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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Book review: ‘You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation’ by Julissa Arce

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The key for the clubhouse door is off limits to you.

You’ll never earn the member jacket or learn the double-secret handshake. No matter how hard you try, membership to the club is totally off limits, and that’s irritating, embarrassing and even dangerous. But read the new book “You Sound Like a White Girl” by Julissa Arce, and maybe that’s a club not worth joining.

For the first 11 years of her life, Julissa Arce was a Mexican child living in Mexico. She was not ethnically different from any of her neighbors; in fact, “Eating the food, speaking the language, dancing to the music – it was all like breathing air.”

“You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation” by Julissa Arce

And then everything changed. Her parents moved their family across the border to America, a sacrifice they made to ensure better opportunities for their children, but with those opportunities came struggle. Arce constantly worked to fit in. She cut her long hair, and she practiced until she could speak English almost flawlessly, but even the smallest mistake set her back in the eyes of her white classmates.

She was never going to be white. So why try?

For centuries, she says, white people have told Hispanic and Black people that if they worked hard, that “everything was possible,” and they said that while they were making it impossible for anyone with darker skin to get ahead. As a result, people of color relinquished their culture and language with hopes of assimilation or, at least, acceptance. They stopped speaking their native tongue, while white schools proudly taught it in “dual-language … programs.” Most bruisingly, the system resulted in a widely held preference for lighter skin, and not just in the U.S.: A similar preference “infiltrates” Mexican life, too, says Arce.

“You Sound Like a White Girl” by Julissa Arce

c.2022

Flatiron Books

$27.99

208 pages

The solution, she suggests, is to stop trying to assimilate, period.

“There is so much power in the uniqueness of our names, our food, our heritage,” she says. “Only when we refuse to change and instead recognize the beauty that has been passed down to us will we truly find acceptance within ourselves.”

When you approach “You Sound Like a White Girl” and prepare to dive in, be sure to leave your assumptions at the door. Author Julissa Arce is going to make you examine everything you ever thought about your natal culture, no matter what your origins.

And she does it with an angry eloquence that makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to work so hard to fit in anyhow. Through her own personal stories, history and research, she lets readers know that they’re not alone in their efforts to assimilate, that their frustration is not unique, and that there’s ample reason to quit the fight. It comes with a good amount of pride and not just a few surprises.

While this book may seem like it could have a “No Whites Allowed” sign hidden somewhere on the cover, nothing could be further from the truth. To make our society better, letting everyone of any race read “You Sound Like a White Girl” is key.

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