As a first-generation American, there have been a lot of times recently where I have second-guessed myself speaking Spanish in public to my mom.

I am nervous that we’d attract negative attention given today’s anti-immigrant rhetoric in the news. Growing up with one foot in one culture and one foot in another has always produced its challenges but it seems even more so these days.

I “fit” neither here nor there. I speak Spanish with a definite gringo accent but I understand it 100%. I feel like sometimes there are phrases in Spanish that express how I feel better than in English. I love both pupusas and my avocado toasts. So, when my director asked me to work on an “immigration integration” project for the immigration and citizenship program we work for, I was pretty curious about what that would mean.

What does it mean to “integrate” anyways? Does it mean that you abandon your culture and fully adopt “American” culture?  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines integration in the following manner: “integration is ‘1: to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole. 2: to end the segregation of and bring into equal membership in society or an organization.”  So, how would this work in today’s America? Do I trade-in my pupusas for hamburgers? Do I only speak in English?

For mixed-status families in America, where some of the family members are immigrants directly from a different country while other members were born in the United States, the notion of integration is a mixed blessing. Do I necessarily want to fit in? I happen to love El Salvadoran food and I prefer having some warm plantains with crema in the mornings to a cold bowl of cereal. Why should I give that up? I agree that we should bring into equal membership in society all immigrant cultures. Isn’t America supposed to be the great “melting pot” where we can explore and mix freely among other cultures or borrow freely what we like about different cultures? If that’s really the case, then this should be just fine and I don’t necessarily need to “integrate” to be considered an equal partner among my colleagues.

At any rate, if immigration integration implies that an immigrant will become an equal member of U.S. society, at this moment in time, is this really possible? With anti-immigrant rhetoric at an all-time high, anyone that is different is bathed in a negative light. Maybe what we should be striving for is what comes before an immigrant even considers integration, this is that the host culture accepts the immigrant trying to become an equal member of society.  You can’t walk through the door if the door is locked.  Acceptance of other cultures and what they contribute to U.S. culture should be celebrated not vilified. Tell you what, I’m happy to share my pupusas with you. They go great with a Coke.

Evelyn Brown, Immigration Outreach Specialist for CET-ICP

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