Moving to a new place usually requires great effort: leaving home and friends, obtaining a new job, temporarily packing valuables into boxes or luggage. Yet perhaps the most underrated struggle for immigrants is to hold on to a culture while trying to assimilate into another.
Early 20th-century European immigrants, in hopes of better opportunities and escape from political injustice, war, or famine in their native countries, came to the United States carrying not only their flimsy suitcases and dreams but also their cultural identities.
Often facing hostile discrimination, these immigrants quietly shed their accents and other identifying characteristics of their cultural differences so that they could assimilate seamlessly into the American lifestyle.
Young immigrant students at Bear Creek find themselves facing similar situations and struggles.
Junior Richard Emiko, from Warri, Nigeria, initially immigrated to the United States in 2005. In his first seven years in the U.S., Emiko was able to assimilate into the American culture in North Carolina before returning to Nigeria in 2012. He returned to the U.S. in May 2016 because his parents thought his transfer to college would be easier after graduating from high school in the U.S.
“As with any system, once you stay within that system for a while you learn and practice what it is and it becomes a part of you,” Emiko said. “That is not to say that I’m fully Americanized because I like balancing America and my culture; although I live an American lifestyle in terms of food and clothes, I still go to a Nigerian church and eat Nigerian food.”
Senior Julio Cesar Bautista, from Cuernavaca, Mexico, moved to the United States in 2004 with his parents and his brother through a program his dad joined when he was a teen.
“I’m very thankful [for this program] that provided a better life not only for me, but also my family,” Bautista said.
Bautista says that he and his family moved to the U.S. for better living conditions and education.
“We came here for a better life because Mexico, compared to the U.S., is a third world country,” Bautista said. “The economic state of the country is not very good, like minimum wage is really low and finding a job is very hard –– [not to mention] poor education, which the government does not [encourage among Mexican youth]. I love Mexico, but it is not the best country to live in.”
As for cultural assimilation, Bautista said that it wasn’t hard for him to adapt to the American customs.
Although English is Bautista’s second language, “picking up [English] was easy [and] getting used to the cultural references and slangs,” Bautista said. “Everything is easy while keeping my culture from Mexico.”
Bautista’s parents, however, never learned to speak English. His mom and dad are his prime models for Mexican values.
“At home, I have to speak Spanish around them and family time is important,” Bautista said. “For example, when we eat at the table, something I notice that is different between American and Mexican families is that sometimes American parents will let their kids eat with their phones out…. When I eat at the table with my parents, nothing is supposed to be out –– just you and your family interacting.”
Junior Jang Promchart, from Lampang, Thailand, is an exchange student who came to the U.S. by herself for studies in the late summer of 2016.
Promchart said that she had no problem introducing herself to the American culture while at the same time holding onto her Thai values.
“My favorite American [values] are being friendly to others and saying ‘hi’ to strangers,” Promchart said. “Americans are really friendly. Thai people do not really say ‘hi’ to people that we don’t know, but that doesn’t mean we are not friendly.”
Promchart said that she is more Americanized now compared to when she first came here: “Now, I speak English, like Americans do.”
Promchart practices her culture here by sharing it with her American friends and teaching them some Thai words. Promchart also cooks Thai food for her host family, and at the end of the day, she doesn’t forget to pray and acknowledge her roots.
“I still pray to Buddha before I go to bed,” Promchart said. “I still act politely and treat elders with respect [because] it is a good thing to do, to behave.”
Although immigrants innately hold different cultures from their motherland, most are willing to assimilate into the American lifestyle because they appreciate the better opportunities the Golden Land brings, particularly a better education and opportunities for a better future.