A project of the Center for Community Change

Remade in America

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The New York Times is featuring a series on the impact of immigration in the United States. Right now the series features two interesting articles (here and here) on immigrant children and growing up in the United States.The pieces follow the story of Jesselyn Bercian, daughter of El Salvadoran immigrants, who lives in Washington, DC.

Growing up in this corner of immigrant America, Jesselyn Bercian saw herself as an ordinary Salvadoran-American kid. She dropped out of high school, hung out with gangs and identified with poor, streetwise blacks. To the extent she gave it any thought, she considered poverty a Latina’s fate.

How representative is she?

Though the articles approach the topic of assimilation (a tricky concept for many), they also note that sometimes assimilation can mean something other than what we typically expect.

The problems of young people like Jesselyn are sometimes called failures of assimilation. But they can also be seen as assimilation to the wrong things: crime, drugs and self-fulfilling prophecies of racial defeat.

As Jesselyn tells it, she assimilated to the surrounding values of gangsta rap.

“If you’re Hispanic, people already expect you to steal, to fight, to be rude, to be ghetto,” Jesselyn said. “If everyone thinks wrong of you, eventually you’re going to start thinking wrong about yourself.”

To read the full series, click here.

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