Essay: Clash of Identities

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[. . .] Unlike the majority of the African-American race Hurston did not trying to run away from her private identity, instead she embraced it. She embraced and protected the town she grew up in and the people she grew up with, with in her private identity. After all she did "belong to them, to the nearby hotels, to the country" (159-160). By preserving her private identity Hurston was able to be unique. She was different from everyone else. This absolutely meant a hard life for her and she knew this. Hurston says, "I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame" (160). This is the realization by Hurston that this hard life might help her have future success.

Maybe the decision of choosing to embrace a public or a private identity changes from person to person. Is this true? Looking at Hurston and Rodriguez neither of them were old enough to have made an informed choice considering their identities. After all Rodriguez and Hurston were just little kids, they couldn't have known that the choices they made with their identity would impact their future success. Rodriguez says that the diminishment of a private identity is necessary because it "makes possible the achievement of a public individuality" (508). Allowing the formation of a public individuality is the same thing as allowing the formation of a public identity. This is the realization by Rodriguez that he is better off by allowing the formation of a public identity. His family learning the language English meant that Rodriguez had lost all connection to his Mexican roots and had suffered a diminishment of his private identity. This diminishment of his private identity allowed room for the formation of a public identity.

Unlike Rodriguez, Hurston does not allow the formation of a public identity. "I am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself."(160) She does not let the pressure get to her and does not allow the formation of a public identity. The assimilation that Rodriguez went through ended up with him learning the English language fluently. This made Rodriguez a writer and he wrote pieces that would be studied for many years. The fight that Hurston gave ended with her holding on to her private identity. This made her unique. It made her different in a way that brought her success. Such success that even after 54 years, people are studying her work. So maybe both Rodriguez and Hurston have it wrong. Maybe the choosing of a public or private identity is not about the pressure that is put on you, or the circumstance you are in. Maybe it's just faith. Faith meaning that, maybe, you have no control over the choice and it's just a matter of making the best of this choice. Maybe it's just faith that leads Hurston to hold on to her private identity, "the choice was not with me" (160), and maybe it's faith that lead Rodriguez embraces a public identity, "But I would have delayed- postponed for how long?"(504). Because after all they both ended up as being people whose works are being studied many years after they were written.

Unavoidable Conflict

Both Rodriguez and Hurston came across a conflict between their private and public identities in their lives. The choices they made shaped the rest of their lives and shaped their careers: Rodriguez's as an author and Hurston's as an artist. But how can we know that Hurston made the right choice by preserving her private identity or that Rodriguez made the right choice by embracing his public identity? In his article, "A dual identity: Fully Canadian, And an Immigrant" Andrew Cohen talks about the how Canada, as a county, embraces and accepts people for who they are and encourages them to preserve their private identities. Cohen says, "The pressure on immigrants to put aside their ethnicity and become part of mainstream society is not pronounced in Canada." According to this statement made by Cohen one must choose the path that Hurston did and embrace his or her private identity. Yes this might be correct; after all, Hurston did become a successful artist; but if so, how did Rodriguez become a successful author. How do we reconcile those two outcomes?

Children that grow up in foreign countries have the tendency of holding on to things that remind them of their home country, something that reminds them of their cultures and heritage. In Rodriguez's case this something was his house, where only Spanish was spoken. His house connected Rodriguez to his Mexican roots. With every member in the house learning English the house that connected Rodriguez to his heritage was no longer there and was replaced by a house that only connected him to the American society. In her article "Dutch Shame: The Netherlands Debates the Deportation of a Child" Abigail R. Esman talks about an 18-year-old boy named Mauro Manuel. His mother sent Mauro to the Netherlands to keep him away from the war that was in Angola.

Mauro, who came to the Netherlands at a very young age, had not much to hold on to that connected him to Angola and eventually he started to abandon "the cultural mores of his homeland," he started to get assimilated in to the Netherland society, just like Rodriquez got assimilated into the American society. So in other words, he started to give up on his private identity and adapted a public identity that was approved by the society he now lived in. Even though he is now being sent back to Angola, Mauro was able to fit in with the Netherland society. In fact "entire communities have stood up in his defense" for him. Considering Mauro's situation, the correct path is to embracing a public identity and abandoning a private one, just like Rodriguez did. If so how did Hurston be a successful artist?

Different Decisions

In both Richard Rodriguez's " Aria: Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood" and Zora Neale Hurston's essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" they write about the differences they come across that has shaped their opinions and beliefs in regards to their private identity as they got older. For Hurston hers was in regards to being different race than her surroundings, in the meantime Rodriguez's was about being dissimilar by speaking a language that was different. Both felt the effect of their private it had on their lives and point-of-view as they started to grow up. It is clear that each writer thought of themselves in some way as being handicapped in life, of either not understanding being of a different race or not understanding the language. But both authors have discovered a way to conquer their "adversity" and then be able to turn them into experiences that provided them with knowledge utilized to create an opinion and go on with life. Both Rodriguez and Hurston use the stories of their growing up to drive their main points of their essay.


In their lives both Hurston and Rodriguez, chose between their private identities and their public identities. Even though they both became effective people, one chose to embrace their natural born identity and the other sort of fought against it. These choices lead both of them to success: Rodriguez as an author and Hurston as an artist. Even though Rodriguez found it trying, he eventually integrated into public society. Efficiently, he likewise felt that he lost who he was as a private individual or his private identity -- recognized only to his family -- for the reason that the American culture does not really permit for separate sectors of life to continue to be alone. So it might be hard to tell which path is more beneficial. But the reason for their success is not necessarily the path they chose; rather, it is the experiences they had and the ways that those experiences shaped their determination to succeed. The experiences that Rodriguez and Hurston had, lead them to learn things others did not and lead their works to stand out from others'. It is entirely possible that we might have known nothing about Richard Rodriguez if he had embraced his private identity; and we might have known nothing about Zora Hurston if she had embraced her public identity.

Work Cited

Cohen, A. (2012, November 16). A dual identity: Fully Canadian, and an immigrant. New York, NY: The New York Times. Web. 24 Feb. 2014

Esman, A.R. (2011, October 27). Dutch Shame: The Netherlands Debates the Deportation of a Child. Forbes. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Hurston, Zora. "How It Feels To Be Colored Me." Occasions for Writing: Evidence, Idea, Essay. Eds. Robert DiYanni & Pat C. Hoy II. Boston, MA: Thomson Heinle, 2007. 159-161. Print.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Clash of Identities.  (2014, April 29).  Retrieved August 23, 2019, from

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"Clash of Identities."  29 April 2014.  Web.  23 August 2019. <>.

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"Clash of Identities."  April 29, 2014.  Accessed August 23, 2019.