“Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself.”
― Chinua Achebe, African Writer and Novelist
Achebe’s words are paramount when analyzing, reading and understanding minor-literature. One of the many reasons for minor-literature is to create and present voices of the under-represented and the silenced. It is also a political movement, as well. It is one’s need to be heard. It is one’s need to be seen. It is one’s need to be acknowledged. It is one’s need to be understood. These are the reasons for minor-literature.
As a Black-American-female, I believe it is important for my narrative to be heard, as well as the next person that is silenced or under-represented. It is this need to vocalize their everyday experiences. It has been documented in various parts of the world at various times by the minority wanting to have their voices heard and acknowledged. This is extremely moving and revolutionary. It is merely due to the fact that an individual or a group recognizes the importance of having their experiences heard.
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
― Maya Angelou
In many ways, silenced and under-represented groups are writing and creating their own space within their various cultures and societies because they have a story to tell.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou
And like this beautiful quote by Angelou, we all have stories that we want to tell. However, if we never tell that story then we will forever have this feeling of agony inside of us. The need of revealing your experiences is not unique to the human-experience. The oral-tradition is the oldest form of human-communication. As human-beings, we told stories orally and became story-tellers. We sat around and told the stories of those before us and those of our generation. We knew we had a story to tell and we told it. And just like those that came before us, we have an obligation to create our narratives and to make a space for every voice out there.
So, in starting off ‘minor-literature’ week, I want to start with a story that really touched me.
I recently read “Yo Soy Chicano” by: David F.Gomez. In this autobiographical piece, I found myself looking at myself in the mirror. David Gomez, a son of two Mexican-immigrants, grew up in a mostly White, working-class area in southwest Los Angeles, California.
In his early schooling, Gomez described his experience with school as being “a terribly destructive experience, for it stripped away my identity as a Mexicano and alienated me from my own people, including my parents” (6). In reading the first line of this short-story, I knew I was going to enjoy this piece of literature. For so long, I have heard how education is the end-all-be-all to having a successful life. However, Gomez’s experience(s) with school was a means of socialization by the various institutions that he would enter into for education. He continues to describe his early-schooling experience as being “predominantly White, at least 85 percent or more. The rest of us were either Mexican, Black, or Oriental, but mostly Mexican. Everything that was of value or importance in school was White and clean” (6). In helping his audience to understand the process of socialization, Gomez further stated that “the teachers either ignored our Mexican heritage completely or referred to us condescendingly as “Spanish”. At first it annoyed me to be called Spanish because Papa had strictly taught us to say, “Soy puro Mexicano” when asked what we were”. At this point in his life, Gomez was being taught at home self-confidence and the beauty of his heritage while being ignored at school because of his identity. His identity became a source of shame and interrogation by the individuals that all students would be expected to look up to- teachers. However, this was not the case. He would describe his predominate impression as being that “Mexicans had no legitimate place in the White world. If we Mexicans wanted to survive at all, we would have to become White. And I wanted to be White” (6).
As Gomez progressed in school, he would continue to describe his isolation from his Mexican-identity. To be accurate, his Chicano-identity. He remembered a time in which his mother came to pick him up from school in the third-grade and being ’embarrassed’ by his mother’s Spanish. So, one day the bell had rung to dismiss students from school and just like any other day, he would go outside to wait for his mother to pick him up. However, this day was different. Gomez’s mother came into the school, went to his class and called out, “David, apurate, te ‘stoy esperando!”. His mother wanted him to hurry because she was waiting on him, but unfortunately, he was ashamed and proceeded to tell his mother to speak English. So, at this point in the story, Gomez felt almost estranged from his native-tongue of Spanish, which was spoken at home.
In having parents with roots in Mexico, he would visit Tijuana or Mexicali. In visiting his family back in Mexico, he would further continue on in his socialization of disconnecting from his identity. In feeling disconnected from his Mexican-American identity, Gomez stated that “I became aware of feeling that what my family had to offer-language,customs, food, ways of looking at the world vacations in Baja California- was not very good in comparison with the other world in which I lived” (8). At this point in his life, Gomez definitely felt removed from his culture and thoroughly attracted to White-culture. To illustrate this point, “there was one little boy who was in the third grade with me. I wanted him to be my friend because he seemed to embody all that I admired and believed was best. He had blond hair, bright blue eyes, and rosy cheeks” (8). As a 22 years old,Black-American reader, I can definitely say that this form of socialization is detrimental. Gomez grew up in educational-institutions that taught self-hate and racial-superiority, which bred the isolation of minorities from themselves. This is still the case for many minorities, despite this story being decades old. It is this removal from one’s culture that creates self-hatred. For most young children and teenagers, school is the one place that you would spend most of your time. This is the one place in which you begin the socialization process. It can and may just break or make you.
In looking at his overall experiences, he stated that “like many Mexican American children, my experiences made a peripheral person of me. My Anglo-White experiences at school so completely conflicted with my Mexican-brown experiences at home that I rejected one for the other only to find that I couldn’t fully participate in either” (10). So, I must admit that I just wanted to hug Gomez at this point in his autobiographical piece. I just wanted to reach out and tell him that the struggle is real, but to never give up. I think many minorities and racially-mixed individuals undergo this exact same experience. It is this issue of trying to fit within dominant-society and your own reality. However, you end up finding yourself at the outskirts of these two spaces that you frequently enter and exit out of on a daily-basis. It is exactly this statement by Gomez that makes minor-literature so important. It poses serious concerns and questions about identity. Personally, I am constantly trying to obtain and strive for the ‘authentic self’ because of all of the external pressures for me to be something other than myself. At one point in my life, similar to Gomez, I hated by Blackness. I hated my hair. I hated the fact that I wasn’t White. I had even dyed my hair blonde, in order to look White. I believe at one point, I even purchased skin-lightener to get a fairer complexion. The bad part of this is how other Black people would encourage this detrimental cycle of hating your Blackness. I would be told how beautiful I was because I was light-skinned. Also, I would be told that I had ‘good’ hair and that the boys would ‘like’ and ‘love’ me. So, I would always take these words as being truth because not only was dominant-society pushing it onto minorities, but even minorities were pushing it upon each other. I never understood how socialization worked until I realized its effects upon me. On one-hand, I would be told that I wasn’t ‘Black’ enough or that I was ‘too-White’ so I struggled for a good portion of my life trying to fit in the worlds that I would enter and re-enter on a daily-basis. It creates an incomplete, fragmented, and disconnected identity. It really does. I’ve never been comfortable with this issue of trying to fit in with this or that group, but it is challenging when you’re being cornered by your own group and by dominant-society.
However, I will continue on with Mr. Gomez. To go into an excellent example of my own personal feelings about this issue of identity, he described his experience as being similar to many minorities. He stated that “I was indeed a ‘Mexican-American,’ a hyphenated person who was somehow both Mexican and American yet neither a Mexican nor an American in any clearly defined sense” (10). Many minorities and racially-mixed individuals hold similar views to Gomez. It is this sense of trying to define one’s self on one’s own terms without the interference of someone else’s definition, but it is fairly difficult. There is always this ongoing struggle to figure out one’s identity and how it works or doesn’t work. In some ways, one must decide for themselves who and what they want to be.
He continued to say that “sometimes when the brown world intruded into the White I felt divided within myself, but usually I ended up choosing the White world. Most of the time, I was simply a displaced person who, in his better moments should have realized he was trying to be someone or something he actually was not. I believed that I was White, a belief that left permanent scars on my consciousness because it uprooted me from my familia and created in me the false and deceptive impression that I was really accepted and belonged in the White world” (11).
I will let that marinade on the mind for a moment. Yes, let it just marinade for a bit. There is more to come about this issue of socialization and being marginalized.
To complete his total transformation, he stated that ” I gave many people the impression of being weak because I have been a marginal, peripheral person in dominant society for so long that unconsciously I assumed all the characteristics that the dominant group expected of me” (11)
And to completely break a person, you need not to break them down physically, but mentally. In no part of this autobiographical piece he spoke about being physically abused, but in every part of the piece he spoke about being mental-subjugation of self-hatred. He was mentally oppressed and isolated from himself.
And at the end of the piece, he graduated college and felt “I had indeed become the gabacho I so desperately wanted to be” (17).
As I read the piece and came to the end, I sat in awe. I was just taken aback. In many ways, I was reading a story about me. Yes, it is 2014, but the issue of identity is still major. Identity isn’t just about race. No, it is about the full and entire person.
So, in reading this piece of minor-literature, I felt extremely compelled to share it with others. I feel it is important to think about when we discuss issues of: class, race, nationalism, culture(s), mainstream society, and identity.
So, if you enjoyed this, then stay tuned for more minor-literature to come.