Susie Valle Kathy Rowley

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Susie Valle

Kathy Rowley

English 1002

Essay on My Hyphenated Identity

April 29, 2010


“My perception as a girl was that I fell short at both ends shuttling in between two dimensions that had nothing to do with one another”(Lahiri). Identity is something we all try to find while growing up. It may be different and harder for some to find. This explains why finding solid information about identity can be difficult because everyone goes through it in a different way and it never can be expressed the same. It may be similar but never be the exact experience. “Who am I?” and “what do I want to be?” are the questions we generally ask ourselves when we try to find our identity. Lahiri in “My Hyphenated Identity” by Jhumpa Lahiri not only questions, but asks herself how to connect with both of her identities, Indian and American. For Lahiri and a lot of bicultural people identity is not only a goal to find where they belong and who they are, but also a war against themselves. As she grew up she realized she could not define herself with just one identity but two, Indian-American. She grew up to except that these two cultures belong with her ,no matter what.. Bicultural people should not feel the need to choose over a certain culture, especially when it defines them. They should embrace and accept each of their cultures instead of rejecting a part of them.

Everybody struggles with identity. “Identity is the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”(Ask oxford) Bicultural people especially kids have the hardest time trying to find themselves. Even as adults they may still struggle with knowing their true identity. Growing up, bicultural kids deal with differences between their peers and may have a hard time finding themselves. In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Toula Portokalos talks about wanting to take a normal lunch to school like every other girl, but her mom packs her traditional Greek food instead. When the girls see that she has a different lunch they make fun of her while they eat their own “Wonder Bread sandwiches”. (Cite) This an example of what a bicultural person might go through during elementary and middle school or even high school. People can be cruel sometimes and really hurt a person.

Many bicultural people often are downgraded and teased because of their different cultures. In one of the short stories in “Struggle for Ethnic Identity” there is a girl named Sayuri. She asks her mother why she was different and could not do the things her friends did. Her mother responded by saying “…Our family is different, but that this was a good thing, and nothing to be ashamed of.” (Mori-Quayle 116) In Lahiri's case they made sure to tell her she would never be an American. So “who am I” Lahiri asked herself. Lahiri states;“In spite of the first lessons of arithmetic, one plus one did not equal two but zero, my conflicting selves always canceling each other out.” She could not find a place like Toula, or Sayuri. Because of their second culture they cannot truly fit in like the others, and in that case feel the need to be accepted and, sometimes, choose one culture.

No matter how long they live in a certain place they will never fit in because of how they look, what they eat, and where they live. Some disagree that people with more than one culture cannot blame their backgrounds for identity issues, but themselves as individuals and how they act. People believe instead of being treated unfairly, their being praised for being bicultural. They feel it can unfair for the non bicultural people because it makes them feel less important. But their truly not, tons of bicultural people live hiding their identity because they do not feel like they belong to a certain identity. Non-bicultural people tease bicultural people and make them fell even worse than they already do because of their differences.

“Where are you from?” “How come your eyes look different?” “What do you eat at home?” There were also the taunts, pairing my last name Chung to some form of sing-song rhyme that was derisive of the Chinese. It failed to impress my tormentors that I was Korean, not Chinese.” (Chung59) This would make a lot of people feel uncomfortable if they were in Ruth’s shoes. Ruth not only lived the double life, but at a point hated being Korean and wanted to be American badly enough that she convinced herself that she was a white American girl just like her friends. Ruth would not feel the need to change if people would not be so cruel or made her feel insecure of her identity. If we would not have so many labels made by stereo types maybe people would feel more comfortable with their identity.

Like the example I gave about Ruth, people tend to think that if people are short and have angled eyes they are Chinese and smart. What happens if that person does not come from China, what happens if that person comes from the Phil opines? Stereo types like these do not help people find their identities. They just come to bring people even more down. Stereo types can be a misconception of people and should not be used to judge a person. Even though we all engaged in one, one time or another, stereotypes should not be used to describe a person because most likely it can be wrong and hurtful. Some people think stereo types do not play a role in identity but it does. It affects them when trying to figure out where they belong. People would not need to worry if stereo types never existed. Bicultural people would be able to find and accept themselves easier and where they come from.

People believe stereo types cannot be the cause of bicultural people not being able to find themselves. They believe people individually can be the situation and how the individual goes through identity issues and social standings, because no identity is the same. Some people may feel more comfortable in their own skins then others and do not feel the need to reject a part of them. As parents come to America to make their kids successful they usually start at the beginning, which then puts them in a place where they will get bullied, teased and be judged because of a label made by stereo types. Alexa Jeong another writer from the narrative in Struggle of Ethnic Identity” writes how she resents her parents for moving to America and putting her into such a cruel environment. “In Korea we owned our own home; in America, we didn’t even have furniture or carpets. I was embarrassed by our living conditions and resented my parents’ decisions to leave Korea”. (Jeong 70) (Best not to leave a paragraph with a quote. Write a sentence in your own words that states was she said and that transitions into your next paragraph.)

With all trouble bicultural people go through some would rather except the less downgraded culture, just to make it easier. In most stories, the people wanted to be American instead of their second culture. They live two lives where they hide one culture (usually not American) to prove that they belong and maybe feel accepted, because how are people going to be normal when they have two identities? Bicultural people sometimes forget about their second identity and have great lives. They move on maybe not knowing who they are but at least they feel accepted in the group and they can live lives where people do not taunt them as much or make them feel embarrassed.

It is quite sad that people have to hide a part of them because of society. People should not feel embarrassed or feel less then person because of their culture. Bicultural people should embrace both of their cultures instead of hiding them, because it represents who they are as individuals. While walking past a mirror Ruth realizes she cannot be white but Korean-American.

“This incident served as a catalyst for painful soul-searching and marked the beginning of an inner journey toward greater self-acceptance. Until that point, my struggle with ethnic identity and the denial of my Koreanness had been largely unconscious, but I began to see that the cost of my denial was too high a price to pay. I accepted the reality of my biculturality, that I was inevitably both Korean and American, and that I had a unique opportunity to learn from both cultures, rather than rejecting one for the other. For the first time since that moment in second grade when I wished I was a blond-haired girl with the last name smith, I began to see my bicultural experience as a blessing and an opportunity rather than a curse.” (pg 61 Chung)

Like Ruth at this point bicultural people usually embrace and accept themselves and learn more about their culture and use it as an advantage then a disability.

While on the path of acceptance people think that just because they come from multiple cultures does not mean that they deal with the same things that a first or second generation would go through. Lahiri being a second generation faced this problem and wrote “Many of these friends proudly called themselves Irish-American or Italian-American. But they were several generations removed from the frequently humiliating process of immigration, so that the ethnic roots they claimed had descended underground whereas mine were still tangled in green” (Jhumpi156) A quote like this brings a powerful meaning. A lot of people could identify with this and agree that even though people might come from a different back ground does not mean their roots are stronger then a first or second generation. Some disagree and believe that even if people are not so close to their roots they still understand and go through the same things that a first or second generation might go through because of situations like stereotypes. But the truth explains that they do not completely understand what a first or second generation might go through, because not being close to their roots will not lead them to worry about fitting into a certain culture and deciding over two cultures like Toula, Ruth, and Lahiri.

Instead of Lahiri making herself fit in two different cultures, she embraces and accepts both cultures because it defines her. Not only did Lahiri learn to accept her identity but so did Toula, Ruth, and Quale. All these girls struggled with their identity and learned that they could not live with just one culture, but two. Bicultural people should not feel the need to hide a part of their culture. People that live life hiding their identities not only can hurt but can make people lose a part of their identity; lose connections with their family and ethnic background. If identity was easier to understand and less personal we would be able to understand what everyone goes through when looking for their identity. Thinking about how people live life not wanting to embrace a part of them because their embarrassed is sad. Everyone should accept and embrace their identity even if our identities can be different.


I did a quick look through. You have done a wonderful job so far! See what corrections and ask me questions…. See you tomorrow

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