It seems hard to believe that anyone living in the U.S. could escape the steady cultural onslaught – what to wear, where to go, the latest tech gizmo. Americanization is beyond a national marketing campaign; it’s a global money-making behemoth. Our culture invades countries worldwide whose citizens don our jeans and listen to our music, even countries where we’re seen as the Great Satan. American culture, by its overwhelming scope, seems to run roughshod over nostalgia for the old country and yet the fears persist that we’ll never fit in.
We Undocumented Americans may be discussed as if we’re different, as if we’re to be excluded from the national branding, but we’re not left in a cultural vacuum while we struggle to belong. We are already both the audiences and the influencers of the American Way of Life. No one need worry that we’re not fully engaged in the national discussions and pastimes.
We are unmistakably an integral part of American life. We are everywhere: workplaces, schools, churches, sporting and entertainment events. We populate the big cities and small rural towns, places where immigrant populations appear to have grown overnight. “Since 1970, the foreign-born population of greater Atlanta has risen more than 3,000 percent,” according to Jason Deparle’s 2013 Atlantic article on “Why the U.S. Is So Good at Turning Immigrants into Americans.”
While we may be everywhere geographically, we’re often stuck economically — denied good public schools and in-state college tuition and unable to advance in universities and the workplace without required documentation. The politicians who view us as “illegal aliens” do everything they can to make sure we know we aren’t wanted, that we’ll never belong, that we will self-fulfill their prophesy of never becoming “real Americans.”
Radical conservatives want the nation to believe that we’re ungrateful and unconnected while they are the ones keeping us in perpetual legal limbo. Liberals and academics point to studies that confirm we embrace this country with more optimism than many native born and do identify as Americans, not necessarily overnight but within a generation or two. In fact, immigrants from Latin America already define themselves as “Americano.”
“Children growing up in America almost unavoidably assimilate American values,” respected economist and Oxford professor, Paul Collier, writes. “The same is far from true in Europe.” However, measurements of mobility, which should be unrivaled in the U.S., are higher in Europe. Here’s where integration hits a monumental roadblock.
Mobility is an integral part of the American Dream. Many countries in the world excel at keeping millions on the bottom and their ongoing success in global economics suffers because of it. If 11 million of us remain Undocumented Americans, the U.S. faces the real possibility of creating a permanent underclass without hope, as has happened in so many other countries where immigration tensions have mounted. If we live, work and go to school here, we need the papers that make advancement possible. If the government we admired from afar continues to serve us and all Americans so poorly in its perpetual gridlock, there will be a tragic loss of individual talent and national potential. This loss is what the country should fear, not us.
In Stephanie Hanes’ exploration of “Immigration: Assimilation and the Measure of an American,” she cites the 1990’s work of Princeton University’s Alejandro Portes, considered one of the leading thinkers on immigrant integration. “He helped develop a theory of ‘segmented assimilation,’ which at a basic level says that because American society is so unequal, there are a number of social places where an immigrant can fit – including the social underclass.”
Portes is quoted as saying, “Nativists take the position that they don’t want any immigrants at all – they want to build fences…The other position is to turn [immigrants] into Americans as quickly as possible – this is forced assimilation…The problem is that the first generation cannot be turned into Americans instantly. And the attempt to do so is often counterproductive. It creates fear and alienation, it denigrates the culture and language of immigrants themselves, and it denigrates it to their kids.”
We work very hard to be integrated, not assimilated into America. We’re not giving up who we are but we’re becoming American. We may not be Made in America but we’re determined to make our way. Our origins are not as important as what we do with our opportunities. We are not here through some accident of birth but because we made a hard choice to come and to make something better of ourselves — aspirations any country should welcome.
We risk everything to come to the States and then must find a place to live, work and overcome language barriers while dealing with a broken immigration system. Before we can become citizens, we must learn English, American history and take a citizenship test – waiting for years to even find a way into the bureaucracy. During this wait, we do what we can, taking advantage of DACA and DAPA, should it be upheld in the courts. We work and worry and wait. We focus on our children ensuring that they get the education we believe to be their ticket to acceptance and success.
In 2012, children with at least one Undocumented parent accounted for 6.9% of U.S. students in kindergarten through 12th grade. A significant majority of these students were born in the U.S. (representing 5.5% of all students in 2012); the rest (1.4% of all students) are Undocumented themselves. The share of these students with unauthorized immigrant parents climbed to 7.2% in 2007 from 3.2% in 1995.
The Pew Research Center estimates that in 2012 four-million Undocumented parents, or 38% of adults in this population, lived with their U.S.-born children, either minors or adults. Of these, three million have lived in the U.S. for 10 years or more. There are 6.3 million children who live in a household with a DAPA-eligible parent and 5.5 million of these children are U.S. citizens.
For so many of us, the young Undocumented and our U.S.-born children, the U.S. is the only country we know. We have settled ourselves into the American Way of Life and added our own stories, hopes and dreams. What we bring is affirmation of the nation’s democratic ideals — a world view of a global citizen choosing to earn American citizenship. We’re not a threat to the concept of being an American but a strong validation that comes with gifts — more languages, skills, cultures, points-of-view, art, sports and cuisines. It’s what every generation of immigrants has brought in rich abundance since our nation’s founding.
Research Sources: Christian Science Monitor’s Stephanie Hanes’ 2013 “Immigration: Assimilation and the Measure of an American,” Jason Deparle’s 2013 The Atlantic Daily, “Why the U.S. Is So Good at Turning Immigrants into Americans,” Christian Science Monitor’s Jessica Mendoza: “Republican Debate Missing the Point,” L.A. Times Kate Linthicum: “Asians To Top Latinos,” The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute’s Joyce Bryant: “Immigration in the U.S.,” L.A. Times’ Don Lee: “U.S. Surge of Asian Migrants,” Huffington Post Senior Media Editor Gabriel Arana, Economic Policy Institute, New York Times, Center for Immigration Studies, Pew Research Center, L.A. Times, CNN Money Report, Undocumented, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ July interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Project, Chuck Todd’s Nerdscreen, American Immigration Council, Emmy-winning journalist/Univision anchor and published author Jorge Ramos, Huffington Post’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Sam Stein & Amanda Terkel’s GOP and the 14th, NPR’s “The Debate Over Anchor Babies and Citizenship,” ABC News, Migration Policy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Congressional Budget Office, American Community Survey, AP’s Russell Contreras: “Trump’s Deportation Idea,” Congress Blog: H.A. Goodman’s 2014 “Illegal Immigrants Benefit the U.S. Economy,” linguistics teacher John McWhorter’s “What Sarah Palin’s Speak American Is All About,” attorney and USA Today board contributor Raul A. Reyes and Claudio Iván Remeseira, NBC Latino, AP’s Alicia A. Caldwell, USA Today’s Alan Gomez.