Major Theme within Hispanic writing:
In many of the novels I selected to read for this project the idea of identity was constantly changing. In the novels How the GarcĂa Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Ă?lvarez and When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, the identity of the protagonists evolves and fluctuates between languages and cultures. For example, the use of English vs Spanish in the home, at school, and in public is an important choice that the protagonists are faced with. It is important to remember that many of our students are also facing similar choices in their own lives.
Identity in the novels takes on many different forms. Most important are the conflicts caused by environment. These are the center points for identity issues in the novels. Both of the protagonists are native Spanish speakers who move to the United States in those two novels. With their move to the United States is the additional pressure to assimilate and adopt the English language. In Santiagoâ€™s novel, Negi is forced to become a translator for her mother and her motherâ€™s many friends because she is the one who knows English (even though her level of English is relatively low). Additionally, in Santiagoâ€™s novel, Negi is pressured to stay behind a grade because she is not a native English speaker. Speaking Spanish in the home and English in schools and the community is one issue of identity many hispanic youth face daily. Language is more than just sounds and words, it is an ideology. To accept the use of English can be viewed as accepting the American philosophy and way of life; however it is a choice that many immigrantâ€™s children are forced to make. Relating this back to our middle school section on identity and Erikson, Negi is forced into a role that she will identify with. With the acceptance of language comes a new identity. Basically, she has to reject her old identity (to a certain extent) in order to function in her new environment, but she is never accepted in her new environment. Thus, she does not know exactly where she belongs and with whom she can identify.
In James A Bankâ€™s book Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies, he alludes to this issue in Hispanic groups. My interview with Eileen Zeitz, a Spanish professor at UMD, also yielded similar findings about identity. In most Hispanic groups, the second generation of in the United States usually adopts the American way without much hesitation. Cuban Americans are an excellent example of this assimilation. However, the Puerto Rican Americans have not assimilated to the same extent as their hispanic counterparts. Puerto Ricans usually maintain their Hispanic identity through language and traditions even if they were born in the United States. This is possible because they are allowed to travel between Puerto Rico and the United States freely. Even though they usually continue to identify themselves as Puerto Rican, they feel the pressure to assimilate to the American mass culture. Living in a country that has different traditions and practices forces one to reevaluate beliefs. It is easy to empathize with characters like Negi when we put ourselves in their position: a foreigner in a new land without much knowledge of the language or traditions. The feeling of being a fish out of water can relate well to both high school and middle school students because they experience this feeling in their daily life as well.