poetsthought's Diaryland Diary

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essay \"Two Worlds, Two Cultures\"

Dec. 6th, 2004, Monday


Final: Piece 2.2- Inquiry and Synthesis

Two Worlds, Two Cultures

        Remember back to your childhood, and those early lessons of life, of always sharing with others, of keeping your hands to yourself, and of not calling someone a "doody head" or some other name. Childhood served as your starting point, and as you grew, those early lessons grew and changed with you. Always sharing with others and keeping your hands to yourself shifted to respect your neighbors, yourself, and your belongings, and no name calling shifted to treat others as you would want them to be treated. With time, you grew a little bit older and began to challenge the world a bit more. You questioned your surroundings, your purpose, and the people you knew. But for some, they also challenged their culture and the identity that that culture pushed upon them. I was adopted at five months of age from Calcutta, India and have grown to question my everyday life along with others my age, but I also began to question what being adopted meant for me. As an adoptee, I am stuck between two cultures, two worlds.

        Growing up, I struggled with not fitting into the culture I grew up in and I struggled to find some connection to my native culture of India. Being adopted at such an early age means that the only culture I have experienced is that of America. Unlike what Maxine Hong Kingston wrote in "No Name Woman (Mind Readings 206-217)," I have never been fully connected to the culture of India. Kingston writes of her struggle to understand and accept her Chinese culture and in this piece she writes, "Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how this invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fit in solid America." This shows how, as a first generation Chinese-American, she also struggled to find a balance between her Chinese heritage and her American heritage, much in the same way that Rubén Martínez struggled to find a balance between the American culture he grew up around and the culture of his ancestry.

        In "Technicolor (MR 307-319)," Martínez struggled to find some connection to his mother's culture, which is similar in the way that I also struggled to make connections to my own ancestry. Like Martínez, it was not until my late teenage years that I fully began to realize how much of an effect my family had on my cultural identity, which Eviatar Zerubavel's "Social Memories" speaks of. Zerubavel explains in his piece that one's cultural identity is that identity as presented by the culture or community one belongs to, while one's personal identity is that identity one perceives themself as (225). In this way, my cultural identity as presented by being a member of my family is that of being the youngest and only daughter in a family of four. My cultural identity of being an adopted child was rarely thought of during my childhood, and it was not until later that I started to realize how much this affected me. Martínez talks of how being raised by his parents in a "white" culture caused confusion in his life as to what role to play (315), and I found myself struggling in this way, too. Being raised in a "white" culture caused me to disregard the other culture I was a part of, and so I never quite connected to the Indian culture. I often found myself feeling as though I was on the outside looking in when surrounded by a large group of friends or family. I knew tha I was a part of this community, but I still felt like I was in the wrong place, not just because I have a different skin tone, but also because there is a closeness in being related by blood tha I have also noticed. With blood relatives, one can see a part of hteir future, in the physical sense, that I will never be able to witness. This had a large part to do with my feeling on the outside looking in, mainly because I have never been around a large group of people who are the same ethnicity as I am. Whereas I struggled in the physical sense to connect to my family culture, Kingston struggled emotionally to connect to her Chinese family culture. She wrote, "Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese and what is the movies?" (209) which conveys the sense of loss she felt to understand the Chinese customs that were pushed upon her by her family. She struggled to understand how her family could completely erase the memory of her aunt who committed suicide from their history. By never saying the aunt's name or by never speaking of her, Kingston's family punished the aunt. Kingston struggled to grasp the importance of this punishment, though she herself participated by never speaking of her dead aunt (215), and in turn, never fully understood this culture which was pushed upon her.

        Throughout Martínez's "Technicolor," he talks of the fact that his memories were connected to the movies and to the Hollywood life he grew up around. In the movies he watched, he usually identified with the main (and usually white) characters, while the children at his school saw him as the supporting characters. Martínez's cultural identity as perceived by the kids in his school was similar to how they viewed the supporting characters: not as important as the main character. His peers connected to the main characters like he himself did, but he was different than them, because he grew up in a "white" culture and had never been influenced by any other culture. This feeling of wanting to experience another culture that one can better connect to is something I have always felt, and understood. Martínez writes, "Sooner or later, the Mexican character appeared on the screen, almost always a stereotype, a jester whose jokes are at his own expense" (311), shows how Hollywood depicted the other, lesser races, and from this Martínez grew up with almost a negative look on the roles. Not until his later teenage years, did Martínez find reason to embrace his heritage. Through the civil war in his mother's country, he found a way to embrace the culture of and to stand up for his ancestry (313), while Hollywood, too, embraced the "other side" and showed the likes of Gene Hackman and Jack Lemmon playing the roles of the "outsider" along side Martínez (314). This idea of trying to find your "own people" is still something I struggle with, and have recently started finding people like me, who were also adopted, and this community of adoptees understand all those things that I cannot begin to convey to my family or friends. Like Martínez, I am finding out about my other side, about this culture I have never really experienced. He struggled to fit into the cultural stereotype of what his personal identity should look like, but slowly he learned that only he could define what his personal identity was. Similarly, I am learning to embrace being adopted and I am learning to define my own personal identity beyond what I had previously thought of as my personal identity. I am learning how to further connect to the people around me by finding common interests and by making new friends. Where Martínez learned to accept his ancestry, I am learning to accept more of myself.

        Not only has my personal identity been affected by my family, it has also been shaped by my memories. Zerubavel's piece speaks of how memories shared by a community are both "clearly not personal" and "are not entirely universal" (219), meaning that as a whole, the memories of that community are both personal as well as universal, though not entirely. In this same sense, one's childhood memories are both not entirely personal and not entirely universal. I have memories of growing up and of following my brothers around our house through the surrounding woods in our childhood home of Bedford, Indiana. My memories of this time are shared by my family and are personal to us, but are universal in the sense that other families share similar memories. These times are both personal and both universal, though not in their entirety. These memories show how my upbringing was mostly one culture, with hardly any emphasis on my Indian background. Zerubavel explains how these memories, "focus specifically on the social aspects of the mental act of remembering" (219), which explains how the memories, though few and scattered in my mind, harken mostly to times of innocence, fear, and silliness, as such times are mostly focused on when remembering with my family. These memories show how, as a member of my family, we reflect back on the times of strong feelings, of fear, innocence, and silliness to connect us all. Most of these memories are vacant of my Indian ancestry and this came to reflect in my later teenage years when I realized how much I had struggled to piece together both cultures that I am a part of.

        In the closing of his piece, Martínez writes, "I am in between, and beyond, colors" (318) and this is something I am coming to realize. Whereas Kingston still struggles to come to terms with her cultural conflicts well into her old age (216), I am starting to realize the impact being a part of two cultures has had on me. I am an American and an adoptee from India, though I have had little experience with the Indian culture. People of all ages struggle to accept the culture they have grown up in, but I have yet another door to open, one that will lead me into the culture and customs of India, the place of my ancestry. As an adoptee, I have the unique ability to see how important the little things of life are, and as someone once said, as an adoptee I am "betwixt and between, fititng in neither world." As Martínez learned of color and race, I am learning that being adopted is just another part of me, a part of me that only those few who are also adopted can fully understand. Betwixt and between, I am both a part of two worls and both fitting into neither.

Works Cited

Kingston, Maxine Hong. “No-Name Woman.” Mind Readings: An Anthology for Writers. Ed.
        Gary Colombo. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin's, 2002. 206-217.

Martínez, Rubén. “Technicolor.” Mind Readings: An Anthology for Writers. Ed. Gary Colombo.
        Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin's, 2002. 307-319.

Zerubavel, Eviatar. "Social Memories." Mind Readings: An Anthology for Writers. Ed. Gary
        Colombo. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin's, 2002. 217-236.

12:49 PM - 01.06.05 Thursday

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