Identity in On Seeing England For The First Time and How to Tame a Wild Tongue


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“Who am I?”, “Who are we?”, “What am I?” and “What are we?”. These are 4 of the most prevalent questions asked throughout from the time humans have been able to think and discern. And for eons, we have tried to answer them through literature, politics, and biology to give meaning and purpose to who we are and what we have become. Therefore, our origin story we could conclude potentially varies from one viewpoint to another and what one person believes compared to another. However, due to the oppression of people over history, there was suffering to achieve a true and single greatest identity whose ideologies was considered best by the ruling nation over the colony which lead for the colonized to not be able to understand one’s self or one’s identity. A person might view you differently from how you view yourself. But, one thing is certain this inflicted identity or forced upon belief of how one should act and behave could shape the way how one views the world and what action one will take in a specific situation or life in general. It could affect the person’s mental health given the circumstances where the person is compelled to view one way or is still understanding one’s true self.

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One of the first essays which include the loss of identity or conflict of one’s origin story and who they really are as one of the key points is On Seeing England for the First Time by Jamaica Kincaid. In this essay, the author Kincaid takes the reader on a voyage through what living was for her in Antigua, a British colony in the West Indies, and how the experiences from her past home have made her who she is today. She talks about how she was taught how to be ‘white’ and being forced to believe that being ‘white’ is something of great importance and needs to be respected. Kincaid initially begins her piece by talking about the first time she saw the map of England, and how bright and ‘delicately’ it was put together. But later she called it ‘a leg of mutton’ and a ‘jail’ which was a clear reference to her secret growing hatred of England because as the story progresses she talks about what she found weird about the British rule in her country. She says that she had to worship to the queen who never even once decided to visit the island. The essay overall bears no change expect for Kincaid’s tone, which changes, and she seems to get closer to the reader about England. For example, she says ‘the moment I wished every sentence that began with England would end with ‘and it all died’’ which reflects a heavy opinion about the British country after seeing it and living it and it goes on to show the fraudulent England that shaped her life. This is one of the many instances where Kincaid shows her frustration with not being able to identify herself. On page 368 it says ‘I was told not to gossip, but they did that all the time. And they ate so much food, violating another of those rules they taught me: do not indulge in gluttony’. This very ironic since back in Antigua she was taught the British/’white’ way to live, which they claimed was the right way. However, after she visits England and lives there she finds differences in how they really live. This begins to dwell her because she realizes that she is neither British nor an Antiguan since her culture was not taught to her and what was taught to her was false. So, she wonders who she is, what she means, and therefore gets lost in her own identity. Another illustration is on page 371 when Kincaid states ‘finally then, I saw England, the real England, not a picture, not a painting, not through a story in a book, …. the space between the idea of it and its reality had become filled with hatred… I wanted to take it into my hands and tear it into little pieces’. This is a clear indication of her frustration with the country of England, after seeing it for herself she realizes that everything she had done back in Antigua is completely useless and serves no purpose. She recollects having to remember names of people whose monuments had been built in England, which now was just a place for birds and people to sit on and realizing that these people she remembered had once ‘dominion over the people’ who looked like her. This statement like others shows that she is very annoyed with her current situation because everyone in her life and family regards England to the highest honor without realizing the truth. In addition, she feels terrible for all the children and people who are still under the rule of England and is forced to go through the misery that she endured. Here she has trouble associating herself with the English when she later says ‘the correct height from which all my views of England, starting with the map before me in my classroom and ending with the trip I had just taken, should jump and die and disappear forever’ and she cannot relate to Antiguans because she doesn’t know what her history really is. Overall, she does not know who she really is and therefore, feels responsible for wrongly accusing herself of the problems she had to endure.

Another essay which helps argue the same idea regarding the loss of identity is How to Tame A Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua. Unlike Kincaid, Anzaldua was not actually colonized, in fact, her conflict is more with culture and not being able to fit in with her surroundings. Anzaldua was born in the United States in Texas and she was part of a group called Chicanos, someone who is of Mexican origin. Therefore, her native mother tongue was Spanish a dialect called Chicano Spanish. This resulted in her discrimination in America because Americans and Mexicans did not consider her one of their own. One of the first examples of this discrimination is when she says ‘I remember being caught speaking Spanish at recess that was good for three licks on the knuckles with a sharp ruler…’If you want to be American, speak ‘American.’ If you don’t like it, go back to Mexico where you belong’. This is very disappointing saying something that to a child, and being racist about where he/she came from is sad. Even though Anzaldua is more positive about this matter, someone else would be depressed and might even fight back to whoever told that statement. Another point in the essay when Anzaldua shows her frustration is when she calls the imperialism on people like her linguistic terrorism. She uses the term “linguistic terrorism” to explain how the First Amendment is violated when an individual has their profile invaded with the hope of admonition. And, she goes on to say that ‘Chicanas who grew up speaking Chicano Spanish have internalized the belief that we speak poor Spanish…we use our language differences against each other’. This is a crucial point in her essay because here she is calling together all of the people who are discriminated to join forces and support her on the endeavor, she is about to embark on, something that is virtuous. Later, on page 43 she says ‘we don’t identify with the Anglo-American cultural value and we don’t totally identify with the Mexican cultural values. We are a synergy of two cultures with various degrees of Mexicanness or Angloness’. This goes on to show that language and culture could not be divided and sometimes will result in both language and belief variation between people. Unlike Kincaid, Anzaldua is more open about this matter and later she plays a crucial part in the Chicano revolution to gain recognition. Her story perfectly supports the argument that sometimes-inflicted identity could change the way how one sees. Growing up being criticized back and forth for not being part of any group really got to Anzaldua which caused her to fight and gain back what is right. She herself claims that she does not identify with either Anglos or Mexicans. And she mainly writes this piece and others with the hybrid of English and Spanish to show her stance and position regarding the matter of forced oppression to accept one identity over another.

In conclusion, an unwelcomed identity that is forced upon people is perpetually linked to social and cultural inputs and depends on certain beliefs others hold. In the case of Kincaid, she feels mistreated by the country that colonized her by filling her with false lies. And when she finally gets a glimpse she feels hatred for the nation as well as herself for believing those lies over the years. And for Anzaldua, she feels inconvenient because she is treated poorly by her host country and her family descendent country. She does not want to remain linked to either and just wants people to accept who she really is, an American with Mexican heritage. And these essays tie back to the original problem because both the authors want to understand who they are and not be forced to accept something because of someone or something. Identity is something crucial it is something people understand and reevaluate over their lives to help them grow. So, if someone decided to disturb this natural process with their views of ethnocentrism they are not only causing harm to those individuals but to future generations who are crucial for life. 

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