The daughter of Mexican immigrants who immigrated to the Valley in the 1940s, Armenta said that back then the tendency was for society to devalue anything associated with being Mexican.
“I am a Mexican by birth and an American by choice,” said Armenta, a naturalized citizen who also serves as president of MANA de Imperial Valley, a national nonprofit organization that aims to empower Latinas in the community.
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Yet Armenta is reluctant to cast herself as a shining example of assimilation.
“That word (assimilation) can be positive or negative,” she said. “It’s more a blend of different cultures that are embraced in the country because of our uniqueness.”
Assimilation can be something of an “amorphous” concept that encompasses many dimensions, said Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington D.C.
Assimilation also takes on different aspects in border regions where there is a constant inflow of foreign-born people, Lopez said.
In the Imperial Valley where 31 percent of the population is foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census, signs of assimilation and acculturation are observable.
“It is not true that Latino immigrants don’t want to assimilate,” said John Nieto-Phillips, a Latino studies professor at Indiana University. “It is not the case that they are less inclined, but there are clear legal, political and racial barriers.”
It is common for groups to retain some aspects of their ancestral culture while attaining other aspects that allow them to advance in their new settings, said Nieto-Phillips.
Today, there is more of an effort to adapt and succeed, while in the past many Spanish-speaking immigrants would resort to Anglicizing their surnames, said Kevin Johnson, dean of University of California, Davis School of Law.
Assimilation has worked but it also has costs, Johnson said, noting that immigrants are essentially being asked to forego parts of their identity.
“Most immigrants will want to integrate themselves because it makes sense economically — they will have more access to jobs,” Johnson said.
For Armenta, fond memories of her school days far outnumber those unpleasant ones, she said. Supportive teachers were the norm and prompted Armenta to follow in their footsteps and become an educator.
Armenta said she’s aware that her actions can counter stereotypes about the Latino community. Just as important, she said, is the work MANA does in the Valley to promote leadership development and community involvement.
“It’s not a Mexican-American thing, it’s a community thing,” Armenta said, referring to MANA. “It’s a matter of being part of the community and giving back to the community.”
Staff writer Julio Morales can be contacted at 760-335-4665 or at email@example.com.