Essay: Becoming American

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Chitra Bajerjee Divakaruni and Eric Liu are two successful Americans who have mainly three things in common that come to mind at a first glance at their biographies: their nationality (they are both American), their foreign roots (the former was born in India, the other in China) and their love of words. The first difference that comes to mind is the fact that they are of the opposite sexes. They both put in words their experience as foreign children who came to live on American soil and fought to integrate into the American society as best as they could. Divakaruni's poem, Indian Movie, New Jersey, expresses in the distilled ways proper to poetry what Eric Liu wrote in prose in his Notes of a native Speaker about the struggle of an immigrant non-Caucasian child to integrate into a mostly white American world and the price that future adult paid in order to achieve that.

The people of Indian descent who are gathered in Divakaruni's poem to see an Indian movie whose songs they know by heart are mesmerized with the fairy tale they are presented on the big screen. The heroine is "not like the white filmstars all rib and gaunt cheekbone"(Divakaruni, pg.517, 1), she is the embodiment of the ideal beauty in the Indian culture who favors plump, solid, well attached to the earth girls to the skinnier types so well graded in the Western culture. Once presented with familiar situations and faces that remind them of their roots and revive their first years on this earth, some of them might not even remember, but still have it deeply engraved in their genes, Divakaruni's characters, herself included, are subject to an involuntary loss of their long worked identity as Americans: "the flickering movie-light wipes from our faces years of America, sons who want mohawks and refuse to run the family store, daughters who date on the sly"(idem, 20).

After enumerating a whole list of things that are credited to place him in the white American world of achieved people, in his text, Notes of a native Speaker, Eric Liu, introduces himself as "white, by acclamation" (Liu, 612). The author is considering the concept of assimilation as a natural continuation of the integration process, but as something far more negative in essence. He takes his own experience as an "Asian-American of the second generation" (idem) who struggled during his adolescence and a good part of his adult life in order to whiten as hard as he could so as to achieve as complete an assimilation in the white American high class society as he could. Liu is an Asian-American who was born in the United States and who was not forced by his parents into being anything else but a "good boy." As the public is aware from his biography, Liu is one who achieved far more than assimilation into the white majority. He speaks as an achieved person who used to write presidential speeches for President Clinton. In his text, Liu appears to be haunted by his own achievement, the main goal he followed a good part of his life as if instead of having become a huge reason to look in retrospective and enjoy his own successes, it became a burden and a reason to regret some of the choices he made. Unlike the characters in Divakaruni's poem, Liu tells a story of a boy who although never avoided his own Asian descendent fellows, never actually tried to integrate into that world… [END OF PREVIEW]

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