People cannot help the way others perceive the way they talk or how they look. In fact, in today’s society, people often judge others only glancing at them once, especially if this person is a foreigner. Yet it is up to the individuals to let others influence one’s identity. The people that surround you in your society can influence how you perceive yourselves if you let it. In Still Life with Rice, Helie Lee is a Korean woman who was raised in America due to an ongoing war in her homeland. This has caused Lee to be conflicted on what to identify herself as.
In the beginning, Lee’s values are solely shaped by what she is being exposed to in America: being Korean is only something she hears, but never truly understands: however, in order to discover what she has been missing, Heilie visits Korea and China: by doing this Lee starts to build a bridge between the influence of family and society on her identity.
Lee is independent and has different views on her life than her mother and grandmother. Lee does not believe she has to get married in order to please her family because she does not want to sacrifice her career and goals in life. She often thinks of her mother and grandmother as backward for indirectly complaining that she is not Korean enough for them, after all, they are the ones who brought her to America. In some ways, Lee’s family members are correct, she does not fully comprehend what it means to be Korean, well at least not like her family members. Lee says,
She filled my head with dreams, telling me I could be anything I wanted. I believed her so much, I thought I could be white. My light-eyed friends were my role models, people I emulated. I copied their dress manners, and other “normal” teenage girls, I cheered in thigh-high miniskirts, ditched classes, and bleached my black hair and tanned my yellow skin to conceal the last traces of my Koreaness. (Lee 12)
Since Lee was raised in America, she believes that she has to conform to her society and be like the people she is surrounded with in order to fit in. Since she lives in America, she is influenced by the stereotypical American girls. She blames her mother and grandmother for giving her hope that she could be anything she wanted, and what she wanted was to fit in and look like the others. This inner struggle with her identity seems like it has consumed Lee and prevented her from being who she truly is. She continued to live her life with having little knowledge of her Korean culture, yet this all changes when Lee decides to take a trip to Asia.
Instead of continuing to wonder what it truly meant to be Korean, Lee takes a trip to Korea to find out for herself. Helie thinks to herself “I’m surrounded, ambushed by mirror images of my mother and grandmother. What makes them this way? It is the rice and kimchee they all eat religiously? I feel disconnected. Lee feels like the odd one out, having lived in America for so long has made Helie slowly drift away from who she truly is in the inside. For the first time ever, she is finally starting to understand why her family has the values and standards they do. Helie is starting to understand what it means to be Korean, but she is not feeling too happy about being different compared to all of the Koreans she is surrounded with. She still feels like she is not Korean enough after watching what life is like in Korea, and how she could’ve been raised.
Although Lee seems saddened by her lack of fitting in when she gets to Hong Kong her worries slowly disappear and she starts comprehending what it means to be Korean. Lee says,
It feels as though I’ve been away for such a long time. Suddenly this loving woman reminds me of my own mother and grandmother…All at once, the hardship of my extended journey weighs heavily on me, and tears streak down my cheeks…The Korean lady says, “Dry up your tears, you are among family. We are all your brothers and sisters because we share the history, the same blood.
Heile is conflicted, she has never experienced this before. In America, people rarely treat each other like they are apart of the family. People in America have never been this welcoming towards Lee. Yet strangers she met in Shanghai treated her as if she was a part of the family. Instead of being disappointed and gloomy, Lee is proud. She finally understands that she is a true Korean, despite not being raised there. If other Koreans could move to Hong Kong and still stay true to their roots, so can she. Lee is crying not because she is envious and feels out of place like she did in Korea. Lee has tears fall down from her eyes, she is proud of her heritage, her people, her true and authentic identity.
Overall, Lee has had a lot of personal growth. In the beginning of Still Life with Rice, Lee wasn’t able to express who she truly was. She confirmed to her society and tried to blend in by becoming more like what foreigners view all Americans to look and act like. However, through her interest to explore and find out what it means to be Korean, she was able to find herself. Heile no longer has to comprise choosing from her society or her family’s views on her life. Heile has learned that she can build a bridge between the two. She doesn’t have to pretend to fit in and look up to her American friends as role models. Heile can be herself, express her culture and still be a normal person in the American society. After all, if her ancestors could still bring their culture and identity with them after they moved to Hong Kong, so could Lee.
America, A Country That Is Full Of Different Identities And Cultures
Identity has become very prominent in American culture in recent years. What one looks like; where one comes from; and how one talks, are the superficial indices that many use to peg one into one group or another. However, what many do not take into account is that identity is not something that comes so easily to everyone. (Reed, Thomas V. 2009). The media has idealized that to be “American” one must hold a specific set of ideals that form their identity. Identity is defined as the qualities, behaviors, and characteristics which classify an individual as a member of a certain group. Factors and conditions which define one’s identity can be one’s ethnic heritage, race, religion, language, or culture. These factors distinguish people from other groups and shape their understanding of who they are.
Something that is never touched upon throughout art exhibitions is how hard it is for someone to struggle with identity as a minority group living in the United States. (Spencer, M. 1990). How strange it must be to battle with the red, white, and blue that one views every day and then coming home to see other colors that one identifies with. (Black, H. 2016). Identity is a subject that should be widely discussed and displayed as it is something that many battle to find throughout the entirety of their lives. The following artworks all delve into the theme of identity, either as an individual or as a group. These pieces collective embody the idea of struggle with identity in American society, trying to find one’s identity in the eye of a needle.
The first art piece in this exhibition is Attributed to Raphaelle Peale, Moses Williams, Cutter of Profiles. This piece relates to the exhibition as it brings forth the type of identity that Moses Williams, a slave, obtained during this time. While works of art by other Peale family members have been discussed in detail over the last two centuries, this silhouette of Williams was ‘rediscovered’ less than five years ago by the Library C Philadelphia, although it had been in their collection since the 1850s. When the curators attributed this image to Raphaelle Peale, although it does not bear his signature or embossment, they participated in the two hundred years of scholarly obfuscation of Williams’s artistic contribution to American art history, by denying the possibility that it might be a self-portrait. (Gwendolyn DuBois S. 2005).
It is interesting to see how the views of those who analyze art are skewed to focus on a certain group of people. Slaves, during this time period were not allowed to read or write. The identity of a slave during this time period is looked over in favor of emphasis towards the freedom of slavery. However, the conflicting identity of a slave is rarely touched upon. How might a slave feel, stripped away from their country and placed seas away. The identity of slave is so narrowly reflected in exhibitions and eye of this identity should be increased to that of a needle.
The next piece is Titus Kaphar, Billy Lee: Portrait in Tar. This piece depicts Billy Lee who was the slave of George Washington. This piece bring attention to the grand representation of America’s founding fathers and how other wealthy, white historical figures have impacted the nation’s conception of history. Kaphar brought for the issue discussing how if the major stumbling block of American history is the negation of the agency of anyone but white men, it is then no surprise that museums, art history courses, and one’s collective consciousness includes few women and people of color, despite their numerous contributions. (Elizabeth A. 2012). This piece focuses on the type of identity that a slave obtained during this era.
The artist purposefully covered the face of Billy Lee to emphasize how these figures do not have a place in American history. The identity of these individuals is chosen to be untold. It is important for individuals to learn about the figures who are cast in the shadows. American history caters to the history of the victors, not to those who lost the battle. It is important for the public to view the identity of these individuals’ in exhibitions around the world.
The following piece is Thomas Torlino, Navajoe. This is a student file of Tom Torlino, a member of the Navajo Nation, who entered the school on October 21, 1882 and departed on August 28, 1886. The file contains a student information card listing two outings in Pennsylvania, two ‘before and after’ photographs taken by the school, and a report after leaving indicating that Torlino was living in Tohatchi, New Mexico in 1910. Taken by official school photographers, these propagandistic images were produced to emphasize the “civilizing” benefits of the boarding school system. (Robert A. 1994).
These photographs not only illustrate how American history has chosen to briefly mention the “civilizing” efforts of American’s, but also the struggle of being forced to adapt a new culture. These Native Americans were forced to leave their culture behind, in a way were forced to change what their identity once was in order to be something else. It is not only important for the viewers to understand the history of Native Americans that is so rarely talked about in American history, but also understand the struggle of figuring out what type of identity one now must perceive.
The next piece is by Jacob Lawrence, 18, The migration gained in momentum. This painting is part of a set of thirty paintings constitute half of the sixty-panel Migration Series. Lawrence took as his subject the exodus of African Americans from the rural South to Northern cities during and after World War I, when industry’s demand for workers attracted them in vast numbers. (Elizabeth A. 2012). The Great Migration began to gain attention during the 1940’s due to a surge of jobs in manufacturing arms and munitions industries. It is important for the public to understand the mind of an African American during the Great Migration. During this era, the identity that is rarely portrayed is of African Americans adapting to change after the fall of slavery. Many generations of slavery are delved into the identities of many African Americans today, and it is important to monumentalize such identities.
Continuing, the following piece is Mario Torero, assisted by Rocky, El Líon, and Zade Congreso de Artistas Chicanos de Aztlan (CACA), We Are Not a Miniority. The Congreso de Artistas Chicanos de Aztlan (CACA) a collective of artists from San Diego headed by Mario Torero were part of the Estrada courts murals project (Latorre). Their contribution was We Are Not a Minority. This mural conveys a message to outsiders that community would not be label as the minority when they represent the majority of people. (Spencer, M. 1990). The community through this mural is able to engage in activism sending a message to those who have act as the processors.
It is important for minority groups to know that they are of no less value or importance than those who are in the “majority”. It is important for the public to understand the struggle of those who are not sure of their identity as part of a minority group. It is often difficult to combat the views that the country may portray against the views that a community may feel. It is important to recognize such a struggle that continues to occur in modern day society.
The final painting in this exhibition is Diary: December 12, 1941, 1980, Roger Shimomura. This painting actually refers specifically to an experience of his grandmother’s, the date relates to the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed. During this time period the American Government froze the bank accounts of Japanese Americans and Japanese citizens living in the United States. (Superman, World War II, and Japanese-American Experience). A few days later on December 12th which is when this diary takes place is when President Roosevelt orders that Japanese Americans can only withdraw up to $100 a month from their accounts.
In Diary, December 12, 1941, Shimomura has painted the silhouette of the comic book character, Superman, on the Japanese screen behind the seated figure of his grandmother. (Roger Shimomura Papers, 1965-1990). It is important for the public to bring light to such tragedies in American history. Shimomura interpreted Superman differently, equating him with federal government power. The federal government whom Japanese-Americans trusted yet which imprisoned them. These people struggled greatly to find their identity after being subjected to such atrocities by the American government. It is vital for exhibitions to bring light to the artists who struggle representing who they are after being resented by the country they are citizens of.
This exhibition will be depicted in a way that an audience is able to educate themselves on the views that are normally not represented in art exhibitions. The paintings will be displayed in the gallery along the walls on panels. The panels will contain information in relation to what the piece conveys and why it was made. There will be a panel under the painting which will describe the artist and their life. Each panting will have dramatic lighting to emphasize the point that these pieces are the center of attention. Along the floor there will be a path where viewers are able to follow the pieces chronologically and reflect on the events that they learned in school or throughout American history. The path will include images and projections of videos as the viewer follows the path. As one passes through each panel there will be music in relation to each era to immerse the public to the time period.
It is important that the public feel as though they are immersed in a certain time period, to feel one with the identity that these groups are battling to obtain. (ShiPu W. 2008). This exhibit is not only a collective embodiment of art pieces representing minority groups. However, representing the identity of those who are normally not chosen to be represented in a society where everything is chosen by victors. How is the identity of such groups supposed to improve throughout time when Americans are not aware of such art due to what is hindered from them due to the history of the United States.
Difficulties Of Personal Identification In The Short Story “The Namesake”
How many phases of life do you have to go through to figure out truly how you identify yourself? Jhumpa Lahiri wrote a novel called “The Namesake” that is based on a boy struggling with his identity in being born American with Indian ancestry. It starts off with how his parents migrated to the United States from India without knowing anyone but having the reason to live a better life for themselves and their children.
However, their first-born Gogol was going to have difficulty in how he identifies himself due to him having to follow certain Bengali traditions living in America. As a young child, Gogol felt more connected to being American since he was understanding American culture in school and through his friends, however as he grows older he comes to terms of his Bengali-American culture. Gogol goes through phases throughout his life to find his identity.
It wasn’t just his name that had given him confusion on his identity, it was the way Ashima and Ashoke had attempted to keep the family traditions alive while living in America. Little did they know that both parents were also confused about which culture they belonged in. For Gogol’s 14th Birthday they celebrated the way both cultures would celebrate. “Gogol’s fourteenth birthday, like most events in his life was another excuse for his parents to throw a party for their Bengali friends” (p.72) They had him celebrate with his friends which was a basketball game, ping pong, hot dogs, cake, a typical American boy birthday. This helped his confidence in fitting in as an American. His Bengali party was more for his family to try to keep their cultural traditions alive with curry, and women dressed in saris.
Ashima and Ashoke wanted to attempt to keep Gogol into being interested in his heritage but seem to have noticed he is more interested in the American ways. Gogol and Sonia had already felt that they didn’t belong to being Indian when they visited Calcutta. When they arrived, they felt more “foreign” then actually feeling part of the heritage. Sonia and Gogol sensed the feeling of being judged and looked at differently. They had adapted to an attitude of an American adolescent, so when they were in Calcutta they had to be on their best behavior. Indian’s were known for self-discipline, and different attitude values. This made both Gogol and Sonia feel less connection and discomfort while being in Calcutta.
Ashima wanted to be more Bengali, but she noticed herself that she had adapted to some American ways. This happens when you leave your country for so long, it’s hard to come back feeling the same. This was one phase in life were Ashima wanted to expose her children to a Bengali culture but ended failing due to them being Americanized due to friends and their surroundings.
His name played in big part in his cultural identity, it made him be more confused about where he belonged and in what culture he was part of. In kindergarten Gogol’s parents had instructed his teacher to have him be called by his pet name “Nikihil”. In a Bengali culture a child is to be born with two names, his birth name which is his good name, and his pet name which is considered to be a nickname. Gogol was thrown off when his parents had him be called by his pet name. “And what do you, Gogol? Do you want to be called another name?” (p 59) Gogol objected, and was to keep his name as Gogol. He starts to get questions from his friends as to what his name meant in Indian, and where it came from. However, there was a reason his father named him Gogol and wanted his pet name to be Nikhil which was a Bengali name.
Gogol understands that names should represent who you and your heritage, his name was not an American nor an Indian name, it was a Russian name that represented an author. He feels confused since it has no significance to his culture or identify. I understand his point of view of wanting to have a name that represents more of his culture. Feeling betrayal and ashamed of his name, he decides to change his name before heading to college. In this phase, he is seeing himself shift away from being Indian to being more Americanized.
He changes his name to Nikhil, he feels like that name signifies more of his identity. He feels as if Nikhil resembles more of himself, the name change gave him courage and bravery, it also got him to go out with girls more. “It is as Nikhil that he loses his virginity at a party with Ezra Stile, with a girl wearing a plaid woolen skirt and combat boots and mustard tights” (p.33) He meets women that have a significance in finding his identity, but he is also drifting away from his family. Bengali cultures have more of a stricter policy to dating women and arranged marriages, Gogol did not want to follow any those restrictions when he was with his American friends. Being Nikhil he had many girlfriends all which tested him as to how he identified himself.
Gogol’s first girlfriend Ruth signified his separation from his Bengali culture. The second girl he dates Maxine is living the fancy American dream, he is very interested in her lifestyle and family. That relationship was a phase Gogol went through as a significance of freedom. He doesn’t tell her family much about his Bengali culture, because he seems as if they wouldn’t be interested. “But now that he’s Nikhil it’s easier to ignore his parents, to tune out their concerns and pleas” (p.105) By this he has had no contact with his family, Nikhil has made him a different person not being a family man and acting as if he does not have any family or background culture. His father passes away as he is living with Maxine, that is when his life turned back to him wanting to be part of his Bengali roots.
Maxine and Gogol break up shortly after his father’s death. He then meets up with Moushumi which is a childhood Benaglian friend. Moushumi herself is dealing with the same cultural identity struggle. She knows him by both his names, which none of his friends knew him as Gogol. He was living two different lives as to having two different names. She was a culture shock to him since he only dated white women, Moushumi brought him back to his roots.
However, she also was looking for an escape of her roots. “Moushumi has kept her last name. She doesn’t adopt Ganguli, not even when a hyphen” (p 227) As for a Bengali women she is to change her last name when married to her husband’s last name. She was being rebellious to her roots and keeping her last name as a freedom of being an American. They got married which seemed too good to be true, shortly after their marriage she had an affair. But it’s a thanks to her that he felt guilty for wanting to escape his roots and live a life that seemed too good to him. If it wasn’t for her talking some sense into coming back his family and realizing his entire identity was tied to his family. He pulled away from his family, he was losing his ties to his culture.
After all of Gogol’s past relationship he finally started to realize were he belong and how he identified himself. He spent time trying to distance himself from his own identity due to friends and surroundings. It was the obstacles that he encountered that put his identity to a test. At the end, he realized his identity was tied to his name. “Without people in the world to call him Gogol, no matter how long he himself lives, Gogol Ganguli, once and for all, vanish from the lips of loved ones, and so, cease to exist.” (p 289) It wasn’t how his name represented or how it sounded weird the entire time it was who knew him as Gogol which was tied to his family and culture.
The conclusion of this story was simply Gogol did not consider himself more Bengali nor only American. He was born in America which made him an American citizen, but he had beliefs and values of an Indian heritage. At the end of the story he identified himself as a Bengali-American. Being a second-generation child is sometimes not easy, I personally myself dealt with the same struggles as Gogol did. Growing up in a Mexican family at home I valued my beliefs just to please my parents, but at school I was valued my American beliefs just so I would be different.
During adolescent, the point is to fit in and not stand out, that is how Gogol felt. He felt that Nikhil made him a different person that fitted in and was perfect for his life. A name change does not mean your personality changes its all the in the head that changes the personality. He learned from his mistakes and relationships that came to a conclusion of his culture identity.