Many people, who seek a better life in the United States, call this country “the land of promise”. Over the twentieth century, America has transformed into some melting pot, in which various ethic groups may successfully co-exist. However, every person, attempting to adjust oneself to new conditions of life, has to make certain sacrifices, in the overwhelming majority of cases, he or she has to abandon ones own culture and language. It is often proclaimed that America celebrates biculturalism and ethnic diversity, but very often, immigrants prefer to disguise their cultural heritage, in order to become full-members of the contemporary American society. The main task of this essay is to analyze such works as the poem Immigrants by Pat Mora and Brave We Are by Tahira Naqvi. It is necessary to show how both these authors explore the problem of acculturation.
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The first question that we need to discuss is the way in which Mora and Naqvi reclaim their cultural Heritage. In her poem “Immigrants” Mexican-American writer, Pat Mora suggests that immigrants, struggling to assimilate into a dominant American culture, often reject their traditions of their native country. In addition to that, they try in every possible way to look like natural Americans. The poetess says:
“Wrap their babies in the American flag,
Feed them mashed hot dogs and apple pie,
Name them Bill and Daisy” (Pat Mora)
Although it is not explicitly stated by the author, it seems that she is both ironical and compassionate for such people. They place taboo under their own cultural heritage, and the only way for them to reclaim it is to “whisper at night in Spanish or Polish when the baby sleeps” (Pat Mora). The primary concern of these people is to be accepted into a new society.
Pat Mora could have named this poem in many different ways but she chose to call it Immigrants. It seems that the main purpose of the author was to make the reader understand how difficult for these people to remain faithful to their native culture. The very word “immigrants” already means a person, who has to fight against insuperable odds not to lose ones identity. Certainly, acculturation may have positive effects, namely, it is possible to broaden ones horizons, but sometimes the cost of such adjustment is very high. At first glance, it may seem that ethnic diversity is one of the major strengths of American people, but biculturalism is often regarded only as obstacle. Pat Mora believes that the underlying cause of such behavior is the fear of being an outcast; she says:
“Parent fear, “Will they like
Our boy, our girl, our fine American
Boy, our fine American girl?” (Pat More)
Perhaps, one should first think about the origins of this fear. Naturally, to some extent every immigrant may suffer from such phobia, nonetheless, we cannot say that it is groundless. In order to eliminate this fear, a considerable shift in public opinion should be made. Both sides must realize that they can only derive benefit from biculturalism; it is not something that people should be ashamed of. However, at this particular moment the situation still leaves much to be desired because many people are still afraid to unmask the cultural identity.
In her short story Brave We Are Tahira Naqvi explores the ways in which two cultures may interact with each other, though it appears that these relationships are not very harmonious. First, it should be pointed out that the title of this novella is also very telling. It may be discussed from several perspectives. On the one hand, we may suppose that the author sets stress on the courage and bravery of immigrants, because it takes a considerable strength of character to leave ones country. In fact, these people try to start their lives from a scratch, which has always been extremely difficult. Nevertheless, this title may also indicate the author’s slightly ironical attitude towards them, because they believe that they should not reveal their cultural origins as if they were something disreputable.
Besides, they try to reconcile cultural differences in a very interesting way many people call their children names, which exists in various religious traditions such Mary, for example. Tahira Naqvi calls them “tri-religious names” (Tahira Naqvi, 981). People are trying to find some points of contact between the two or even more cultures. In this case, we may also speak about the fear of being rejected. In their opinion, an Arabic name may repel other people from their child. The question arises whether these misgivings are groundless or not. It is quite difficult to say for sure but it seems that America has always been open for other beliefs, traditions, and ideas, so, maybe, there is no need to be afraid.
One should also pay attention to the author’s use of symbolic figures, especially to the meal that the main character prepares, because it represents the interactions between various ethnic groups in the United States. The mother cooks spaghetti and she says, “The strands must remain smooth, elusive, separate” (Tahira Naqvi, 982). Probably, it is a far-fetched argument but the spaghetti reminds ethnical division of modern American society that remains separate and even alienated.
Many people call America a melting pot, in my opinion, such term is not quite appropriate, because it implies the erasure of differences among people. I believe that the main problem is that we still have not learned to celebrate these differences: without them, our life would have soon turned into a dull routine. It should be borne in mind that the cornerstones of this country are diversity and tolerance, yet so many people now forget about it.
Thus, it is quite possible for us to arrive at the conclusion that both Tahira Naqvi and Pat Mora view accommodation to a new conditions of living as a very laborious process, which often involves disguising or even rejection of ones own culture. The authors attempt to prove that acculturation should not be done at the cost of ones own traditions or heritage. The main message that Pat Mora in her poem Immigrants wants to convey is that people should not ostracize their own identity, because it will inevitable result into a tragedy. In her turn, Tahira Naqvi describes the way in which immigrants mask their cultural origins. Such behavior may only hinder the process of adjustment. It seems that under certain conditions the United States may become the so-called melting pot, suitable for every public group, but first, it is of the crucial importance for us to understand that biculturalism is not a defect or disadvantage; on the contrary, it is probably the necessary requirement of the functioning of modern American society.
Pat Mora “Immigrants” Culture and Identity, 1997
Tahira Naqvi “Brave We Are” Culture and Identity, 1997.