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The Individual American Experience - Essay Example

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Hardly anyone would argue that parents do not impact the life of a child through the lifespan, but rarely is it as profound as in the American experience of minorities as documented by their own writers. The past defines the present. Simon Ortiz, James McBride and Diane Abu-Jaber explore how personal experiences in America become elements of personal identity…
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The Individual American Experience
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Download file to see previous pages Ortiz expounds on the influence of language in forming one's identity in an essay called "The Language We Know." In it, he counters the notion that English is only unifying factor in the American Experience. Ortiz was raised in an Acoma-speaking family. The power of these years upon his creative self-concept is clear. Ultimately; he defines "American" as some permutation of pretense and dispossession. He recalls his father's skill as stoneworker with sandstone and mud to build pueblos - the time, persistence, patience, and the belief that the walls might stand forever (188). He believed working with his father influences his writing (189). Both are methods of continuity. Both are ways in which a people may hold near to themselves (187). Although writing is his profession, building is always his trade.
McBride challenges common and popular notions of insular identities based on simplified racial categories in his book called The Color of Water: a Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. He counters the notion that racial difference is the defining factor in the African American experience. His dominant narrative is that of self-discovery through the rediscovery of ancestry. Ultimately; he defines "American" as a combination of eclecticism and hardship. This book is written uniquely. Chapter by chapter, it toggles between his mother's experiences of growing up in America with his own. His mother details the strict rules of Orthodox Judaism and how they affected her (16). Although his mother is white, she lives in a black world and refuses to acknowledge her whiteness (37). James lives in a home of "orchestrated chaos" (66). He sees his house as a combination three-ring circus and zoo. He describes some of his siblings - his sister Helen, the rebel; Rosetta, the resident queen of the house; his brother Dennis, the civil rights activist and artist with aspirations of becoming a doctor. The whites at his mother Ruth's school hated Jews, and in public, James becomes ashamed of his white mother (98). 1n 1941, Ruth's Bubeh died. Ruth decided to return to New York (155). Her father tried to get her to stay; she refused. He told her that if she married a black man, she could never come home again. In 1992, while standing in front of a synagogue in Suffolk, James acknowledges his own connection to the synagogue and to Judaism (189).
Abu-Jaber reveals tensions between American and Jordanian cultures in a work called The Language of Baklava: a Memoir. In it, she counters the notion that one Americanizes in some sterile standardized way. For example, her father learns to hail strangers greeting men and women alike with the same greeting: "Hey, bud!" As such, she I grows up thinking of all Americans as Bud (34). Abu-Jaber tells the story of growing up in upstate New York with periodic transplants to Jordan. Her dominant narrative seems to be stories of being raised by a food-loving Jordanian father and Bedouin tents. She completes her work with recipes illuminating American and Jordanian and painting the complex portrait of her displaced father who cooked as a method of continuing the past with the present. Ultimately; she defines "American" as being like her father's relationship with food. His daughters knowing how to feed themselves and others in ways that help define them as people.
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