Having two cultures co-existing within one person or one society implies biculturalism. It means that the people in question have been exposed to two different cultures but manage to practice both without assimilating or even killing one culture in favor of another. It is a very difficult occurrence in that cultures are often known to die when exposed to co-existence, especially where one of the cultures is considered better than the other. The US is one of the countries in the world, where biculturalism is prominent considering high numbers of first-generation immigrants from various parts of the world. These immigrants went on to have children creating the second generation and eventually the third generation of immigrants who are indeed American citizens, except that they have some attributes of their native cultures.
The concept of biculturalism has numerous advantages and disadvantages depending on the prevailing circumstances. It affects individuality, self-expression, sense of belonging, public separateness, confidence and cultural identity among other things. When it comes to being exposed to different cultures and having to encounter them both at the same time even in different contexts, most people feel cornered having to choose between the two and in some cases feeling like they have disappointed or betrayed their family members and relatives, especially when they become more fluent in the foreign culture. It means that the first consequence of biculturalism is guilt.
This paper explores the concept of biculturalism in context of Richard Rodriguez and Zora Neal Hurston in order to determine how these authors were affected by exposure to two different cultures as well as advantages and disadvantages of being bicultural. The paper will draw from the authors’ works on their personal experiences.
Zora Neal Hurston
Zora Neal Hurston is a young colored woman born in Orange County and considered as a daughter of the slaves. In her hometown, she is accustomed to seeing people from different parts of the country and different ancestry and she actually likes the idea of having different people in the world. Here, her skin color or ancestry is not nearly as important as her personality as a bubbly young girl with a zest for life. In her essay titled How it Feels to be Colored Me she sets out to introduce her life before moving to Jacksonville as one in which people were different and yet the same in their own uniqueness. She concedes that being exposed to a new culture altered her perception of life, as all of a sudden she was conscious of being different. She may not have felt it all the time, but she did notice it every so often under different circumstances.
While in Eatonville, she felt proud of herself and actually did not even notice her skin tone. She considered herself fortunate as an individual and even found time to interact with the tourists that passed by her town, often welcoming them to her country. It, however, changes completely when she has to encounter different people and thus change the way she looks at life. She feels different, although in her case there is not any hint of feeling socially disadvantaged.
What it means is that biculturalism leads to some level of consciousness on one’s heritage and individuality. The fact that she was being considered different by other people made her feel different and in some instances, she may have wished to do away with her conspicuousness. She liked who she was, but may have been discontent by the way she thought she was perceived by others. In this way, biculturalism brought about many questions and desires in Zora’s experiences in Jacksonville compared to her happiness and content in Eatonville.
Richard Rodriguez, on the other hand, is a Hispanic American also born in the United States but living or rather growing in two different cultures. As a boy, he was enclosed in a completely Hispanic environment, in which English was the alien language for communicating with strangers. His scope in culture and more so, in language, was limited by two divisions: there was a Hispanic division of intimacy, warmth, and safety, and there was dangerous English division of coldness, seriousness, and strange white people. For him, biculturalism entailed having a private and a public world divided by language more than anything else.
In the essay Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Child Rodriguez speaks of having to reconcile the two worlds eventually in order to identify himself fully as an individual. In his case, biculturalism brought about a conflict much deeper than just which language to speak. It brought about the question of belonging, where understanding a second language implied moving away from familiar intimacy of the language used at home into that of the public in which an individuality comes from belonging to the larger group.
Richard Rodriguez had to lose the comfort of family language before he could find himself in the public before he could claim his public identity. It means that being bicultural creates a hunger for an identity beyond one’s family. In addition, while he at some point regretted learning English given that he could no longer feel the warmth of his closed home, he was content at finally finding a place in the public. He was not an outsider anymore and he could make friends and run errands just as easily as any other child of his age. It means that for him biculturalism was a hindrance until he decided to venture out into the public domain and away from his private lair of Espanola.
Each of these authors was affected uniquely when they had to get out of their first culture and embrace or rather encounter another one. On one hand, they had a great experience similar to an awakening of their minds, as was the case when Richard Rodriguez finally embraced his new name and started speaking English confidently. On the other hand, there was the aspect of conspicuity, in which they knew they were different based on how they were treated by others. They became part of another culture, and yet they still carried with them the fond memories of who they really were beyond the assimilation and fitting in.