Ellen Hu ’24
On March 22, Scripps Presents partnered with PEN Out Loud and the Huntley Bookstore to feature author Julissa Arce as she spoke about her newly released book, You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation. Arce was joined by comedian Aida Rodriguez onstage as the two conversed about her work.
Arce is a bestselling author whose previous works include My (Underground) American Dream and Someone Like Me (Alguien Como Yo). In addition to being an author, she is also a speaker and political commentator who shares her experience as an undocumented immigrant who achieved great success on Wall Street.
This was the first in-person Scripps Presents event hosted since the college shut down in March of 2020. After two years of virtual events, Garrison Theater was filled with students and Arce’s supporters. The event was also live streamed through Youtube for audience members who were unable to make it in person.
Upon entering the stage, donning a bright dress and floral headband whose shades matched her book’s rosa mexicano-colored cover, Arce was met with a round of applause. She began the program by reading an excerpt of her new release; the last line, “America might never love us back, so we must love ourselves,” rang powerfully with Arce’s audience.
You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation was released on the same day of the event and her visit at Scripps College marked the first stop on her book tour. The book interweaves Arce’s own experiences and reflections with a detailed history of Mexican-American international relations and the assimilation that came with it.
The focus of this work is the concept of assimilation, something that is reflected in Arce’s title. Derived from an anecdote documented within the book, Arce explained how she was told she sounded like a white girl as a teenager.
While the words were meant as an insult, she had taken it as a compliment since she had tried so hard to imitate white mannerisms in an attempt to fit the narrow definition of “American.” In the end, however, she realized that assimilation, and the feeling of belonging that was supposed to come along with it, was a lie.
“I feel like I gave up a part of my soul when I was assimilating because it really to me is that deep the things we are asked to give up,” Arce said. “And so if assimilation truly offered us belonging, then maybe it would be a different story. But it doesn’t.”
She described assimilation as the process whereby one sheds themselves of things that make them who they are for an illusion of choice. She emphasized how this is a lie.
“We have also believed that we can find belonging, that we can find protection, in whiteness and in proximity to whiteness,” Arce said. “I know that I thought that, maybe unconsciously, but I did.”
She pointed to the history of Mexican Americans in the United States as a way of understanding assimilation and this ethnic group’s relation to whiteness. After diving into a brief history of the Mexican-American War, Arce described how the outcome of the violence resulted in a time when “Mexicans, who were not white, were getting citizenship when only white people could.”
Yet, the whiteness that came with citizenship was never codified. “We sort of were just swept under the rug of whiteness and it never really worked out in our favor,” she said.
While the book focuses on the Latino, specifically Mexican, populations, Arce was very clear that this book is meant to speak to everyone. She specifically spoke to non-Latino allies who were in attendance.
“You’ll learn some things, and I hope that it makes a lot of us uncomfortable because I talk about a lot of uncomfortable truths,” she said. “But I also think that if we’re ever going to make this country truly be a place for all of us, we probably need to get a little uncomfortable.”
Scripps Presents in collaboration with PEN Out Loud will return with future events in the fall 2022 semester. You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation is now available for purchase on Amazon and other major bookstores.
Below is a description of Julissa Arce’s new book, You Sound Like a White Girl, courtesy of Macmillian Publishing:
In this dual polemic and manifesto, Julissa dives into and tears apart the lie that assimilation leads to belonging. She combs through history and her own story to break down this myth, arguing that assimilation is a moving finish line designed to keep Black and brown Americans and immigrants chasing racist American ideals.
She talks about the Lie of Success, the Lie of Legality, the Lie of Whiteness, and the Lie of English – each promising that if you obtain these things, you will reach acceptance – you won’t be an outsider anymore. Instead, Julissa deftly argues, these demands leave her and those like her in a purgatory – neither able to secure the power and belonging of whiteness nor find it in the community and cultures whiteness demands we leave behind.
Here Julissa offers a bold new promise: Belonging only comes through celebrating yourself, your history, your culture, and everything that makes you uniquely you. Only in turning away from the white gaze can we truly make America beautiful. An America where difference is celebrated, heritage is shared and embraced, and belonging is for everyone. Through unearthing veiled history and reclaiming her own identity, Julissa shows us how to do this.
Image Source: Scripps College