SAN FRANCISCO — Tomasa Bulux speaks Spanish to her children, maintains an altar at home representing her Mayan culture's view of the world and meets once a week with Mayan immigrants who speak her indigenous Quiche tongue.
At the same time, she's becoming a part of the diverse, cosmopolitan city she lives in. Her Guatemalan dishes share space on the table with experiments in cooking Thai or Arabic food. She's fluent in English and socializes with her European-American husband's English-speaking family as much as with other Hispanics.
Bulux (BOO-loox), 42, an immigrant from Guatemala, is hardly alone.
An Associated Press-Univision poll shows that a significant percentage of Hispanics believe it is important to hold on to their unique identity even as they work to blend into American society. That dual view of their cultural space — a strong sense of heritage and a desire to embrace the United States as their home — challenges perceptions that a growing Hispanic population poses a destabilizing threat to national unity.
"It is part of life to adapt," Bulux says. "But our identity is already within us — you can't isolate it, suppress it, substitute it for another."
The poll, also sponsored by The Nielsen Company and Stanford University, shows two-thirds of all Hispanics surveyed say it is important to maintain their distinct cultures. At the same time, 54 percent say it is important to assimilate into American society.
All told, about four in 10 hold both views — a seeming contradiction that reflects the daily balancing act that many immigrants and ethnic groups perform to retain their identity in a diverse, though still Anglo-Protestant-dominant, culture.
"Identity is multidimensional and people can see themselves as Hispanic and as Americans, and see themselves as culturally part of the United States and maintaining their Hispanicity, without seeing that as being internally in conflict," said Gary Segura of Stanford University, an authority on Latino politics who helped design the survey. "Hispanics are part of a very long tradition here of incorporating their own cultures into the American mainstream."
The poll was conducted during a three-month period that overlapped with Arizona's approval of a law cracking down on illegal immigration. (A federal judge last week blocked implementation of key portions of the law.) The poll detected a shift in attitudes in favor of assimilation after passage of the law on April 23.
Before passage, 39 percent of mostly English-speaking Hispanics said blending into society was important. After April 23, 54 percent of English-dominant Hispanics said assimilation was important.
Raul Torres, a 45-year-old carpenter's helper from Mableton, Ga., said when he was a younger immigrant from Mexico he had little interest in American culture and focused on working and spending time with his Hispanic friends.
"Now I'm more interested with the things that are happening — the Arizona law, that kind of stuff," he said. "I'm interested in blending into American society and to try to speak about the benefits or problems that we face. I'm a citizen now and I'm voting."
The desire to assimilate is especially strong among older and foreign-born Hispanics, particularly those who immigrated to the United States as adults.
Still, the poll also shows an inclination by Hispanics to stick together socially and, among immigrants, to believe their well-being depends on other Hispanics also doing well. Three out of five of those polled said more than half of their friends are Hispanic, with a quarter saying all their friends are Hispanics.
Three out of four foreign-born Hispanics express a sense that their fate is linked to that of other Hispanics, while only 37 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics hold similar views.
Hispanics who say Spanish is their dominant language — as well as foreign-born Hispanics — are more likely to believe that it is important to blend into U.S. society than those Hispanics born in the United States.
Young Hispanics are less likely to say that it is important to change and blend in: 43 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say it is important to assimilate, whereas 67 percent of those 65 and older find assimilation important. That is in part because younger Hispanics are more likely to have been born in the United States and have naturally assimilated into the broader culture.
Blending in can also be less important for Hispanics such as Ana Maria Matos, a 33-year-old social worker from Brooklyn with parents from Puerto Rico, who grow up in diverse surroundings.
"I'm part of the second generation and I try to have the same traditions that my parents taught me with my own children. ... I grew up with my parents telling me all the time, be proud of who you are and where you came from," she said. "And I find that because I grew up in New York City it was very easy for me to assimilate."
For Tomasa Bulux, who moved to the United States with her American husband three years ago, the key is "convivencia y aceptacion" — coexistence and acceptance.
"You have to manage these differences," she said of the way she and her husband navigate their two cultures. "With the children, I share my culture, he shares his. He speaks English to them, I speak Spanish.
"It's about convivencia and aceptacion."
The AP-Univision poll was conducted from March 11 to June 3 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Using a sample of Hispanic households provided by The Nielsen Company, 1,521 Hispanics were interviewed in English and Spanish, mostly by mail but also by telephone and the Internet. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Stanford University's participation in the study was made possible by a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.