This I Believe – Assimilation is a Great Upgrade
“Hritos voskrese!” (Christ is risen!), I told my cousin and her family—in my native Serbo-Croatian—during my Easter phone call to Montenegro.
“Tell us again, how we are supposed to answer?” they asked.
“Voistinu voskres!.” (Truly He has risen!) I told them.
Here I was, more than 50 years after having left my birth country, explaining to the family over there how to practice the traditions from there.
To me, the best metaphor describing assimilation into the United States is neither melting pot nor salad bowl. I believe assimilation into the American culture is like a computer, a great place to continuously upgrade our cultural software. In fact it’s a dual drive—tiny bits of subtraction, megabytes of addition.
Some would argue that assimilation is a way of losing or diluting your identity. But then so is marriage, having kids, working a job, or getting older. Once you make new, long-lasting relationships, you will never be what you were. Who would want to be!
I believe, in the U. S., we are blessed with tremendous social freedoms and opportunities for economic means. So much so that we are able to practice the faiths, languages, ceremonies, and cuisines of our native lands more than we could in our native lands.
I didn’t give up my faith to assimilate. In fact, we are free to practice church sacraments more openly in the U.S. than we ever were in old Montenegro.
Not only do I have the chance to be much more involved in my own faiths (our family was a mix of Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran); but I’ve been to Catholic ordinations, Jewish bar and bat mitzvahs, Mormon mission farewells, Native American powwows, Buddhist yoga practices, and big fat Greek weddings, just to name a few.
I also didn’t give up my native language, or the second one I learned. In addition to staying relatively fluent in those two, I had a chance to learn a third—the most powerful and eclectic language of the world, English. Now I find myself using all three, as I help others assimilate.
If we hadn’t come to the U.S., I don’t think I ever would have been taught to celebrate Mardi Gras, Cinco De Mayo, Spring Festival, St. Patrick’s or Columbus Days. I absolutely never would have had the chance to work for the observation of Martin Luther King Day.
Who knows if or when I would have ever eaten sushi, kung pao chicken, green chili tamales, gomen on injera, fry bread, shrimp gumbo, or apple pie.
Don’t get me wrong; assimilation includes so many downloads that I feel my hard drive crashes at times. Mostly, it’s just a matter of rebooting. And, I could always use more memory. Thank goodness CPUs (which, for me, stands for cultural processing units) keep getting better and increase in capacity.
Assimilation in the U.S……….. can’t wait for the next version!
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.