Mixing or Matching?

When it comes to immigrants in Silicon Valley, it’s both, says sociologist Tomas R. Jiménez ’98.

Jiménez set out to study the way that people whose families have been in the Unites States for generations are reshaped by immigration. Drawing on scores of interviews with “established Americans” in Silicon Valley, he has laid out in The Other Side of Assimilation the ways that immigration influences the DNA of America. Here’s an excerpt:

As our walk wore on, Nova began reflecting more about what it was like for her to come of age around so many people living in immigrant households. She spoke of the normalcy that came with growing up around people whose parents came from another country. She talked about encounters with other ethnic traditions. She had enjoyed them and came to feel as though some, like Chinese New Year and Cinco de Mayo, were somehow American. She spoke of not being able to understand some of her friends’ parents because they spoke languages other than English. But she also picked up a few words of those languages—enough to joke with her friends. And she talked about her mixed Mexican and Irish ancestry leading her to be seen as the “white” girl in some contexts, but the “Mexican” girl in others. Her own identity, how she saw herself, seemed to depend on whether she was around mostly Asians, mostly Mexicans, or a mixed group of peers.

As she went on, I interrupted, asking, “So it was like you were adjusting to all of the immigration?”

“Exactly!” she quickly replied.

Our conversation during that long summer walk, along with a catalogue of my own informal observations, prompted me to begin to study assimilation in a different light. It spurred me to think about assimilation in a way that reflected Nova’s and my recollections of a childhood full of interactions with immigrants and their children. It led me to turn assimilation on its head in order to consider how immigration might shape the experiences of the most established people in the United States: the people who are not immigrants or the children of immigrants.

post-image Photo by Gerson Galang ©2008
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