…because I’m not talking about the Borg.

 

When I was 6, my family got stationed in Hawaii (click here for how we ended up in the Air Force).  I know *rotten* luck, huh?

 

Anyway, when we moved there, we didn’t live on base, we lived “on the economy,” which is military for “with the locals.” There is a military influence all over Hawaii, but some places are stronger than others. The schools, shockingly, right around the base are much more military culture than any local culture in any country around the world.

 

I’ll delve into military culture at some point, but just know that, at this point, it was not a part of our experience in Hawaii, in large part. There were a couple of families that lived around us that were military, as well, but we were the minority. Tiny minority.

 

Now, I am a white girl. Really white. White like, almost see through kind of white. But, after living in Texas for a while, I had a bit of a tan as I loved playing outside. But, no one would have bought that I was a local in Hawaii.

 

When school began I realized what a terrible name I had to live there. See, my name, Holli, is close to the word that is the basic equivalent of the n-word used for white people in Hawaii. Haole (pronounced how-lee) is what many of the locals use when referencing white people. So, Haole Holli I was! Ugh.

 

Well, what to do? I could have made a fuss, told on the kids, I could have cried, or threatened to kick their butts (I was small, but wiry!!).

 

What I did, instead, was assimilate. I learned to speak the local dialect of Pidgin English (hard not to, I was immersed), I learned to play Chinese Jump-rope (which I just loved to play, it turns out), asked my mom to buy local foods for snacks (which really was just because I loved the taste). After all this, mostly inadvertent assimilation, and some time, the label of Haole dropped off. I was just Holli. Success!

 

So, when I talk to immigrants (i.e. people who have done the hard work to make it all legal), most of whom are avid conservatives and know more about American history and government than the vast majority of Americans who didn’t have to pass any citizenship test, and they indicate that they have taken on the ideals of America (freedom, opportunity, etc.) and embraced that culture, I know why they have.

 

To be an American, you don’t have to eat certain food (though knowing how to BBQ is a bonus), wear certain clothes (who doesn’t love jeans?), or leave your culture behind. You don’t have to STOP speaking your native language, but you’ll ever have full access to opportunity if you don’t learn the language of the land. All you have to do is add on the desire for freedom and to be able to make something of yourself in a land with no classes and no limits but those you impose on yourself.

 

It’s easy to layer the culture of America over your native culture, because it doesn’t interfere with the culture that one brings here (I know, I know, there are exceptions!), it gives them the freedom to express that culture, while being just as American as the next person.