‘Essentializing’ Identity

Nelda retells the story about how her mother worked as a cleaning woman for many years for a ‘Mexican American’ woman. And the experiences that her mother had were pivotal to Nelda’s influence and thinking of American language and culture. Although Nelda was exposed to a lot of criticism about Chicanos/Chicanas, even in her own family, Nelda felt the need to OWN the struggles of her people and to set the example that she is different from the others and she is proud of holding dual identities of Mexican and Chicana without seeing any conflict between the two because this is what makes her who she is and what has influenced the decisions that she has made that have contributed to her educational success.

Reading the story about Nelda reminds me a lot of myself and my background because I definitely identify as a Filipina, fully blooded since both my parents are Filipino, but I also identify myself as a Filipino American because I was born here and I grew up automatically assimilated into the American culture. I never let my background define who I am and limit what I can do. Nelda embraced every little opportunity that came her way and was proud of what she was and where she came from and used that as a strength and advantage to her. Identifying as Chicana is gravely important to Nelda because that is who she is, her IDENTITY and to her education and understanding history of the American people and the Chicano people is important to her and influences her understanding and how education has played a major role to her beliefs and values.

Lorena refers to her ‘job as a human being’ in the sense that this was the first time she had a real job, real identity where she could fight for herself and where she comes from. She is illustrating the issue of social justice and conveying that with what she does, comes meaning. Lorena starts to feel that her calling in life is to change at least one person’s life through education. Lorena’s argument about how basic education is life changing and has influenced her way of thinking is very relevant today. When Lorena first started school, she was harrassed by young girls who said to her ‘You’re not good enough to talk to me because you don’t speak English.’ Which I think resonated to Lorena, even at a young age, and she kept going to school because she had supportive teachers. Lorena just wanted to feel supported, especially during a time where she had to be rapidly assimilated into a culture that was very unknown to her, which is a similarity that she shares with Nelda. Nelda and Lorena’s Chicana identity respectively, is a powerful tool that corresponds to the whole idea of social justice, reminding us that Nelda and Lorena’s background does not limit nor does it define who they are and their capabilities and further, justifies the idea that despite Nelda and Lorena being ‘different’, they should have equal opportunity and equal resources like everyone else.

Education to Nelda and Lorena is very important. When Lorena was educating the farm workers and their families and educated them about pesticides, she understood that their lack of knowledge was not due to their incapabilities as ‘Chicanos’, but it was due to the lack of access to information. This experience that Lorena went through was a huge stepping stone in understanding who she is and the importance of where she comes from, her IDENTITY and how education plays a pivotal role in her success. Without education, Nelda and Lorena understand that they will not be able to further understand the culture they live in and further will lack the knowledge and resources they need to achieve their goals.

‘Specifically, the educational process fails to promote bilingualism, biculturalism and biliteracy. Instead, schooling is more about subtracting and adding these competencies and in so doing compromises the achievement of immigrant and nonimmigrant youth alike’ this suggests that there is something wrong with the educational system and definitely needs some kind of structural reform. Schools need to provide resources specifically for students whose first language isn’t English. In Nelda’s case, the role that ideology can play in mediating the assimilation of adolescents is illustrated beautifully. Nelda demonstrates the capacity both to achieve AND to BLEND in within her social community. Even though Nelda has an in-depth understanding of her history, she is still considered more of the exception, rather than the rule. From this we can take away that social justice is an issue that is prominent as ever. A child’s opportunity to develop his or her knowledge is pretty much nonexistent due to the way the school is stuctured. The lack of resources to support these kids is more about content rather than looking at everything as a whole.

In Lorena’s case, at first her family and friends did not want her to go, her manager didn’t want her to leave and experience this internship, but she said that ‘I wanted to broaden my horizons and people told me not to do it, so I did.’ And this is such a significant statement because this proves that Lorena CHOOSES to use her resources and the opportunities that are available to her to further educate herself and also educate others about her experiences and this way she can impact her family and those around her. She has her own PERSONAL AGENCY to be something and be better despite her being ‘different’, despite her being undocumented and her fears, she went through with the internship because she holds a personal responsibility for the struggles her family has faced and in her history just like Nelda did and they continue to act and seek opportunities.

My cultural identity is shaped because I am expected to do ‘good’ and to succeed. Education is a big part of my life and who I am and my mom always told me growing up that I should finish school because she doesn’t have riches or any properties to pass down to me, the only thing she can give me is my education. And she would always say that knowledge and education is something NO ONE can ever take away from me. I have kept this with me all throughout my educational career and I am fortunate enough that I understand the depth of education and that that will lead to a bright future for me. Growing up I was a scholar I guess you can say, and I take pride in my education and my school work. It is apart of who I am because its something that is important to me and something that I am good at and that plays an integral role in my identity.

I think at my site, the individuals who guide the students influence their cultural identities because they provide great support. The support and the resources gives them equal opportunity and helps them to understand that where they come from does not limit them but it contributes to their cultural identity and does not define their capabilities in school. I love the Canal and what they do.

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