Culture And National Identity

This essay sample on “Culture And National Identity” provides all necessary basic information on this matter, including the most common “for and against” arguments. Below are the introduction, body and conclusion parts of this essay.

How Important are Cultural and National Identities for an Individual?

Our cultural and national identities play an important role in the formation of our individual identities. While care must be taken to not stereotype people based on their ethnicities/nationalities/gender identities, such attributes do contribute to defining personal identities of people.

In the case of a country such as the United States, the exercise of locating and ascribing identities to individuals can be a complex process. A country renowned for being the ‘melting pot’ of cultures, languages and races, people here can draw upon a range of national, cultural and linguistic heritages. The literary works chosen for this essay deal with such complexities. By perusing these literary sources and by performing further analysis upon them, the rest of this essay will attempt to answer the topic ‘Who we really are?’.

The question mark in the title is taken as a rhetorical device, meaning that it implies a lack of clear-cut answer to the purported question. In other words, the thesis is that socio-cultural markers used to describe an individual’s background cannot be given too much importance and should not be taken as definitive of the person; there are dangers and risks in doing so, and there are many advantages in treating identity as a fluid concept.

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In the write-up The People In Me by Robin D. G. Kelley, the author talks about his own multicultural background and in the process makes a valid observation about Americans in general:

“Although folk had trouble naming us, we were never blanks or aliens in a “black world.” We were and are “polycultural,” and I’m talking about all peoples in the Western world. It is not skin, hair, walk, or talk that renders black people so diverse. Rather, it is the fact that most of them are products of different “cultures” – living cultures, not dead ones. These cultures live in and through us every day, with almost no self-consciousness about hierarchy or meaning. “Polycultural” works better than “multicultural,” which implies that cultures are fixed, discrete entities that exist side by side in a kind of zoological approach to culture. Such a view obscures power relations, but often reifies race and gender differences” (Kelley, 2011, p.483)

Culture And National Identity

The above passage clearly illustrates how identities work in real-life as opposed to how governmental institutions perceive of them in their census statistics. Indeed, ‘polycultural heritage’ seems the more plausible characteristic of individual identity, as opposed to rigid categorizations. Similarly, in the poem Executive Order 9066 by Dwight Okita, what we see is an instance of the malleability of one’s identity – in this case particularly that of national identity. Fourteen year old Ozawa, who is of Japanese descent, is nevertheless fully acculturated as an American girl. And this reflects in her food habits and other interests. (Okita, 2011, p.187) The poem does remind us of the dangers associated with stereotyping through the example of Denise O’Connor’s hostile reaction to her friend Ozawa’s heritage. For example, at the tender age of 14, young Ozawa must have found it extremely distressing to have been rebuked, snubbed and treated as a criminal by her closest friend Denise. Even if some members of the Japanese American community had been spying for the benefit of a war enemy, it is totally not acceptable to include children in the suspects’ list, let alone the entire community. The rounding up of Japanese Americans during the Second World War is a real event, albeit a disgraceful one in American history. Hence the poem by Dwight Okita has socio-historical significance. And the lesson we can take away is this: the government’s distrust of a section of the population is a gross violation of basic rights of its citizens. And Denise’s adverse reaction toward Ozawa is just one example of the unfairness of it. In this case of unwarranted distrust, the victimizers were the ones who acted and felt indignant toward the victims. With the unraveling of more information, it comes to light that the aggrieved were the perpetrators of injustice and not the other way around. And finally, the poem illustrates how dangerous rigid assignments of identities can turn out to be. (Okita, 2011, p.187)

In the work titled The Chinese in All of Us, author Richard Rodriguez talks about his mixed heritage and the ambiguities associated with it. A Mexican American living in Chinese populated San Fransisco, Rodriguez recounts how external cultural influences helped shaped his identity. He is a firm believer in the notion that despite what our roots are, the influences during our formative years can have a profound effect. For example, despite his Hispanic heritage, he feels quite at home with the Irish, as it was Irish Catholic nuns who tutored him in school, instilling in him their own set of cultural values. And later in life, his close contact with the Chinese of San Francisco had made him assimilate some of their cultural values as well. More importantly, Rodriguez points out that the Puritans who were the first immigrants to the country and have left an enduring legacy ever since, emphasized the sanctity of the individual as against the community. In other words, while each of us identify ourselves through multiple socio-cultural markers, our greatest allegiance is toward our uniqueness – our own individuality. And it is no surprise that America is a country renowned for espousing an ‘individualistic ethos’. We can see examples of this in mainstream advertisement for products and how the culture industry operates. At one level there is a paradox, for there can be no individual who doesn’t belong to a community. Yet, Americans celebrate their individuality more than any other aspect of who they are. As a way of explaining his own assumed and nominal identities, Rodriguez notes: “The most important founding idea of America was the notion of individualism – your freedom from the group, my freedom from you. A most glamorous idea. Consider this paradox: The belief we share in common as Americans is the belief that we are separate from one another.“ (Rodriguez, p.230)

While conceding the role played by our cultural identities in our daily life, Rodriguez also affirms the thesis of this essay, namely that such identities are by no means fixed. In the write-up, his Bishop remarks to him that America is like a mosaic, pointing to the mosaic of the Virgin of Guadalupe – “We are each of us different colors, but united we produce a wonderful, a beautiful effect” (Rodriguez, p.230). To this, Rodriguez correctly counters that “The trouble, I thought to myself, the trouble is that the tiny pieces of glass are static. In our real lives, we are not static. America is fluid. The best metaphors of America for me are metaphors suggesting fluidity. Our lives melting into one another. For myself, I like the metaphor of the melting pot.” (Rodriguez, p.230)

Coming back to Dwight Okita’s poem, to be fair to Denise O’Connor, at the age of 14 years, she could hardly be expected to show mature consideration before coming to conclusions about her friend Ozawa. When the national government itself is proclaiming distrust over a select demography of the population, it is unreasonable to expect a young girl of 14 to have an awareness outside this indoctrination. Hence, the distrust shown by Denise O’Connor toward her friend should be evaluated in this socio-political backdrop. By doing so, we could possibly sympathize with their feelings of insecurity rather than ostracising them for being mean and prejudiced. Similarly, it is also easy to see how in the case of Richard Rodriguez and Robin Kelley, people tended to conveniently categorize them as belonging to one community or the other without proper enquiry. As an anti-thesis to this essay it could be stated that adding complexities and layers to one’s identity is not practically feasible, as in real-life encounters other people simply do not have the requisite information. But such an argument is quite tenuous, for one is actually encouraging intellectual laziness and inhumane tendencies by supporting the anti-thesis.

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Culture And National Identity. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Culture And National Identity
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