Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Preservation of Identity

                The characters in all three works we read this week face the same problem of having cultures which conflict with their surroundings, but throughout all of their struggles they remain true to who they are. Anzaldua discusses in her chapter “La Conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness” the struggle of being a mestiza and not feeling entirely at peace in any single group. She explains that “the mestiza’s dual or multiple personality is plagued by psychic restlessness” because of her inability to reconcile the opposing races to which she belongs (Anzaldua 100). However, she embraces her mixed heritage, and she declares it to be an advantage in her pursuit for unity. She sees herself as a potential mediator between two peoples, a transition from ignorance into understanding, because of her identity.
                In Gish Jen’s “Who’s Irish?” too, the narrator is out of place in her surroundings, but she steadfastly holds to her beliefs and her customs. Her daughter Natalie is ashamed of her failure to assimilate to life in America, but the narrator insists on keeping her heritage with her. She criticizes the American (and specifically Irish) way of living and pines for China. She is bitter and mean to her Natalie and her husband’s family, but she defends her Chinese values at all costs. She is distressed by her granddaughter’s lack of modesty because it goes against Chinese propriety, and she corrects it using methods familiar to her from her life in China. She cannot understand why the others refuse to accept this, and laments the American culture they try to force on her: “In China,” she says, “daughter take care of mother. Here it is the other way around” (Jen 5). Underlying her stubborn and disagreeable nature is a deeply rooted sense of disappointment at the reversal of her beliefs. In this instance, her stubbornness becomes a detriment to her, but she adheres to her values to the end, protecting her Chinese identity from the obstacles of America.
                Finally, in “Borders,” Thomas King gives us a Blackfoot woman who wishes to cross the border from Canada into America without compromising her identity. Every time the border guards ask her to declare her citizenship as either American or Canadian, she simply announces that she is Blackfoot. She is unfazed by their frustration, and when they refuse to let her pass until she declares her citizenship by their standards, she simply stays on the border between the two countries, sleeping in her car with her son. She is desperate to preserve her identity, and to nurture her son’s cultural pride. While they are trapped between countries, she tells him Blackfoot stories about the stars, “repeating parts as she went, as if she expect[s him] to remember each one” (King 144). She wants him to feel the same pride she does, so that he too will defend his background against those who try to define him on their terms. She refuses to have her identity stamped out by those for whom it is inconvenient.

                From these three stories, it is clear that identity and heritage are closely intertwined. All three of these works stress the importance of defending one’s identity. In some cases, like Jen’s narrator’s, the adherence to tradition can be detrimental, and in others, like Anzua’s and Laetitia’s mother, it can be positive. In any case, it is always admirable: they stay true to their convictions, even when the rest of the world opposes them.

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