The essay “A White Woman of Color”, written by Julia Álvarez, was one of the best essays I have ever read! Why? Because I can relate to everything the author was referring to. I found myself gasping in response to many of her statements, realizing that our situations were very similar. Julia writes, “We had come in 1960, political refugees, with no money but with ‘prospects’.” Like Ms. Álvarez’ family, my own family are immigrants (though we are from the Portuguese Azores Islands). My great-grandfather came to America alone to obtain a job and housing and later went back for his family…thus, my grandmother (his daughter) was automatically made a US citizen and moved to America in 1960, when my mother was born. My mother was the only one of her seven brothers and sisters to be born here in America…and the difference between she and her siblings is very noticeable. Though my mother and my father (who was born on the Islands) are Catholic, they do not attend mass regularly like their siblings. They do not speak Portuguese around the house like their siblings, attend Festas and parades like their siblings, or (often) cook ethic cuisine like their siblings. They have become Americanized and have, in turn, taken my brother and I along with them. I do agree with Julia’s opinion of ethnic solidarity…but I also see the opposite side of the coin. I think that we “people of color” need to find a middle ground. Embrace America, as my family has done by voting regularly and learning the English language to a fault, creating family businesses and sending their children off to school…but I also think that culture is very important. I think that immigrants should learn English as well as their native language, that they should attend festas and parades and religious holidays. I think that they should teach their children to do the same and praise them when they do, instead of “bleaching them white”. Álvarez feels this sense of loss, this displacement of herself, when she writes: “…[On questionnaires], I was to check off my race: Caucasian, Black, Native American, Asian, Hispanic, Other….how could it define who I was at all? Given this set of options, the truest answer might have been to check off other.” I h ave always had the same problem! Technically, Portugal is a Latin speaking country…so am I Latino? Álvarez also says, “My culture had become an internal homeland, particularly replenished by trips ‘back home’…I felt less and less at home on the island. My values, the loss of my Catholic faith, my lifestyle, my wardrobe, my hippy ways, and my feminist ideas separated me from my native culture.” I am identical! I am no longer Catholic and everything from my hippie prairie skirts to my amethyst crystal jewelry and bangles make me very different from my relations, even those that have moved here to America. It is sad for me to see this because I have a huge love for history and my culture. I am the one who is intrigued by my family’s “Olive” tree and I am the one who is always asking my parents to speak Portuguese, because I feel like a misshapen puzzle piece. I feel the ocean inside of me, calling out to me in my dreams. I often feel as if it were I that was born in the Islands, instead of my father. Ms Alvarez said it best: “[Ethnicity] is not something someone can take away from me or leave me out of with a definition. It is in my blood: it comes from that mixture of biology, culture, native language, and experience that makes me a different American”.
Written Fall 2003. All writing (c) comicfairy. Please do NOT steal...Ask & ye shall receive. :)
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