On October 14, 2016, Los Angeles Times published a collection of stories responding to the question, “What does being Latino mean in 2016?” One response that caught my attention was that of Ernesto Bobadilla, from Whittier, California. He titled his response, “Ni de aqui, ni de alla,” which when translated into English says, “Neither from here nor from there.” This phrase is a very popular amongst Latinos. Great actors and actresses like Maria Elena Velasco, better known by her fictional character name, “La India Maria,” have made movies and songs addressing the problem of assimilation in the U.S. In his response, Mr. Bobadilla goes on to say, “The most misunderstood part of being Latino is we are not seen as American even if we love our country where we were born, raised and are proud to be American. On the same note, rejected by our parents’ country even if we are fluent in Spanish and know all there is to know and feel a close tie to it.”

This is the problem with assimilation. Often, no matter how hard you try, you never feel like you fit in. You don’t fit in the U.S. because of the color of your skin, your accent, or the sound of your last name I always say, “No matter how much I comb-over my hair or how smart I try to sound, I will never be seen as white.” You also don’t fit in with the country of your roots because you are living in the U.S., growing up with a different mentality than those back home. Many see you as a traitor because you are adapting customs and attitudes that are not associated with your ethnic background.

Assimilation is a complicated process. It sounds much easier than it really is. According to Dictionary.com, assimilation is defined as, “The process of bringing into conformity with the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group, nation, or the like; adapt or adjust.” But when you look at the definition itself, you can start imagining how complicated it really is to assimilate. You are confirming to the customs and attitudes of another nation. You are leaving your customs and attitudes behind, and you are adapting to a new way of life.

Such process is not easy. Like Mr. Bobadilla, I have experienced the backlash that many Latinos experience as a result of assimilating. Growing up, I was not a student exposed to rigorous classes or higher education. Up until the end of my sophomore year in high school, I had no clue what college was nor any plans to attend. Then, with the help of my AVID[1] teacher, I managed to turn my life around  I distanced myself from my gang affiliations and stopped valuing “street smarts” over my academic.  It was challenging, however. Not only was the rigorous course load mentality challenging but it also brought cultural and social stigma upon me. Within the Latino community at high school, I became an outcast and was labeled “white-washed” due to my newly developed interest in education and the need to change the friends that surrounded me. At one point, I was even assaulted as a result of my change. However, it was also difficult for me to fit with the non-Latino student population whom thought of me as simply not one of them and I constantly felt judged because of my background.

My academic accomplishments have continued pushing me away from my roots. Many Latinos, including my family, place a heavy emphasis on hard work (physical work). Growing up, my dad tried his best to engrain in me the value of hard work, specifically manual labor. My father took great pride in showing me off as a child because I worked as a gardener since the age of 11. However, the more I grew and focused on my academics, the less pride he demonstrated. To this day, I’m not sure why my dad doesn’t support me more. Often I feel like he feels betrayed by me for not continuing his legacy of being a landscape gardener. I noticed that since I started focusing on my academics and distancing myself from landscape gardening, my father has made less effort to teach my siblings how to be landscape gardeners. Maybe he feels like they will do the same as I did, and simply walk away from landscape gardening once they grow older.

Although attending law school might seem like it is just further education, to me it has been more than that. I gave up landscape gardening to pursue an “American career,” to become an attorney. I turned my back on what my father taught me, to pursue a dream that is not “Mexican.” That dream has “Americanized” me in the eyes of Latinos, and has made me a complete outcast amongst my family. Although I know that my parents are proud of me for wanting to become an attorney, there is also an element of betrayal that they feel because I did not pursue what they taught me and is common in the Latino community.

[1] AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is an internationally recognized program designed to prepare high school students for success in four-year universities. The program primarily focuses on helping students that are not on a college-bound path.

Gilberto Orozco, Jr.