In the work titled The Chinese in All of Us, author Richard Rodriguez talks about his mixed heritage and the ambiguities associated with it. A Mexican American living in Chinese populated San Fransisco, Rodriguez recounts how external cultural influences helped shaped his identity. He is a firm believer in the notion that despite what our roots are, the influences during our formative years can have a profound effect. For example, despite his Hispanic heritage, he feels quite at home with the Irish, as it was Irish Catholic nuns who tutored him in school, instilling in him their own set of cultural values. And later in life, his close contact with the Chinese of San Francisco had made him assimilate some of their cultural values as well. More importantly, Rodriguez points out that the Puritans who were the first immigrants to the country and have left an enduring legacy ever since, emphasized the sanctity of the individual as against the community. In other words, while each of us identify ourselves through multiple socio-cultural markers, our greatest allegiance is toward our uniqueness – our own individuality. And it is no surprise that America is a country renowned for espousing an ‘individualistic ethos’. We can see examples of this in mainstream advertisement for products and how the culture industry operates. At one level there is a paradox, for there can be no individual who doesn’t belong to a community. Yet, Americans celebrate their individuality more than any other aspect of who they are. As a way of explaining his own assumed and nominal identities, Rodriguez notes: “The most important founding idea of America was the notion of individualism – your freedom from the group, my freedom from you. A most glamorous idea. Consider this paradox: The belief we share in common as Americans is the belief that we are separate from one another.“ (Rodriguez, p.230)
While conceding the role played by our cultural identities in our daily life, Rodriguez also affirms the thesis of this essay, namely that such identities are by no means fixed. In the write-up, his Bishop remarks to him that America is like a mosaic, pointing to the mosaic of the Virgin of Guadalupe – “We are each of us different colors, but united we produce a wonderful, a beautiful effect” (Rodriguez, p.230). To this, Rodriguez correctly counters that “The trouble, I thought to myself, the trouble is that the tiny pieces of glass are static. In our real lives, we are not static. America is fluid. The best metaphors of America for me are metaphors suggesting fluidity. Our lives melting into one another. For myself, I like the metaphor of the melting pot.” (Rodriguez, p.230)
Coming back to Dwight Okita’s poem, to be fair to Denise O’Connor, at the age of 14 years, she could hardly be expected to show mature consideration before coming to conclusions about her friend Ozawa. When the national government itself is proclaiming distrust over a select demography of the population, it is unreasonable to expect a young girl of 14 to have an awareness outside this indoctrination. Hence, the distrust shown by Denise O’Connor toward her friend should be evaluated in this socio-political backdrop. By doing so, we could possibly sympathize with their feelings of insecurity rather than ostracising them for being mean and prejudiced. Similarly, it is also easy to see how in the case of Richard Rodriguez and Robin Kelley, people tended to conveniently categorize them as belonging to one community or the other without proper enquiry. As an anti-thesis to this essay it could be stated that adding complexities and layers to one’s identity is not practically feasible, as in real-life encounters other people simply do not have the requisite information. But such an argument is quite tenuous, for one is actually encouraging intellectual laziness and inhumane tendencies by supporting the anti-thesis.