‘Traverse Talks’ Episode 4: Carlos Gil On Mexican-American Assimilation, Identity And Immigration

Photo of Carlos Gil from a recording of Traverse Talks with Sueann Ramella
Carlos Gil on January 30, 2020 in the Northwest Public Broadcasting podcast studios.

In the fourth episode of Traverse Talks with Sueann Ramella, author and University of Washington professor of Chicano studies Carlos Gil discusses his views of assimilation as a descendant of Mexican immigrants growing up in California. Listen to his episode below or stream Traverse Talks with Sueann Ramella wherever you get your podcasts.

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Conversation Highlights:

Carlos’ Views on How His Descendants View Their Own Ethnicity:

A photo from Carlos Gil's book of the Gil's and friends.

A photo from Carlos B. Gil’s book, “We Become Mexican American: How Our Immigrant Family Survived to Pursue the American Dream.”

I have to respect what younger people, how younger people even in my family view their own ethnicity, because I don’t understand it totally. I understand my view of my own ethnicity but I don’t understand their view of their own ethnicity and I have to respect that right for them to view their ethnicity in their own way. And so, I know that my descendants down the line, they see themselves as being Latinos or Mexican Americans in their own way. A way I don’t fully comprehend, but I do know that I have to respect that because only they can define it in their own way when the moment comes that they want to define it.

Photo of Carlos Gil during a recording of Traverse Talks with Sueann Ramella

Carlos Gil on January 30, 2020 in the Northwest Public Broadcasting studios.

Thoughts on Assimilation:

A very good example for Latinos to understand, especially Latinos of Mexican background is that one of the first major experiences of assimilation, that had any importance, was the assimilation that occurred after the Spanish arrived in Mexico. Out of that merging comes the mestizo people, a blended people and the cultural interaction is a new product. So we’ve had assimilation going on for 500 years and here we are in the 21st century worrying about assimilating into Anglo American society. My colleagues, especially my Latino colleagues, worry about assimilation too much. They say, “What are we gonna do about assimilation? What are we going to do about white supremacy?” And I say to myself, gosh, we’ve been wrestling with these things for a very long time.

Thoughts on Educating the Public on Race and Ethnicity:

It depends on what your purpose is. If you’re a teacher of any kind and if your teaching in an area that reflects your cultural background then you have no choice but to be someone who explains. If your purpose is to make people of diverse backgrounds work well and satisfactorily within a society, then there’s no other thing that you can do but explain. I’m 87 years old, I’ve been doing that all my life. Even at this point when I look back and say, by God, what have I done all my life? I’ve tried to explain who Latinos are, where they come from, why they came and how they fit into American society. There is no other way for me, but again, it depends on what your purpose is. What are you trying to do? If you see yourself as a teacher, then teach. 

*Responses were edited for length and clarity.

Photo of Carlos Gil and Sueann Ramella after a recording of Traverse Talks with Sueann Ramella.

Carlos Gil, left, and host Sueann Ramella after their conversation on January 30, 2020 in NWPB’s studios in Pullman, Wash.

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