Assimilation can destroy a culture. As a second generation minority, I witnessed and experienced a loss of my culture. I am a Filipino American yet as I see myself evolved and changed in front of a mirror, I see more American than Filipino. Comparing myself to my mother who immigrated to the United States twenty years ago, I have not lost much because I was not taught much thus I did not have a difficult time navigating through the American culture. For my mother, she had a difficult time because she receives criticism about her syntax (She speaks English absolutely well, those criticism are from her jealous co-workers), criticism for upholding a couple of her Filipino values, and criticism for not “behaving like an American.” These criticisms (more like insults) from her coworkers are criticisms about my mother’s assimilation. My mother speaks more English inside and outside of our household and benefits from a couple of California public institutions to make a comfortable living. But it is not enough.
What is enough is losing the accent, eating less Filipino foods, interacting with people outside of your heritage, and becoming a snarky hypocrite towards a culture. What is enough is losing your culture for the sake of another one. What is enough is behaving more American in order to be accepted into American society. What is enough is losing a minority identity to be a part of the majority identity. This is not just my mother but many other mothers and fathers and grandparents and sisters and cousins from not just the Philippines but South Africa, Algeria, India, South Korea, China, etc. Although America is considered a “melting pot,” the country does not seem to take kindly to other ethnicities, especially towards Native Americans.
For a long time, it is seen and heard for minorities to “go back to their country.” Many United States citizens, who harbored xenophobic feelings towards foreigners, are foreigners themselves. Every ancestor from any citizens all originated from a non-US country. Asian Americans are from an assortment of Asian countries as well as White Americans derive from a country in Eurasia. The True American are the Native Americans. To add insult to injury, these Native Americans are treated as a part of the minority; they are also being told to go home but their home is in America, where it has been historically stolen by white Americans.
As noted Zitkala-Sa’s book, American Indian Stories, it is noted about how assimilation affects Native Americans within the United States. Through Zitkala-Sa, she gives a fictional yet realistic account of how the United States took her culture or decrease the presence of her culture. Although this was told as a fictional narrative, the stories were real as it resonated with the author, Zitkala-Sa. The main character in the American Indian Stories faces a conflict where she is unknowinglya part of the thievery called assimilation. Her illusion about white school being this wonderful land is shattered as the “palefaces” cut her hair, punished her for playing in the snow, and caused distress for her and her sisters. This education the main character receives is nothing more than cruel assimilation as the “palefaces” attempt to erase her Native American culture. Zitkala-Sa presents a case about how harmful assimilation can be towards non-European culture and how the results of assimilation place second-generation minorities in a questionable state or borderland, in which they are accepted by the European and American society but will not experience the excruciating difficulty for this acceptance like their ancestors.
There are cases where assimilation is not as harmful as depicted in Zitkala-Sa’s narrative and where the results are less controversial. As noted in the film, “The Revenant,” we are presented with Hugh Glass who, unlike his historic counterpart, married an Amerindian woman and adopted her culture into his identity. He can only able to communicate with other Amerindian tribes and his group of fur trappers. He proves to be liable liaison as he can sense the Amerindian movements and help his group avoid danger. Although this case of assimilation is proven to be useful, it is only on Hugh Glass’ end. Regarding Hugh Glass’ son and the Pawnee tribe, they are not recognized with respect as Hugh Glass. They still are look down upon, despite learning English and French respectively. Like I said earlier, this is not enough.
Although Hugh Glass learn the language of the Amerindian tribe, his position as a white man still hold him in high regard than his mestizo son and the Pawnee chief. In the case of Glass’ son and the Pawnee chief, they have to erase more than their language in order to receive generosity and respect. The absence of communication and understanding as well as the hostile assumptions in “The Revenant” reaffirms of the amount of assimilation that is needed to be recognized with high dignity for these Amerindians. This also leads into a part of U.S. history, in the case of United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, where the question of how much assimilation is needed to avoid the oppression from United States and for the nation to recognize the Sioux tribe as citizens. As beautiful as “The Revenant” is, it brings up the question of how much assimilation is needed for white people to recognize the tribe as citizens, not the barbarians they fear.
Earlier I claim assimilation destroys culture. It is evident what this process does to Native American tribes as it decreases their presence in the United States and increases the white-washing of this tribe. This process is harmful to the tribe as it can erase culture and traditions that made this nation unique. This process originates from White Americans who are vocal about their distance between them and minorities. This process is oppressive as it suppresses a heritage born and created before the United States was born, a heritage that deserves much more rights before the first Europeans, a heritage that took 100 years to be recognized by the United States, and a heritage that has been cheated out by treaties and guns.
Zitkala-Sa. American Indian Stories. Hayworths Publishing House. 1921. 1-27.
The Revenant. Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Performances by Leonardo DiCarpio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter, 20th Century Fox, 2015.