Free About Race And ‘fitting In’ Essay Example
Judith Ortiz Cofer in her essay, “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria” and Elizabeth Wong in her essay, “The Struggle to be an All-American Girl talk about their experiences growing up caught between two different cultures. Cofer has to deal with her Hispanic roots and Wong her Chinese heritage trying to live in America. Cofer in her essay says that ‘If you are Latinathe island travels with you’. Simply put she says that no matter how much a person acclimatizes one to a new country or a culture, he or she is still going to be viewed on terms of race and ethnicity. There is no escaping their roots. While Cofer does not shy away from her culture and defends it by coming up with reasons as to why Puerto Ricans behave the way they do, Wong tries to stay away from her culture as much as she can. She is even embarrassed by outright display of her culture by her family members. Even though both authors look at ‘fitting in’ from different angles, both their essays talk about the impossibility of every leaving their identity behind. Cofer knows that no matter what she does, she will be subjected to stereotypical portrayals of Latin women while Wong realizes that she too is Chinese even when she tries hard to shed everything Chinese about her and try to fit into the mainstream American culture. Both Cofer and Wong echo similar thoughts and acknowledge the presence of their race in their everyday life even if for all purposed they were American.
Both Cofer’s and Wong’s essays are retrospective, looking back at the events in their lives that had shaped their opinions and lives. Cofer does not shy away from her culture, she grows up ‘Puerto Rican’ in America and when she has to deal with being stereotyped, she acts calm and reasons as to why people would treat her the way they do. Cofer starts her essay by recounting an incident in London where a man serenades her with a song from a musical only because she is Latin. Knowing well that this would not have happened if she were white, she tries to maintain calm like that of her fellow Brits. Although she wants and makes an effort to be like them, “Oh that British Control, how I coveted it (Cofer, par.1)”, she does not shy away from her culture and neither is she ashamed of hers. She acknowledges the fact that her race would dictate how she is seen by others and that is why in the same paragraph she says, “You can leave the island, master the language, travel farbut the island travels with you (Cofer, par.1)”. She does not hate her culture, nor her parents for giving her a life steeped in their culture but rather hates the stereotypes that they are subjected to. Even when she talks about the rude song that she is subjected to by a man in a hotel and another incident when an old lady mistakes her for a waitress, she bemoans the stereotypes that define Latin Women everywhere. Cofer states that the way the Latin women dress stems from their way of life on the island and is not about seeking attention.
But people do not stop to think about these things and are largely ignorant about cultures that are not their own. This stereotyping is not exclusive and it is not only the Latin Americans who are subjected to it. Stereotyping is largely a result of ignorance and the reluctance to know more and every person who is different or from a different culture is bound to be stereotyped. Wong does not address stereotypes directly but echoes Cofer when she says that she their identities will always be predominantly shaped by their culture in spite of their resistance.
Wong in her effort to fit in and become an ‘All-American’ girl goes the extra mile and tries escaping from her culture-especially her daily Chinese lessons and her loud Chinese speaking grandmother. Wong in her essay writes about her brother and her trying to speak English like the others, trying their best to stay away from Chinese classes and correcting their mother with fervor whenever she makes mistakes. Wong mentions that her brother was more of a zealot as he blames his mother for the mistakes he make while speaking the language. Wong craves the acceptance from both her people and the other English speakers as this acceptance gives her the satisfaction of having shed her Chinese identity. She says, “When I spoke English, people nodded at me, smiled sweetly, aid encouraging words. Even the people in my culture would cluck and say that I’d do well in life (Wong, par. 9).” With a major part of her life spent trying to fit in and be someone else, she realizes that she would be first seen as Chinese although she is an American. She would always be Chinese-American as opposed to being just American. Although Wong does not mention the reactions of other people to her heritage like Cofer does, the realization that her Chinese heritage will be a part of her identity comes from within. She lets the audience know about her realization in the last lines of her essay when she says, “At last I was one of you; I wasn’t one of them. Sadly I still am (Wong, par 13).” Her view is along the same lines as that of Cofer when she says ‘the island travels with you’.
Both Cofer and Wong address the issue of race and identity and the impulse to fit in different ways, but come to the same conclusion that in spite of their best efforts in trying to ‘belong’, they would always be subjected to stereotyping and that their race and culture will largely define how others look at them. Their experiences are not unique to their cultures alone but happen to everyone who is different from the majority.
Cofer.O. Judith. “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just met a Girl named Maria.” We are America: A Thematic Reader and Guide to Writing. Anna Joy. New York: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008. 308-312. Print.
Wong, Elizabeth. “The Struggle to be an All-American Girl.” We are America: A Thematic Reader and Guide to Writing. Anna Joy. New York: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008. 302-304. Print.