Speaker shares family’s story of immigration, assimilation
The process of becoming American, or assimilation, isn’t easy, but it happens to everyone who comes here, said Carlos B. Gil, a son of Mexican immigrants.
Gil, an emeritus professor of the University of Washington, presented a talk titled “From Mexican to Mexican-American: A Family Immigration Story,” April 3 at the Quincy Public Library. The presentation was sponsored by Humanities Washington and North Central Regional Library.
Gil taught for 30 years and retired in 2004. In his new book, “We Became Mexican American: How Our Immigrant Family Survived to Pursue the American Dream,” he shares the story of his family’s move to the U.S.
In Quincy, his style of speaking to the 25 in attendance was conversational. With slides projected on a large screen, Gil introduced his family members in photos. They immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. from 1916 to 1923.
“Mexican immigration is 100 years old at least, folks,” Gil said.
He described his ancestors as peasants in Mexico, people who typically lived and died on plantations. But in the tumultuous years of the Mexican Revolution, thousands of young males, including his uncle Pascual, crossed the border into the U.S.
More relatives also went north, to Fresno, California, and then San Fernando, California. Carlos Gil was born in San Fernando.
While the revolution was pushing people out of Mexico, there were economic reasons pulling them into the U.S., Gil explained. For instance, it was common for American “job agents” to meet migrating workers at the border and offer them jobs on the spot.
In the 1920s and ’30s, many other Mexicans came up through Texas and went north and west to sugar beet growing states. From 1942 to 1964, more Mexicans came to the U.S. in the Bracero program, which was an official guest worker program to bring in laborers while Americans were going off to World War II, Gil said.
Such steps in economic integration led to the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, he said. Today, there is a symbiotic relationship between Eastern Washington farmers and Mexican workers, Gil said, to the extent that a worker in Jalisco, Mexico, knows a farmer in Sunnyside, or a farmer in Quincy, and communicates with that farmer directly.
Once settled in the U.S., Mexican immigrants tended to congregate in neighborhoods and retain parts of their culture, as in clothing, food and music. The pattern was similar to the way enclaves had developed in large cities, such as Boston, with immigrants from other countries, such as Italy or Poland.
“The first generation brings their sense of who they are,” Gil said.
But holding on to who they were brought some problems, Gil said, such as the stresses that his four sisters faced in the 1940s as their mother enforced stringent rules on the children.
He and his siblings learned American ways while their parents lagged. They received some American culture through the radio – Gil recalled wanting to sing like Bing Crosby – while they also remained fans of Mexican celebrities.
As much as some in immigrant families want to resist changing or letting children assimilate too much, Gil said, it can’t be avoided.
“Assimilation happens anyway,” he said.
Great-grandchildren of Gil’s parents – the fourth generation in the U.S. – have little of the culture left from their Mexican ancestors, he said, but for the first, second and third generations of immigrants it is a big deal to know when and from where they came to the U.S.
By Dave Burgess, email@example.com