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"I am American"

“My friends say ‘Hey, you need to focus on English’,” he said. “Stop speaking Spanish or watching T.V. in Spanish or listen to music in Spanish. Only in English.”

Within the first minute of my interview with Mexican immigrant Agustine Lopez, we had already jumped into the conversation about assimilation. He kept his palms, messy with white paint, clasped together on the tables. He didn’t have anything to hide.

“Yeah, I changed myself,” Lopez said. “This is more important [for] me.”

Lopez has made a lot of friends here in America, but it isn’t always easy.

“My friends say ‘Nah, you aren’t American,” Lopez said. “You are Mexican.”

He said he does think about whether or not he is an American, especially when “the guys” tell him he isn’t an American because he doesn’t speak English and because he doesn’t have an American birth certificate.

“I tell them, ‘Hey, I don’t need a paper. I am American,’” Lopez said. “You no like it, there is nothing I can do for you.”

He came to here in 1999. In the beginning, he didn’t think he needed to learn English because he was in California and to him, “This is Mexico.” He saw Mexicans all around him and there was no assimilation required.

It wasn’t till he came to Georgia (he lived in Chicago with his cousin before coming here) in 2011 that he realized “you live in any country, you need to learn the language.”

Now, he has been a construction worker for the past two years, earning seven more dollars an hour than back in Chicago at $12 an hour.

His boss told him that if Lopez would go to English classes, he would take Spanish classes. Assimilation is no one-way street.

For Lopez, leaving Mexico and embracing America is no problem. America has lived up to everything he expected: the freedom, the libertad.

“You want a new car? You working hard, save your money, you can get it,” he said. “This is the life. I love this country. It’s my second house.”

One thing that was a surprise to him was his friendships. Every Sunday, he joins together with immigrants from different countries — many from Iran — to play soccer in Deluthe. They can’t all understand each other but they can play soccer together. Assimilation in America is not about assimilating with Americans; it is about assimilating with all the cultures that exist here.

Out of all his friends, he has had five or six deported but about 85 percent of his friends don’t have documents.

“I don’t understand why this country makes these terrible politics,” Lopez said. “I think it’s not right.” Lopez thinks that the Republicans and Democrats just need to sit down and talk it out because this country is “big for immigrants.”

The attraction to America, Lopez explains, exists because here, the future is in your hands. The only requirement is an education. He says that he wants to be an architect but he knows it is too late for him.

That’s why he pushes his nieces (who were born here) to focus on their studies. He knows that you can’t make it in America without focusing on your grades.

But Lopez says he is content with his way of life now, despite his far-reaching dream. His job brought him everything his life needs. When he needs new shoes, he says, he buys new shoes.

So now, he just lives by a simple philosophy.

“Be happy all the time,” Lopez said. “Estar feliz all the time.”

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