Melissa Gray - comments on readings for July 9, 2014
As I read this week’s readings, I realized they all had something to do with “identity.” From cultural and racial identity, to the meaning of a “thing” in anthropological and spiritual conquests, all the readings made it clear that identity is not a static concept, and that many factors influence identity.
In “Half and Half,” Claudine Chiawei O’Hearn describes her difficulty finding her identity as Chinese and Irish-American woman. She begins the piece with the jarring insult hurled at her by a stranger on the street: “half breed…” She explains that she felt like a foreigner in every setting, even inventing colorful backstories of different cultures and identities. She discusses how she felt out of place among college friends in the US and among her cousins in Taiwan. This made me think of many of my former students who essentially lived in two cultures. Though they may not have been racially mixed, they spoke perfect English in class and with many friends, but then returned home to speak Spanish and live amongst the customs of their immigrant parents. They all had the task of being both American and Puerto Rican, Dominican, Guatemalan. I liked how the narrator is comforted by her mother, who reminds her that instead of seeing someone Chinese or American, “I see my daughter.”
In “A White Woman of Color,” Julia Alvarez explores the issue of race and identity with a focus on privilege. She noticed early on that there was a “hierarchy of beauty” in her family, and those with light skin were consider the prettiest. It wasn’t until she came to American that she realized the implications. She found that she and her family had privilege because of their light skin. She also found herself trapped between two cultures: her family had arrived before many poorer, working class Dominicans, and she even felt that because she didn’t share their struggles, she was somehow less Dominican than others. Alvarez’s struggle made me think of an incident with my students this year. I now work in a school where the majority of the students are African American or Haitian. I overheard students referring to others as “light skinned” and “dark skinned.” I was horrified. When I asked what they meant, they told me that it was just slang. A “light skinned” person was pretty, well-dressed and self-absorbed or conceited. A “dark skinned” person was “tough, street.” I was horrified by this but they students all said, “Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with skin color.” We had a long talk about how skin color as a mark of privilege traced its roots all the way back to slavery, and I hope it made some of them think. I’ve noticed the terms being thrown around in rap songs since then; it’s really disheartening to me that this is going on in 2014.
In “Borderlands – La Frontera,” Gloria Anzaldua intersperses Spanish poems and phrases along with English to illustrate the complicated identities of the people living in the “borderlands.” She describes how the 19th century border fence divided people arbitrarily. She explains how the American invaders conquered much of Mexico, and essentially destroyed the economy and Mexico today. Even though she faces many struggles to find her identity after leaving her homeland, she says, “I didn’t leave all the parts of me. I kept the ground of my own being” (38).
Louise Erdrich’s struggle to learn Ojibwe and Powell’s thoughts in “Rhetorical Pow Wows” made me think of the quest to keep traditions alive. Very few young people today speak Ojibwe, and Erdrich in some ways takes on the struggle of keeping the language alive, at least in her own writing. Powell makes interesting points about how looking at things from a purely anthropological standpoint, like the Cherokee woven basket, something does not tell the whole story of the “thing” and its real meaning. For example, beyond its practical use, the basket figured heavily into the story of the creation of fire. If the basket is simply looked at as a tool, as not “rhetorical” then the story may be lost.
Emily VanLeuvan-Reflections on Readings for July 9, 2014
As I began reading Gloria Anzaldua’s piece “Borderlands-La Frontera”, I was immediately struck by the passion and intensity through which she writes. She notes that “The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierto where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds forming to merge a third country-a border culture” (25). By dispersing Spanish phrases throughout her narrative, Anzaldua enforces the strong connection she feels with her heritage. I found the metaphoric “open wound” to be an appropriate and powerful way to describe border culture, as it effectively recalls the hardships that marginalized groups of people who inhabit border towns experience. Just as wounds are accidental and unintentional, the cultural climate that exists in border towns is a direct result of, in Anzaldua’s words, “the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary” (25). Anzaldua’s descriptions of border towns allowed me to reflect on recalled a day trip I took with my family to Nogales, Mexico in 2004. I was astounded by the lack of stasis in Nogales. The mood that permeated the town suggested that it was environment where people existed in limbo, perpetuating the notion that “Tension grips the inhabitants of borderlands like a virus” (26).
Anzaldua clearly establishes her interest in feminist issues throughout the text, and she provides some insightful comments into conflicts involved in gender oppression. While Anzaldua is proud of her heritage, she is also critical of the rigid patriarchy that rules Mexican culture. She notes that, “I abhor some of my culture’s ways, how it cripples its women…the ability to serve, claim the males, is our highest virtue. I abhor how my culture makes macho caricatures of its men” (44). It is interesting to consider how males are also affected by stringent attitudes towards gender roles. By describing men as being “made” into macho caricatures, Anzaldua comments on the ways in which males are affected by patriarchy. While patriarchal societies certainly subordinate women, the dynamics of such a structure also may perpetuate tensions in which males feel pressure to fulfill an “alpha male” role. After reading Anzaldua’s commentary, I immediately thought discussions I had with my eleventh grade students on The Color Purple at the end of the school year. While a majority of Alice Walker’s text emphasizes the ways in which Celie is victimized by patriarchy, the work also explores the hardships that characters like Harpo and Mr. face. Harpo feels that he must be able to control his wife Sofia, so he begins eating large quantities of food in an attempt to use his physical body to gain autonomy. Ultimately, Harpo’s desire to manipulate his marriage with Sofia to reflect society’s norms leads to the disintegration of his relationship with his wife.
I also found “A White Woman of Color” by Julia Alvarez to be thought provoking. The essay opens with Alvarez’s reference to the “hierarchy of beauty” (139) that exists within her family and a description of Alvarez’s youngest sister, “She was the one who made heads turn and strangers approach asking to feel her silken hair. She was white white, an adjective that was repeated in describing her color as if to deepen the shade of white” (140). Alvarez orients her discussion of physical appearances by considering how it is related to ethnicity and identity. However, the entire concept of a “hierarchy of beauty” is intriguing to me, especially when one considers the relationship that exists between physical appearances and power. To apply the psychological lens, why is it that people who fit society’s standards of being attractive have more agency? Why is a symmetrical phase equated with privilege?
I also made numerous connections between the introduction to Half and Half, written by Claudine Chiawel O’Hearn, and Danzy Senna’s novel Caucasia. The main character in the novel, Birdie, is a young girl who is multiracial. The inspiration for Birdie is drawn from Senna’s own multiracial background. Throughout the novel Birdie assumes various identities, even passing as a white Jewish girl while living in New Hampshire with her mother. In Half and Half, O’Hearn describes similar experiences. She clarifies that she doesn’t look “especially Chinese” (viii) and “Because most people didn’t know where to place me, I made up stories about myself” (ix). Senna, O’Hearn, and Alvarez ask one to consider the relationship between physical appearances, race, and one’s own sense of identity. As O’Hearn notes, obtaining insight into this dynamic is essenti
al, for “If our understanding of race and culture can ripen and evolve, then new and immeasurable measurements about the uniqueness of our identities become possible” (xiv).
Before reading Malea Powell’s article, I had one view on rhetoric: the act of analyzing and composing writing. With this in mind, many times my students question whether the symbolic meaning in the novel was intended by the author (and I stress many times). Symbolic meanings are everywhere. However, some readings have no deeper meaning; rather it is just the experience of the writing on the reader. It is from this notion that my students are then in an uproar. A new founding on rhetoric I had never thought of before, that Powell points out, is that objects can be and are rhetoric. From my first exposure to rhetoric in high school, we only analyzed writing, never objects. Powell, however, has completely changed my viewpoint. “Things” hold power. A passage that particularly stands out to me is how baskets are an “intersection of history and creation” (13). Not only do the baskets hold the history of stories, but they also hold the stories that are told when the baskets are made. These baskets, among other creations, hold the history of our ancestors and capture tradition. While reading this article, I tried to make connections to particular items and creations that hold value and deeper meaning to me. I have the embroidery my mother made for mine and my sibling’s rooms when we were born and the scrapbooks depicting each stage of our lives thus far (my mom still does one for each birthday/vacation). I also began to think about food as holding a deeper meaning. For example, my Grandmother makes Congo squares for my Dad for all holidays. Some of my favorite memories with my Grandmother, and still to this day, are making these treats for my Dad. It is the bonding between us that holds the stories in our cooking.
With the Alvarez and O’Hearns’s writings, an area shared surrounded the aspect of bullying. With bullying, each author includes how their culture led to others putting them down because they were perceived as being different from society’s “norm.” Even in their own families they were put down. Alvarez explains how the pride and joy in her family was the baby who was “white white,” as if being “white” made the baby better than the others (140). Alvarez explains how each child born looked more and more American, and how her elders viewed this “Americanization” as making her better. In school, Alvarez’s mother decided to send her children to boarding school because their peers began throwing stones at them. In O’Hearns family, she explains how her brother was more readily accepted as being Chinese because of his looks whereas she was “pegged as the American one” (x). While O’Hearn looked more American, she felt excluded from both of her cultures. O’Hearn explains when visiting her grandparents that she “dreaded visiting them because of the humiliation of having to resort to hand gestures and second-grade Chinese” (xii). O’Hearn didn’t speak Chinese and yet when she visited her cousins in Boston, she also felt judged by not having a Boston accent. Each author expresses harsh treatment from their peers. Who defines what makes one culture better than another? It is not our skin color that needs to change, but rather it is our idea of what makes one superior that needs substantial change. Cultures need to come together, not drift apart. Unfortunately, bullying is seen all across schools and not just about the way a person looks. Change needs to come in the form of acceptance for all people regardless of their differences as these writers point out.
Erdrich and O’Hearn share a different idea: jokes. Erdrich explains her urge to learn Ojibwe to understand jokes. Jokes are what bring people together. She explains that jokes are “the irresistible part of language…the explosion of hilarity that attends every other minute of an Ojibwe visit” (102). However, O’Hearn had a different experience to jokes as she writes that she “lacked the cultural tools necessary to roam undetected…[she] had to fake it and laugh at jokes [she] didn’t get” (xi). The simple act of making others laugh through language enables one to feel accepted. As shown in these articles, rhetoric takes many forms be it as objects, the words of hurt or the feeling of acceptance; words help all people feel connected.
Ashley Pereira - Critical Analysis 2
During the readings for this particular class I found myself quite engaged with two in particular; Louise Erdrich’s “Writers on Writing: Two Languages in Mind, but Just One Heart” and Gloria Anzaldua’s selections from Borderlands/La Frontera.
In Erdrich’s excerpt, I was captivated by the differences between the Ojibwemowin and English languages. In regards to the Ojibwemowin language, Erdrich writes, “Two-thirds of the words are verbs, and for each verb there are as many as 6,000 forms. The storm of verb forms makes it a wildly adaptive and powerfully precise language…There can be a verb for anything” (104). I have been trained in the Standard English conventions my entire life, thus it is difficult to completely wrap my head around such a variance. A language in which verbs dominate seems entirely foreign. Erdrich then explains that there aren’t any feminine or masculine possessives or articles, and nouns are, very simply, considered alive or dead. These incredible differences sparked my curiosity and I felt compelled to find a good example of the language. After conducting a little research, I found it to be a rather beautiful language, despite its differences and level of complexity. I’m not sure that I could ever understand it!
Additionally, Gloria Anzaldua’s selections from Borderlands/La Frontera allowed me to make several connections, specifically within chapter two, “Movimientos de rebeldia y las culturas que traicionan” and chapter five, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” In chapter two, Anzaldua states, “To this day I’m not sure where I found the strength to leave the source, the mother, disengage from my family, mi tierra, mi gente, and all that picture stood for. I had to leave home so I could find myself, find my own intrinsic nature buried under the personality that had been imposed on me” (38). I grew up in a bilingual, mixed race household. My father is Portuguese and my mother is a mix of Portuguese and Italian. Growing up within these two very different cultures was frustrating and the strictness with which I was being raised forced me to develop a strong desire to leave and find my own self. For too long, I had been told who to be. For too long, I had been forced to live as someone other than who I actually was. The confinement was torturous and like Anzaldua, I finally found the strength to leave my family, venture out on my own, and find “my own intrinsic nature.”
In chapter five, Anzaldua writes of the many different Spanish dialects she must speak in order to properly communicate with the various types of Latinos she encounters. Upon reading this, I immediately recalled my father sitting at the kitchen table, vehemently shaking his hands as he explained to me, a fifteen year old, the very same thing about his own language; Portuguese. Like Spanish, the Portuguese language can be broken down into various dialects. Azorean Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, a form my father referred to as PortoEnglish (similar to Spanglish), and Creole Portuguese are all dialects. I remember him telling me that it is difficult, even for him (someone fluent in Portuguese and English) to understand the different dialects as he tried his best to provide me with solid examples of each form. I still find it rather amazing that one language can be comprised of so many different dialects. Anzaldua’s ability to understand, interpret, and write works that include the various dialects is incredibly impressive and her talent is commendable.
I am not a scholar of metaphysics, nor do I wish to be; there is simply is not enough time in the day… and as unscholarly as I am, I do not comprehend The String Theory, hardly. However, I have created my own String Theory, based on one of Da Vinci’s guiding principles, “Everything connects to everything else.” Da Vinci stated (according to stories), “Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses. Especially, learn how to see.”
With every word I read, with every page I turned, with each assigned reading, my thoughts returned to this principle – I possess strings to everything, to everyone, non-temporal: I am connected. The egotistical nature of this statement does not elude me – and yes, I experience shame at the mere thought, but nonetheless, I recognize the innumerable, infinite connections.
I cannot get through, work through, or make personal sense of any reading, ANY reading, without connections bombarding my brain, and without the futile attempts to resolve not to write them ALL down. These annotations are evidence of my cultural and linguistic history; they are one of my personal rhetorics. As an educator, a teacher of reluctant readers, I have learned the most valuable tool I can reveal to my students, besides strategies for deciphering unfamiliar vocabulary, is the license to make connections. No connection is unimportant. Teaching my students to recognize and acknowledge these connections is the most vital principle of my praxis – these connections make way for learning – they make way for MAKING MEANING.
According to my cultural perspective, the strings connecting the selection of readings for today, the themes resonating in each one, and all of them are themes of identity, the cycles of socialization, language, artifacts or objects, and naturally culture, and stories, many stories from a myriad of perspectives, and the power of stories. Yet, for me the concept of “making meaning” is at the crux of all of the readings, and at the crux of our profession – unlocking the doors, throwing open the windows, and leading the way through these portals, so that students learn to recognize they are always making meaning.
As Powell recounts that Scott uses “other materials to test out her theoretical knowledge of rivercane,” I believe it is my duty, my destiny, and the duty and destiny of all teachers of all things, to afford students the opportunities to “test out their knowledge” of all theories, of all applications, of all, simply. I want them to “get the jokes,” as Endrich professes is at the heart of her desire to learn to speak the language of her ancestors. I want them to turn passionately for consolation to books, “to see that literature could reflect the otherness” they feel and are certain to feel, despite their sameness, as Alvarez discovered.
Unlocking la facultad, is the ultimate goal of teaching and learning and life, despite the imminent “loss of innocence, our unknowing ways, or safe and easy ignorance.” These readings provided additional fodder for my belief that it is my inherent duty to provide a safe environment for students to want to develop “the capacity to see in surface phenomena the meaning of deeper realities, to see the deep structure below the surface.” I want to teach my students to interpret , as Enrich refers to “the shades of meaning in the very placement of stones.”
I want to teach them that they can learn, and I want to teach them, “Especially, how to learn to see.”
This blog is designed for us to share responses to readings and to engage in conversations about Cultural Rhetorics.