SAMPLE EXCERPT:

Later, Hurston admits that there are times when she wishes she could return to a time when she was just a little girl, Zora, and not the person whose identity is defined entirely by her skin color in the minds of others. She writes

"At certain times I have no race, I am me. When I set my hat at a certain angle

and saunter down Seventh Avenue, Harlem City, feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty-Second Street Library, for instance. So far as my feelings are concerned, Peggy Hopkins Joyce on the Boule Mich with her gorgeous raiment, stately carriage, knees knocking together in a most aristocratic manner, has nothing on me. The cosmic Zora emerges. I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads."

Writing in 2007, in his Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood, Richard Rodriguez presents a different element of racial identity, also in the negative sense. He describes the two different worlds he lived in as a child: one was the outside world where he spoke English; the other being the private "inside" world of his family home where he and his family spoke Spanish. However, much like Hurston, Rodriguez (and his family) never actually chose their private "at-home" identity, although it was not assigned to them or forced on them in the same way that Hurston's was. Nevertheless, it was hardly a positive thing in his life, either.

Rodriguez writes about how is (initial) lack of English-language fluency as a young child was something about which he was ashamed and, especially, how the language barriers encountered by his parents deprived them of ever feeling that they were genuinely part of American society. He vividly recalls the way that the sound of English spoken at the front door of his childhood home was an instant source of anxiety and tension that ended only when the English-speaking person left his home. He describes his father as a man with an animated and confident personality and way of communicating with others in Spanish who became a shell of himself outside the home in any situation where English was being spoken instead of Spanish.

The author opposes the view that American public education should continue to be presented bilingually. Proponents of bilingual education typically suggest that it is justified by the importance of allowing immigrants to retain their ethnic and cultural identities. Rodriguez argues the opposite: namely, that promoting the maintenance of two separate cultural identities (i.e. In the home vs. outside such as in his childhood home) perpetuates the "otherness" of immigrant families and actually retards their full integration into American society.

Obviously, Hurston and Rodriquez wrote in very different eras of American society. Whereas Hurston's racial identity was forced on her by those who desired to perpetuate prejudicial attitudes, the racial identity that Rodriquez describes in his family was a product of natural circumstances. In both cases, racial identity was a detriment rather than a beneficial aspect of life. While there is little question that racial identity can be a positive part of individuality in modern society, that only holds true when it reflects personal choice. It is not beneficial or positive when it is forced onto the individual in the manner described by Hurston, or when it develops out of a sense of inadequacy and shame, in the manner described by Rodriquez.

References

Hurston, Zora. (1928). "How It Feels To Be Colored Me." Retrieved Online:

http://www.mrisakson.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/How_It_Feels_to_be_Colored_Me.pdf

Rodriquez, Richard "Aria: A Memoir of A Bilingual Childhood." Occasions for Writing: Evidence, Idea, Essay. Eds. Robert DiYanni & Pat C. Hoy II. Boston, MA: Thomson Heinle, 2007. 501-508. Print.