In the new wave of globalization, movement across borders has become the norm. Most importantly, children often find themselves in unfamiliar territories when their parents relocate to other countries. In such situations, they experience cultural identity confusion as they try to redefine their identity amidst conflicting cultures. However, while redefining identity may attract challenges for adults, it is quite daunting for children and youths; since they are already struggling with developmental identity crisis.
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On the same note, Amy Tan “Fish Cheeks” and Anna Raya “It’s Hard Enough Being Me” essays explore the subject of cultural identity struggle from the perspective of young people, who find themselves at cultural cross-roads in foreign soils. Against this milieu, this essay will provide a critical analysis of the two essays in an attempt to bring out the similarities and differences therein.
To begin with, Raya finds herself in New York in pursuit of a university degree at the Columbia University. While here, she undergoes an array of conflicting experiences as she tries to redefine her identity amidst numerous occasions of misidentification.
Although Raya has always identified herself with her Mexican and some Puerto Rican roots, she is thrown into identity confusion when her peers regard her as a “Latina” (Raya 1010). Due to this label, peers expect her to have a grasp of Spanish language, know how to dance salsa, and be knowledgeable about Mexican history. However, Raya confesses that she knew none of those things (Raya 1010).
Correspondingly, in ‘’Fish Cheeks” Tan exposes the struggle she endured while growing up in America as a Chinese teenager. Tan was always embarrassed about her background, and to some extent she perceived her traditional family as primitive (Raya 102). During teenage, individuals are always struggling with identity issues. Consequently, these two stories clearly depict that for young people, redefining identities in multicultural surroundings can be quite strenuous.
On the same note, isolation and loneliness themes are constantly featured in these two stories. When circumstances compel Raya and Tan to grow up alongside white American culture, the feelings of isolation becomes inevitable. Raya (1010) confesses that her peers expected her to exhibit some aura of “Latin-ness’’. Similarly, Tan avoids interacting with her peers because she is embarrassed of her Chinese roots.
As a result, she avoided situations that could compel her to reveal her ‘tainted’ culture. (Tan 102). Although Tan’s embarrassment can be attributed to teenage-hood issues; she clearly confesses that she wished she had ‘a slim American nose’ that would enable her to be regarded as a Native American (Tan 102). Noticeably, the two authors do not mention about their interaction with people outside their respective culture. Obviously, this insinuates that identity crisis is coupled with feeling of loneliness.
Furthermore, isolation as a result of cultural identity disparities is clearly accentuated in “It’s Hard Enough Being Me.” The above title indicates that cultural identity is a complex phenomenon that is often challenging to most people. However, it becomes even harder when one is forced to coexist with individuals who portray little or no element of cultural empathy. Raya feels isolated because her peers associate her with a culture she knows little about.
Interestingly though, after a long struggle with cultural identity confusion, Raya and Tan successfully reconciles with their rich heritage. Eventually, Raya realizes that trying to conform to the American culture only brought pain, loneliness and unhappiness to her life. Therefore in order to eliminate feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness, she decides to pass herself off as a woman with a rich heritage rather than trying to imitate American culture (Raya1011).
Contrastingly, the protagonists in these two stories portray some element of diversity. Although Ray is caught up between cultural identity dilemmas, she is not embarrassed with her past. As a matter of fact, she is angered because her peers do not seem to understand the difference between her Mexican/ Puerto Rican and Latina background.
Her only concern is that she is associated with a culture she knows little about. Contrastingly, Tan perceives her Chinese background as embarrassing. She is embarrassed about the way her family celebrates Christmas. Most importantly, when her parents invite a white family for Christmas dinner, she is angered because she assumes that they would definitely find their Chinese meals and mannerism disgusting (Tan 103).
She confesses that she wished to ‘disappear’ rather than undergo those ‘embarrassing’ moments, when minister’s family would interact with their “shabby” culture (Tan 103). The above analysis depicts that unlike Raya, Tan wished to be regarded as an American instead of being associated with Chinese roots, which she perceived as embarrassing and primitive.
In a nutshell, Raya’s and Tan’s essays depict numerous similarities than differences. Inspired by the concept of cultural identity, the two authors explored themes of isolation and loneliness from a young person’s perspective. Raya’s cultural confusion arises when peer pressure compels her to behave like a Latin native while in real sense she is of Mexican/ Puerto Rican origin. However, while Tan is seemingly embarrassed by her Chinese background, Raya is proud of her roots.
Raya, Anna Lisa. “It’s Hard enough Being Me.” Literature and Composition. Ed. Sylvan Barnett et al. 6th ed. New York: Longman, 2003. 1010-1011. Print.
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Tan, Amy. “Fish Cheeks.”. Amy Tan: a literary companion. Ed. Mary Ellen Snodgrass. London: McFarland, 2004. 102-103. Print.