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Tara Kliebenstein Professor Altman English 114A December 9, 2013

Shaping Identity Identity is not just one thing, but a multitude of things. If we were to take the worlds population and divide it into groups by similarities, we would find that our world is strongly diverse. Our identity is built to distinguish one another and is shaped based on ones culture, physical representation, personal ambition and previous experiences. In Amy Tans Mother Tongue, Tan explains how identity can be formed based on ones language. In Zora Hurstons How it Feels to be Colored Me, Hurston exemplifies the idea that identity is based upon ones race. While in Henry Louis Gates Jr.s A Giant Step, he portrays the idea that identity is shaped on ones past. These narratives display different perspectives on how identity is constructed, yet correlate when defining identity as having more than one meaning. Outsiders often depict ones identity based on their culture. Culture doesnt only mean where someone comes from but it also means the language and traditions we were raised around. In Mother Tongue, Amy Tan tells a story of how she was brought up in a Chinese culture based home where her mother spoke broken English. Tan was immediately identified as someone who would never be successful at speaking the English language because of her background. She states, While my English skills were never judged as poor, compared to math,

Kliebenstein 2 English could not be considered my strong suit (Tan 79). Many people assumed that because Tan originated from an Asian culture, her strongest subject would be math, which is a typical stereotype. Even though Tan had these allegations thrown at her continuously, she was rebellious enough to make her way through college as an English major, writing many influential narratives as such. Although Tans mother spoke broken English to most people, Tan had no problem with interpreting her mothers words. Her language, as I hear it, is vivid, direct, full of observation and imagery. That was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world (Tan 77). In other words, Tan makes it clear that there is nothing wrong with her mothers speech. It is simply a language that shaped Tan into becoming the young successful woman she is and motivated her to become something better than what societys judgment had planned for her. Identity is also shaped based on ones physical representation. For example, people judge others based on their hair color, weight, the way we dress, and more drastically, the color of our skin. Believe it or not, racism is still a targeting issue in our country and people are judged by their race daily. How it Feels to be Colored Me by Zora Hurston, depicts Hurstons ideas that race is simply a color and not a form of identity. Hurston states, I remember the very day that I became colored (Hurston 1). Up until the time Hurston was placed in an all white school at the age of thirteen, the diversity in skin color was never brought to her attention. By stating this, she makes it aware to her audience that race had very little significance to the way she felt about not only herself, but also others surrounding her. Hurston also states, white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there (Hurston 1). In her perspective, there was no explanation for different skin tones, and she felt

Kliebenstein 3 that skin color didnt determine ones ability to become what they dreamed for. The one thing that shocks Hurston the most is when people refuse to enjoy themselves in her company because she was an African-American woman. She confidently states, Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? (Hurston 3). It disappoints Hurston that many people are so judgmental and that they make false claims about her based on her race. This is currently a reoccurring problem in our society. Americans are solely judged based on the color of our skin before our personality is recognized, proving that identity is based on ones appearance. Many people try to characterize Hurston based on the color of her skin, but she writes this essay to enlighten people that in order to identify someone we must look more in depth of ones personality rather than ones skin tone. Lastly, in the short story, A Giant Step, by Henry Louis gates Jr. we are convinced that past experiences greatly shape ones identity. Gates is an African-American man who suffered from extreme pain in his hips and knees for a long period of time. For 26 years he wore a pair of orthopedic shoes that only seemed to increase the amount of pain that he went through. At the age of 40, Gates was given an opportunity to receive a hip replacement surgery, something he had been longing for. Followed by the surgery Gates would be forced to wear a new pair of shoes, leaving his original ones behind. This task was much harder for Gates than what he had in mind as he states, The next day, I walk over to the trash can, and take a long look at the brick (shoes). I dont want to seem ungracious or unappreciative. We have walked long miles together. I feel disloyal, as if I am abandoning an old friend. I take a second look (Gates 3). Although these orthopedic shoes caused severe pain to Gates, he felt as if they were more than

Kliebenstein 4 just a pair of useless shoes. They were shoes that literally walked with him on his entire journey through life, and they played a huge role in shaping his identity. He then finishes his story with, Maybe Ill get them bronzed (Gates 3). Even though these shoes will no longer be put to use, it is not in his wishes to vanish them for good. Rather than being ashamed, Gates is extremely proud of his shoes for creating the person that he has become. Gates chooses to keep them in order to remind him of where he started in life. He started at a young age with a pair of shoes that had no financial value, yet contain a great amount of value in terms of shaping the man he has transformed into. With that, Gates chooses to bronze these shoes in replica of a trophy, something we take pride in and cherish forever. Personally, I went through the same dilemma as Gates. Softball has been a part of my life for the past 14 years. Within these 14 years, I have grown a great amount, causing me to increase in uniform sizes, bat sizes, and more importantly glove sizes. At the age of 13, I was forced to buy a new glove in order to have the ability to compete at a higher level. It may seem ridiculous, but parting from my genuine glove was one of the most challenging things that Ive ever had to do. Although I was incredibly eager to be receiving a glove with never been used Velcro, and stern leather straps, similar to Gates, it was nearly impossible to trash my very first glove that transformed me into the ball player that I am today. Currently, I have my original glove in a boxed frame hanging on my wall, constantly reminding me of where I started on the ball field. It is important to keep this memory, because it reminds me of all the hardships and accomplishments I have experienced to get me where I am today. Fourteen years of blood, sweat, and tears have gotten me a full-ride scholarship to play the sport I love at a D1 college. Where I started on the ball field is something that I never want to lose memory of, and framing

Kliebenstein 5 my glove constantly reminds me of where I started as a ball player, and what it took for me to fully reach my goals. Even though physically my glove is nothing more than a piece of equipment, emotionally it is a piece of treasure that shaped my identity into the ball player that I have become. As you can see, there are many ways that identity can be developed. Collectively, identity is shaped on ones culture, physical representation and past experiences but in actuality, it is shaped on how we want to be characterized as a person. In these 3 narratives, these authors have a vision of who they see themselves becoming in the future. Although they all have different views on how identity can be shaped, they all have a similar personal ambition of what they want to be viewed as. Through all the judgments, stereotypes and hardships these authors make it a point to prove anyone who doubted them wrong. In order to shape our own identity, we have to set a goal for who we want to become ourselves. Once we accomplish this, people will identify us based on our own personal ambition.

Works Cited Gates (Jr.), Henry Louis. A Giant Step. New York: The New York Times, 1990. Print.

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Hurston, Zora Neale. How it Feels to Be Colored Me. New York City: The World Tomorrow, 1928. Print. Tan, Amy. Mother Tongue. Berkeley: The Threepenny Review, 1990. Print.