Wednesday, April 1, 2009

American Homelands and the American Dream

Our discussions in class made me begin thinking about the way Americans define their homelands and their cultural identity. One of the defining characteristics of America and the aspect that we are all proud about is the “melting-pot” mentality. Americans theoretically accept all nationalities and cultures, discarding some of their traditions and keeping others. The typical third of fourth generation American is more akin to a mutt than anything else. But there are a few traits that tie all these Americans together.

“We’d start with new fates, new stars. We could say or be anything we wanted. We’d be on the other side of the earth, out of God’s sight.” (p. 85) Outsiders view America as the land of opportunity- the place to redefine oneself and start anew. Jasmine definitely buys into this notion. In India there is no life for her as a young widow, especially in the conservative part of the country where she lives. Even though she was initially going to America to fulfill Prakash’s dream and commit sati, eventually she bought into the “American dream” and built a new life for herself. This may have to do with Lillian Gordon’s intervention and advice.

“Let the past make you wary, by all means. But do not let it deform you.” (p. 131) Every single person in America shares this one thing in common. There was a reason they emigrated from their home countries. It may have been to escape religious persecution, start a new life, make a fortune, or support a family back home. This creates a unique bond because in some small way, we are all able to identify with each other. Other cultures and peoples have ancestors or ties to their land or village since time immemorial and that common ground lets them identify with each other. Instead of a physical thing, Americans have an abstraction, a lofty and elusive idea, something almost religious- that bonds the people.

Even though we share the “American dream,” there are other things that define each of the regions in America. To an outsider it is hard to see that- just like it is hard for an American to see the differences between someone living in Punjab, Kashmir, or Mumbai. But as we were talking in class about things that make America what it is, I began thinking about not just what defines us as a nation, but also the little regional nuances in America that make it just as intricate as any other culture or homeland in the world. A quote that will help me extrapolate upon this idea and bring it to a personal level is, “Jyoti, Jasmine: I shuttled between identities.” (p. 77)

The two main places I have lived within recent and relevant memory (high school and college) are Maryland and Washington. They are on completely opposite sides of the country and the cultural differences are almost equally vast. As I mentioned earlier, outsiders view America as a culturally homogenous place but here a few of my observations that dispel that myth. I preface these observations with the statement that I am making sweeping generalizations.

Washington State has a much more laid back approach to life. It is as if the citizens are a half step behind people on the east coast, especially the northeast. Not that they are any less bright, just that they like a slower paced lifestyle. There is a much greater emphasis placed on enjoying nature and not taking it for granted, for enjoying the quality of life instead of rushing around just making money and letting life pass you by. Politically it is much more liberal, and even east of the mountains in the farming regions, the conservatives are more liberal than their counterparts in other places. People seem to be more accepting of the new, the outsider, and differences. The food is also unique because of the local emphasis on fish and seafood. There are definitely drawbacks to this culture as well as benefits, but that is not important to my discussion.

On the flip side, the east coast is fast paced. People have very little patience with stupidity, slowness, and differences. It is almost as if slowness is associated with stupidity whereas on the west coast, slowness is just a facet of life. Other differences include food, accents, and even the weight and importance placed on things- one of those things being nature. The east coast is so crowded and basically just like a constant, never-ending, giant city. The west coast is basically like a giant nature reserve. I am in an interesting position where I am trapped in the middle of the two. There are clearly west coast influences in my life, as well as east coast influences. Every time I go to the other side, I get comments on how I embody a different characteristic of the coast I just came from. This reminds me of Jasmine’s predicament and how she shuttles between her two identities. The great thing about our homeland is that we are never stuck like Jyoti would have had if she had stayed in India as a widow. There is a choice that we can make, and with enough hard work and perseverance, anything can happen. This final quote sums up the ‘American dream.” “We murder who we were so we can rebirth ourselves in the images of dreams.” (p. 29)

No comments:

Post a Comment