Someone with a skin color other than white strives for success. They dream about moving out of their poor living conditions as a child and desire college, a high paying job, etc… do their families support them? Sometimes as one would think it would be natural for a family to want their child to be successful. However, sometimes there is another reaction: the child is accused of trying to become “white.”
One area this story is played out in often is Chicana literature. Examples of this are The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Migrant Daughter: Coming of Age as Mexican American Woman by Frances Esquibel Tywoniak, and the film Real Women Have Curves. The House on Mango Street is a novella about a young Chicana woman, Esperanza, growing up in the slums of Chicago; Real Women Have Curves is about a young Chicana women, Ana, who has to chose between going to college or giving into family pressures; and Migrant Daughter is an auto-biography about a Chicana women, Frances, who worked in the fields.
The entire neighborhood, with the exception of one or two people, encourage the protagonist to stay put inThe House on Mango Street. Esperanza is accused of trying to forget where she came from and become white. Her parents discourage her ideas about improving her life. The book ends on a hopeful note but the reader is never told if Esperanza achieves her goals. In Real Women Have Curves, Ana is prohibited from attending college. A teacher at her high school works hard to encourage Ana to challenge her family’s ideas and attend the college. Her entire family encourages her to work in the factory. In the end, Ana decided to attend college. In Migrant Daughter, Francis loved learning and wanted to continue school. In this case, her family supported her. She ended up attending Berkely College and worked as a teacher for years.
I read Migrant Daughter as part of an immigration class. Overall, the class seemed to enjoy the tale. The most common complaint was this: some students (and even the professor acknowledged this was a common complaint about the book, though as far as I can remember he did not state his opinion) believed they wree reading a story about a Mexican girl becoming white. Me and another student argued vhementaly against the argument. Francis, throughout the autobiography, refferes to enjoying aspects of Chicano/a culture. She liked the dances, some of the styles, the food, the music, the tight-knit families, etc… Francis did not become white, she became successful. The students who believed the book was about a Chicana women becoming white only meant one of two horribly untrue things: being successful means being white or that, in order for one to be successful, they must become “white.” Ana’s and Esperanza’s stories were read in a class focusing on Chicano/a literature. The class was exposed to the ideas that success does not have to mean white and that other people saw it that way through the literature we read. No one in that class accused Ana or Esperanza of becoming “white.” That is because the people in the Chicano/a literature class had gained the literacy. They realized that people could be successful and maintain their cultural identity. Those in the immigration class, did not have the literacy. They read a story about a migrant girl who stepped climed the social ladder and believed that meant she became white. If the Chicano/a literature class had read the same story, they would not have stated the book was about a Chicano/a women becoming white.
The next time you hear someone refering to a suit as “white culture,” please tell them that is a racist idea. Both whites and minorities are guilty of associating success with being white. Granted, most people in power are white males. However, this does not always have to be this way, it can change and become more diverse. It will never become diverse if people continue to accuse minorities and oppressed people of abandoning their cultural identity when they strive for success.
*Literacy: (n.) the quality, condition, or state of being literate; the ability to read and write. Also: the extent of this in a given community, region, period, etc. (Oxford-English Dictionary definition)
*Literacy: what 99.9% of urbandictionary.com is missing (UrbanDictionary.com definition)
* Literacy is the ability to decode, understand, think critically, manipulate, and know the language, skill sets, and information regarding a topic. (my first definition)
*Literacy: the ability to understand the world, including views one is unfamiliar with, through decoding, understanding, thinking critically, manipulating, knowing language, knowing skill sets, knowing information. This is gained through experience, access, power, learning, rhetoric, writing, reading, critical thinking, and the ability to see from other’s view points.