Nora Chavez, age 65

South Texas: Corpus Christi and San Antonio

“Assimilate? You Assimilate!”

It’s taken me a week to come out and comment on this. Retired news anchor Tom Brokaw spilled his beans when he revealed on NBC News “Meet The Press” on January 27, 2019 that his view on assimilation is one he’s been sharing “for a long time.” He continued to say that “They (Hispanics) ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities.”

I totally respected (past tense) Tom Brokaw. I met him on a book tour when his “The Greatest Generation” came out. I wanted to get an autographed copy for my father who served during WWII. As a Native American/Hispanic baby boomer, our parent’s goal was for us to succeed and to do so through assimilation.

We all learned how to speak English without an accent (as did my parents), we were all good students in school and we celebrated American holidays. We talked white, dressed white, acted white and even lived in a predominantly all-white neighborhood. But no matter how confident we felt walking around in a white world with our white friends, we all knew deep inside that we weren’t white.

Not feeling comfortable “in the communities” was what would be brought to our attention several times throughout life. In middle school, the principal came over the loudspeaker saying he was looking for “a white boy who could type to work in his office.” This was in 1968. Raul Ramon Romero came in to the office to inquire about the job. The Principal said, “I’m looking for a white boy who can type.” Raul said to him, “I can type white.” The principle told him to leave before he got himself into trouble. This school was about 95% Mexican-American yet speaking Spanish on school property could get you suspended. 

In 1972, one of my best friends through high school always came over to my house to do homework, etc., One day I asked her why couldn’t we go over to her house. She nonchalantly said, “Oh, my parents don’t allow Mexicans in their home.” In college, my American History teacher was always telling jokes about Mexicans and other minorities, African Americans, Italians, Jews, etc. One day he said that all of them should be sent back to where they came from, “except Mexicans,” he said, “they cook good food and know how to clean houses.” We (minorities) all laughed nervously.

I’m so tired of hearing Mexican culture being trashed and yet White Americans are first ones who order a margarita and do Taco Tuesday. They celebrate Cinco de Mayo and don’t even know what it’s all about. They want to tan themselves to the same depth of color we naturally have and, as a Native American, they steal our medicines and culture and re-invent it as their own. Our culture, our art, our food is only “chic” if and I say with a big IF, White Americans like it. Otherwise, it’s ignored and considered worthless.

Assimilate? How many White Americans are willing to take one step forward and say they are willing to learn just a little Spanish, just a few words, even if it’s to speak to your maid.

So, Chuck Todd, I ask you as the host of Meet the Press, to bring back Tom Brokaw and have him address his racist comments among a panel with experts like Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, actress Eva Longoria who has a Master’s degree in Chicano Studies, or former Surgeon General Dr. Antonia C. Novello. Find out what “these experts” think about “Hispanics should work harder at assimilation.”