When meeting or being introduced to an individual for the first time, first impressions, positive or negative are typically made. Even though it is best to refrain from making those immediate judgments until after properly getting to know the individual, sometimes stereotyping within the first few seconds of meeting someone is bound to happen. Often times, first impressions can be correct, however, all too often those judgments can be incorrect. What seems to be the most harmful, especially among ethnic groups is when negative stereotypes are made and they turn out to be incorrect. The poems in the “Trapped in Stereotypes” cluster center around each author’s literary responses to the negative and incorrect stereotypes addressed by each poem.
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In the first poem “Today Was a Bad Day like TB”, the author compares her reaction to stereotyping that of tuberculosis. “You cough & cough trying to get it out and all that comes is blood & spit” (Schilb 997). Her responses to the stereotyping of Indians that have been brought to her attention seem to have no affect. It is possible the author is harboring so many negative stereotypes and assumptions towards whites because she has seen a lot of misunderstanding and clashes between the two cultures as she was growing up. She seems to be greatly bothered when the young man mixes up the names of the tribes as he shows her his Lakota pipe. Throughout the poem the author makes many stereotypes about the individuals who seem to be uneducated about her culture. The stereotypes she makes have the potential to be negative. She refers to the blonde boy as “liberal as only those with no pain can be”. She even mentions him having a sports car. Even though these assumptions are not negative, within the context of the poem, and from the author’s tone, these statements come across as negative. Her tone throughout the poem is also ambiguous especially when describing the young blond boy and the man who was in the bookstore. “Maybe they have an old Indian Grandma back in time to excuse themselves”. Chrystos leaves the reader to determine from what act they need to be excused from. She seems to be responding to the world around her with negative stereotypes just as she has grown accustomed to be on the receiving end of negative stereotypes associated with Indians.
In the poem, “In Response to Executive Order 9066”, the author of the poem responds in an interesting way to a negative stereotype that was presented before her by her childhood best friend. Throughout the poem, the author describes herself as a Japanese-American average teenage girl whose favorite food is hotdogs. It is important to note that the Executive Order 9066 authorized the relocation of American citizens with Japanese ancestry during World War II. This was due to increased fear of espionage during wartime. Her childhood friend approaches her with an incorrect stereotype influenced by the Executive Order. “‘You’re trying to start a war [. . .] giving secrets away to the enemy. Why can’t you keep your big mouth shut?’” (1001). As we can see in the poem, these negative stereotypes can start from childhood, and the effects can last for years after. The author’s response to the girl’s statement was “she’d miss me” (1001). The author uses an assumption in this claim. Because the two girls had grown up together throughout grade school, the author comes to the conclusion that her best friend would feel upset about her disappearance after her relocation. The author’s assumption reveals that she values the girl’s friendship over any stereotyping that was made. The incorrect stereotyping possibly stems from her young age and lack of understanding. This stereotype by the young girls is unfortunate because there was never any evidence that Japanese-Americans were giving secrets away to the enemy. Of course being a fourteen-year-old girl, she would have nothing to do with wartime espionage despite her Japanese ancestry.
David Hernandez, author of the poem “Pigeons”, addresses his perspective of ethnic stereotyping through his use of descriptive assumptions. His statements, “pigeons are the spiks of Birdland [. . .] they are not accepted anywhere [. . .] nobody wants to give pigeons a job [. . .] their accents give them away” (1002) are all statements coming from his perspective about how the world is. Hernandez sees his ethnicity as negative from the viewpoint of other individuals. More specifically, how other ethnicities in America view Latinos. His language can be somewhat ambiguous when describing the other ethnicities, comparing them to doves, parakeets, canaries, and parrots. He states that they live in fancy cages, are well fed, while pigeons may reside on rooftop housing projects built by liberal pigeon-ladies.
Through the use of ambiguity, and assumptive language, the authors of the poems “Today Was a Bad Day Like TB”, “In Response to Executive Order 9066”, and “Pigeons”, reveal their perspectives on ethnic stereotyping. Despite having different feelings, and responses to the way the world seems to stereotype their ethnicity, they all address the negativity in stereotyping.
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