Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood and How to Tame a Wild Tongue: The Impact of Assimilation
What does it take to be an American? Becoming an American may seem simple and easy, but the cold truth exposes the impact of what it takes to become accepted as one. Assimilation is the absorption and integration of people, ideas, or culture into a wider society or culture. In the United States countless families are forced or do not notice that they are assimilating into the American society. Slowly their cultures are diminishing along with their languages, younger generations are not aware of their cultural identity, and older folks are saddened to find out the results of Americanization. Richard Rodriguez, an award-winning essayist is known for his autobiographies about growing up in a Hispanic working-class family in California (67). He shares his childhood struggles in his essay, Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood discussing the factors of how assimilation intruded with his private language which contributed to separating the comfort of his family. It resulted in resisting and being silent to fluently addressing others in English. Relating to Rodriguez, Gloria Anzaldúa a queer Chicana poet and writer who informs her audience about her childhood to adulthood experience with assimilation in, How to Tame a Wild Tongue. She expresses the difficulties that Mexican immigrants face in the US society and her resistance to assimilation. Anzaldúa does not allow the assimilation to control her and continues to keep intact with her Chicana identity. As Rodriguez and Anzaldúa were being culturally/socially controlled in their homes and education, as well as resisting control through their language, they continued to fight to keep their cultural identity while assimilation was forced upon them.
While mainly resisting through assimilation there were some things that Anzaldúa had no control of… Anzaldúa mainly resisted through assimilation, but from childhood to adulthood there were some issues that she had no control of. America has greatly impacted students through their education, but also the beginning of assimilation since students are expected to communicate and respond in English. In Anzaldúa’s case administrators went beyond, “At Pan American University, I, and all Chicano students were required to take speech classes. Their purpose: to get rid of our accents” (411). The university students are forced to take an unnecessary class due to the way they spoke. The students to also take extra time and pay more money for a class they did not ask for. There was no support to help them achieve success, but support to take away a piece of their identity. Accents can be uncomfortable to some individuals especially if the accent is strong which makes it difficult to understand. Her school environments were not the only place that suggested her to get rid of her accent, but her mother wanted it gone as well. Assimilation was not only happening at school, but as well as her home life. Anzaldúa’s mother, “would say, mortified that I spoke English like a Mexican” (411). Her mother believed that sounding “American” will bring someone more opportunities other than someone who does not. As Anzaldúa experienced assimilation, being forced upon her urged her to resist and not give up on who is truly is, a Chicana.
Being a bilingual linguistic, Rodriguez found it difficult to focus in school such as speaking in English. As a young child growing up in a n unfamiliar environment it was stressful and frightening for Rodriguez. The nuns at his school realized his difficulties and planned on intruding his private home in order “to help.” As they knocked on the Rodriguez’s home uninvited they explained to his parents the issues their son was displaying in class. The conversations continued one step closer to the process of assimilation they suggested (more like encouraged) the family to speak more in English. This way Rodriguez became comfortable with the public language. The nuns invading their home saw it as a critical criticism, but after the visitation the Rodriguez home did not feel the same. Speaking their mother tongue extinguish that they were in a safe place, but “In an instant they agreed to give up the language (the sounds) [“pleasing, soothing, cooling reminder that one was at home” (69)] which had revealed and accentuated our family’s closeness. The moment after the visitors left, the change was observed” (73). The nuns did not only control Rodriguez in school, but his private life as well. They entered aa home to control a child’s privacy including his family. Assimilation has placed this idea that fluently speaking and understanding English is the road to success, but also making sure that they do not have an accent. Ultimately educators are supposed to help and support their students even with struggles that come across. In these two essays the educators displayed that they were controlling the author’s language. Educators repeatedly convinced students that being a successful true American was no only converse in English. Being bilingual is difficult when learning or understanding another language especially the older someone is. According to Estow from Hunger of Memory she states, “A native language can coexist, even thrive, with the public language…Academic skills learned in one are easily transferred into the other” (4). It is false that bilinguals cannot become successful while being attached to their cultural background. Instead they sprout uniqueness and individuality within each other.
Forcing assimilation is a burden to a linguist speaker, but the authors took in their own control and resisted through language. Anzaldúa’s whole essay is evaluating her resistance and thrives to spread her Chicana identity even if there were consequences. Unlike essays about assimilation Anzaldúa did not throw away her mother tongue, but instead embraces it and focuses on preserving it. Her resistance is harmless and Anzaldúa perceives it as a statement that she is set on. The start of assimilation for Anzaldúa was in elementary, “I remember being sent to the corner of the classroom for ‘talking back’ to the Anglo teacher when all I was trying to do was tell her how to pronounce my name” (411). The resistant did not end there, as a teacher the principal forces her to teach American literature or she will be fired if she did not follow orders. While resining she pursues to tell Chicano stores to her students and ask for them to keep it a secret between them (416). Anzaldúa’s resistant expresses that she does not want her mother tongue to die out like other languages have in the past. Through the punishment and harassment she held onto her identity. Anzaldúa states, “When other races have given up their tongue, we’ve kept out…I will overcome the tradition of silence” (416-419). Her actions prove that it is your choice whether assimilation will take over your lifestyle. She chose to keep her cultural identity and she is confident in her skin. It proves that you do not need to let go of your identity in order to fit in or succeed.
Rodriguez and Anzaldúa rejected the control of assimilation to not lose their private language. While Anzaldúa’s goal was to hold onto her private language Rodriguez was afraid once he learned the public language he would lose a part of him. Spanish made Rodriguez feel comfortable and it was often spoken at home. His connotation of communicating in Spanish made him feel welcomed in a safe place. His involvement in school was the opposite, “I’d mumble, not really meaning to answer…I continued to mumble. I resisted the teacher’s demands…Silent, waiting for the bell to sound. I remained dazed, diffident, afraid” (72). It was unfair that he was forced to speak English when he was not ready. For speakers who are not bilingual it takes time to get into the flow of involving yourself into a new environment. While expressing his resistance it elaborates that there are reasons why students are silent in class or find troubles being involved. Rodriguez’s rejection of not speaking English lead to his family lessening the use of Spanish in their home. The nuns involvement took two routes; it encouraged Rodriguez to participate in school and caused a family bond to diminish. The resistant further to, “…I did no realize they were speaking Spanish…[it] startled me…I was obliged to hear my mother and father encouraging me: ‘Speak to us en ingles’”(73-74). His family rejected their own mother tongue who Rodriguez was rejecting the public language. It is discomforting to hear how cultures and indigenous languages have disappeared. How assimilation is the reason that they are put into history books while dust is accumulating on top of them. John McWorter who is a writer and linguists further explains the idea of language death in The Cosmopolitan Tongue: The University of English which discusses the abolishment of indigenous languages. McWorter states, “[indigenous languages]…have become extinct not because of something as astray and gradual as globalization, but because of violence, annexation, and cultural extermination” (43). It is full proof that assimilation tears families apart and takes away individuality. This impact is experienced on the daily whether people are realizing it or not. Being culturally/socially controlled forces individuals to resist the making of assimilation and causes them to overcome extra burdens.
Growing up in the United States has justified that immigrants easily assimilate into the American culture. Understanding the meaning of assimilation it has come across me that I am more of an American than a Filipina. Being younger I had much pride of being a Filipina, but the older I got it that pride slowly disappeared. It saddens me that I cannot speak to relatives because my Tagalog is broken, and I have gotten used to responding in English. Or the idea that I do not know much of my homeland or its history. Although being able to understand Tagalong fluently has kept me sane from thinking my future children will not know a part of who they are. It takes determination for an individual to keep hold of their cultural identity without Americanization taking its place.
The English language has become a popular practice for individuals. The United States have obtained an abundant amount of cultures and each day it becomes harder to extend the knowledge of each culture. Rodriguez and Anzaldúa reasoned with assimilation differently, but experienced the same concept. With Americanization it often comes with sacrifice and it usual results from stripping away a cultural identity. These authors elaborate on the discussion of assimilation and the impact it leaves, it defines the unfairness that linguistic individuals encounter. Equality has been a controversial topic, people may say that we are all equally equal. Does this protein to individuals who are judged for expressing the culture in the public? Why must a native language be prioritized to be a private language? These authors do not stray away from the truth and what happens when assimilation is successful. It is happening right in front of our eyes, “Linguistic death is proceeding more rapidly…According to one estimate, a hundred years from now 6,000 languages in use today will likely dwindle to 600” (McWorter, 430). Why must stripping away an indigenous language is the definition of becoming an American?
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