see the rise of an extraordinary, important new constituent in American politics, Hispanics, who will come here, and all be Democrats. I hear when I push people a little harder, ‘I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.’ I mean, that’s also a part of it. It’s the intermarriage that is going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other.”

For him, for those Republicans whispering in his ear and for far too many other white people, Hispanics are a monolith, one homogeneous mass of brown people eager to “be Democrats” and --oh, the horror! --make little brown grandbabies, but not to learn English and become part of that utopia they imagine the “real America” to be.

Well, I have news for Brokaw and his Republican interlocutors: Babies of whatever color need two people to be created, which means there are many men and women of every color who make love and do not share Brokaw’s terror about their children’s skin tone. And isn’t the growing number of mixed couples an unmistakable indication of, well, assimilation? Their ignorance is not only appalling, but dangerous, even more so under Donald Trump’s cruel, racist regime.

Yet, the reactions from some Latino quarters are even more worrisome and infuriating than Brokaw’s words.

They go something like this: Oh no, Mr. Brokaw, you are wrong, we are good, we are very assimilated, our children don’t even speak Spanish any more, and their names are no longer Juanito and María, oh no, now they are called Johnny and Mary, and we no longer talk loud, that’s not nice you know, and so on an so forth in an absurd litany of self-flagellation and renunciation of what distinguishes us and makes us unique and valuable as human beings.

No, if this is what assimilation means it must be forcefully rejected. It smacks of a cultural imperialism that demands we renounce our inner core, turn our backs on our heritage, our culture, our history, our ancestral experiences.

Make no mistake, or course we will willingly integrate into American society and learn English if we are recent immigrants. We will also work very hard for our children not to forget their roots and lose the Spanish language if we are part of the millions of Hispanics born and bred in the U.S. You see, we like to add, not subtract.

But Hispanics should never “assimilate” if it means checking our souls at the border or at the door of the office, the factory, the fields or the school just to conform to the deeply ingrained prejudices and ignorance so aptly expressed by Brokaw. For him and others like him, no matter what we do, Hispanics can never assimilate enough. And that’s fine with me.

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