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Most of us go through our day-to-day life without consciously thinking about our memories. We may recall that one embarrassing thing from years ago just as we are about to fall asleep. Or we may laugh to ourselves, remembering that hilarious joke we heard some time back. These are our memories. While we recall specific memories, we rarely think about how these memories have shaped our lives. And make no mistake; memories have a profound impact on our lives. It is not a stretch to say that our lives are an amalgamation of memories. Every one of our memories influences every facet of our lives. The memories of immigrants and first-generation children are intricately intertwined with their cultural, personal, and national identities. While this phenomenon holds for everyone, it can be seen, especially with immigrants and first-generation children.
Immigrants sacrifice part of their identity when becoming a citizen of another country. Most immigrants leave their home country to get better lives. But upon arriving in the country, they are told to suppress their personal, cultural, and national identities to fit into the prescribed or common identity of the new government. This includes speaking a new language, eating fresh food, and enjoying whatever is standard entertainment. Anything else is otherness and looked down upon. First-generation children of immigrants are usually at war with their identities because they live in two worlds. They are a part of their parent's cultural identity at home. Whatever memories their parents have of their cultures, such as religion, food, and even clothing style, is passed on to their child, who is expected to love it just like them. These parents rarely realize that their child is also a part of the 'common' cultural identity, which commonly originates from their school. The food their classmates eat, the clothes they wear, and even the movies or music they listen to will most times be different. And as with their parent's experience, anything extra is other and looked down upon. These first-generation children are stuck between their parent's culture and the 'common' culture, and there comes a time when they will be forced to pick a side. These children will experience years of bullying and subtle racism, which becomes memories. Because of this, these memories influence their identities, such as their hobbies, fears, and jobs. So, they will frequently try to pick the side that lets them fit in and not get bullied.
Furthermore, cultural identity is an umbrella term that encompasses our identity in social settings. This can include religion, school, jobs, hobbies, and even language. Our different identities sometimes overlap and influence each other. For example, a person can love Dungeons and Dragons, read the rulebooks, collect dice, create characters, and watch shows alone without participating in the community or playing with others. Our hobbies can be an excellent way to become friends with a group. But the opposite also applies. For example, if you have memories of being bullied in group settings, you may be less inclined to join one. No matter how friendly the group is, your past experiences can hold you back.
In Gloria Anzaldúa's "How to Tame a Wild Tongue," she speaks about how Chicano Spanish came about because the speakers did not fit in but needed a way to connect a language to their identities (35-36). Language is a part of cultural identity. It is how a majority of the population communicates. Just one word of a language can trigger memories from one's childhood. Being denied this can wreak havoc on someone's identity. Not only is it how they communicate, but also how they think. Without your language, can you identify as the same person you once were? This dilemma is what immigrants from non-English speaking countries face. You are told to kill a part of yourself to fit in and succeed. Most of the time, immigrants have to work at jobs they are overqualified for simply because their degrees from their home country are considered worthless than English ones.
Personal identities are influenced by social and cultural identities also. Your identity is how you see yourself as a person and an individual. Personal identity is, in some parts, connected to your self-esteem, which is affected by the environment. English is considered the pinnacle of intelligence and civilization, and any other language is subpar. Immigrants, especially immigrants of color who grew up speaking a second or even a third language before learning English, are considered less intelligent for this exact reason. The time and effort spent learning another language means nothing if you speak with an accent. Your accent must be one of the desirable ones from countries such as England, Australia, and France. There is an unspoken hierarchy of accents. The ones listed above are at the top of the list. Accents from ethnically white Eastern European countries such as Armenia, Latvia, and Romania are below. Asian and especially Southeast Asian accents are at the bottom rung. Vershawn Ashanti Young, while not outrightly saying so, touches upon this concept throughout his text, "Should Writers Use They Own English." Young deduces, "But don't nobody's language, dialect, or style make them "vulnerable to prejudice." It's ATTITUDES. It is the way folks with some power perceive other people's language."
Edited by: Whitney Edna Ibe
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