While much has been made about Trump’s harsh talk of deporting those here illegally, the president’s comments about the need for immigrants to fully embrace American culture has renewed a long-running debate that dates back generations. “Not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate,” President Trump said in a campaign-trail speech in which he called for new immigrants to pass an “ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people.” In one Republican debate, Trump declared that “we have a country where, to assimilate, you have to speak English … This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.” Though Espinoza and others might disagree with Trump’s policies on immigration, they say discussions about assimilation get to the heart of a balancing act all immigrants face: being American while preserving a strong sense of where they came from. “Have I been assimilated? I don’t know,” said the 45-year-old director of the graduate creative writing and literary arts program at Cal State Los Angeles. “Some people will probably say yes — look at how I dress and speak and where I’m educated. And some people will say no — he speaks Spanish and has a Mexican passport.” When he went to Mexico for the first time as an adult, the way he spoke, tripping over some Spanish words, instantly pegged him as American. Espinoza is a permanent legal resident but believes that even if he became a U.S. citizen he would never be considered “fully American” by some people. “Even if I started right now speaking in a Southern drawl and listening to country music, I’m still going to be Mexican,” he said. “My skin is still going to be a certain shade. Assimilation is not this thing where it’s like, OK, I’m one of you.”
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