Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Nationalities as Social Constructs

            In our three readings for this week, we see that home often cannot be defined by the social constructs that are borders, and that identity cannot solely be associated with one’s nationality. The three pieces address the concepts of home and identity in different manners, but all seem to demonstrate that despite our tendency to classify ourselves based on our countries of origin, one’s nationality may not always be an accurate representation of how one identifies his or her self. Today, we live in a world that is segmented by walls, fences, and imaginary lines. These dividers force us to pick one side or the other, but this dichotomy does not apply to all and it often alienates those who fall into the no-man’s land that is created as a result of these borders.
            In Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua’s account of life along the Mexican/American border is evidence of the limitations of using nationality as a primary identifier of those whom we associate with. As Anzaldua describes, the border does not represent a clean split of cultures. Instead, the Borderland is a place where numerous cultures intersect—Indian, Mexican, American—and all of these cultures come to be visible in the people who inhabit this land. Anzaldua does not call herself Mexican or American. Instead, she identifies as a mestiza; “a product of crossbreeding; designed for preservation under a variety of conditions” (Anzaldua 103).  It is unfair that Anzaldua must be forced to classify herself as one nationality or the other, as neither justly represents the hybridity of her identity, nor accurately communicates where Anzaldua feels her roots are. This story is indicative of the damage that our global system of nation-states truly inflicts on the people of the Borderlands, as by being forced into certain taxonomies, people like the mestiza “have never been allowed to develop unencumbered…never been allowed to be fully [them]selves” (108).
            A similar situation unfolds in Thomas King’s Borders. Prior to the arrival of European settlers to North America, Native Americans maintained unchallenged sovereignty over their own land. However, colonial powers viewed the Natives as an impediment to their own expansion, and so it was necessary to relocate the tribes—often forcibly. Native Americans were forced to forfeit their sovereignty and were “allowed” to become citizens of America and Canada. However, for some, even claiming citizenship with a country that was occupying their land was an admission of defeat and submission to the colonizers. So, when Laetitia’s mother is stopped at the border and asked to state whether she is coming from the “Canadian side or American side,” it is only natural for her to respond that she is coming from the “Blackfoot side” (King 138).  For her, admitting to come from either America or Canada is to recognize the legitimacy of a country that has stripped her people of their land and their sovereignty. Her refusal to capitulate is an incredible example of pride and resilience in the face of an oppressive system that has deemed her rights and the rights of her people as insignificant, and is thus a refusal to be a willing participant in such a system
            In “Who’s Irish?” by Gish Jen, the Grandmother is faced with a loss of her own identity as she begins to realize that her world has changed around her and become largely unfamiliar. She is troubled by the fact that her granddaughter’s “nice Chinese side [has been] swallowed by her wild Shea side” (Jen 6). She knows that in China, she would deal with a problem like this with spanking the child, but her daughter and son-in-law don’t view this as acceptable. After seeing Sophie’s bruises resulting from what the Grandmother would call light punishment, the Grandmother is forced to leave the house and is no longer allowed to babysit Sophie. However, she is taken in by Bess, who assures the Grandmother that she is an honorary Irish. In the face of this loss of touch with her own traditions that she associated with being Chinese, the Grandmother finds solace in accepted into Bess’s culture, demonstrating again the fluidity of nationalities and their lack of concreteness.

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