Bharati Mukherjee’s essay, “Two Ways to Belong in America” talks about the experiences of two Indian sisters who migrated to the United States in the early 1960s to further their education and how they have been influenced by the American culture after more than 3 decades. In the essay, Bharati tries to compare the American lifestyle she has embraced with the Indian traditions that her sister Mira espouses. Whereas Bharati was “opting for fluidity, self-invention, blue jeans, and T-shirts” (Mukherjee 273), on the other hand, her sister, Mira, “clings passionately to her Indian citizenship and hopes to go home to India when she retires” (Mukherjee 273).
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Even as Bharati has quickly adjusted to the American culture, as evidenced by her wearing of American clothes (for example, jeans), in contrast, Mira is reluctant to embrace the American culture. According to Bharati, for an immigrant to belong in America, he/she either has to remain an “exile” or transform him/herself and embrace the American culture. Bharati has chosen to embrace the American way of life, including getting married to an American and applying for American citizenship. On the other hand, Mira has chosen to remain in exile and although she retains her green card, she still plans to relocate to India upon her retirement. Based on the experiences of the two sisters, we can argue that one chosen to change in order to belong to a certain culture, but culture does not change us.
In her essay, Bharati Mukherjee has tried to compare herself to her sister Mira in terms of their divergent philosophies, attitudes, and feelings. Before leaving India, the two sisters shared similar attitudes and appearances. More than three decades after settling in the U.S, the two sisters share divergent attitudes and feelings. For example, Bharati is now an American citizen while her sister is not. Bharati is also concerned by the thousands of residents who are applying for American citizenship after the U.S government introduced an anti-immigration bill, but this does not seem to bother Mira.
From Bharati’s point of view, her sister Mira has a narrow perspective on the whole issue of American citizenship. Bharati also pities her sister for her involvement with “the superficial culture of this society” (Mukherjee 274). On the other hand, Mira pities her sister for having erased her Indianness, for her unstructured life, and lack of unchanging daily core. The differences in the divergent points of view between the two sisters on issues to do with life and culture are largely due to the fact that Bharati has embraced the American culture while Mira is still stuck with the Indian culture.
Consequently, there is a cultural crash between the two sisters. Bharati sees Mira as alien to the American culture, while Mira contends that Bharati has betrayed her Indian identity.
Bharati has endeavored to explore the differences between her and her sister Mira as regards the issue of the U.S citizenship. Bharati is of the opinion that immigrants in the U.S ought to apply for citizenship as opposed to remaining as legal immigrants. As such, she would want immigrants in the U.S to follow her example and apply for American citizenship, just like she did. In contrast, Mira’s main concern is the getting benefits out of her “green card” while still retaining her Indian citizenship. According to Mira, clinging to her “Indianness” gives her identity. Although becoming American citizenship has turned Bharita into a socially courteous and professionally generous expatriate, according to Mira, there is nothing more than she can expect from the U.S.
By choosing to marry an American citizen of Canadian descent and having gained American citizenship, Bharita was actually embracing the American way of life. At the same time, she was also shunning the traditional Indian cultural practices in which a girl was supposed to get married to a man chosen by his father. However, she also felt what it is like to be an alien in a foreign land while in Canada, and this has a lot of similarities with what Mira is currently undergoing in the U.S.
While in Canada, Bharita felt a sense of betrayal by the casual racists outburst elicited by the Green Paper. Since Bharita felt that the situation was a blatant attack on immigrants from south Asia, she had to leave Canada. With the looming changes in legal immigration by the US government, many legal immigrants are opting to apply for American citizenship. Mira reckons that the government is playing manipulative games with the immigrants but she is ready to play these games, as long as this will allow her to remain in the U.S. In this respect, she is different from Bharita who opted to leave Canada as opposed to conforming to the new immigration rules.
The essay points at how embracing a foreign culture can result in divergent experiences in as far as the issue of migration is concerned. By embracing the American culture, Bharita has abandoned her Indian way of life such as the arranged marriages, mode of dressing, and accent, while Mira has retained them all. Although Bharati and Mira once shared similar opinions and attitudes, this is no longer the case as they now hold divergent opinions.
They had originally planned to stay for only 2 years in America and upon completion of their studies, they would go back to India. However, this was not to be. Both got married to men of their choice and not their father’s choice, as is customary among the Indians. Mira got married to a fellow Indian immigrant student while Bharati married a Canadian-American novelist. Mira believes that the legal immigrants who have been in American for as long as she has should not be affected by the new immigrant rules. Mira is willing to play by the American government’s rules in order to obtain a temporary American identify.
Bharati identifies with the betrayal and Mira feels. Although Mira is not an American citizen, nonetheless, she is happy to work and live there, although she has no intention of becoming an American citizen. O n the other hand, Bharati has no choice but to try and integrate with American society and gain her identity as an American citizen because she has already denounced her Indian citizenship. According to Bharita, the difference between her and Mira is that whereas her sister is an expatriate Indian living in America, in contrast, she is an Indian immigrant who has acquired American citizenship. Now that she is an American citizen, Bharita has a civic duty to feel like part of the U.S society. Bharati has had to pay the high price of self-transformation for having opted to become an American citizen, something that her sister Mira is trying to avoid by clinging to her Indian identity.
Mukherjee, Bharati. “Two Ways to Belong in America.” The New York Times. 1996:1-3. Print.