Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Fragmentation of the Self

In Thomas King’s “Borders,” he recounts the tale of his mother and his trip across the American/Canadian border on the way to visit sister in Salt Lake City. King’s mother refused to identify herself as either Canadian or American, resulting in complications on both sides of the border. Because she considered herself to be “Blackfoot,” neither border would officially recognize her or allow entry (or re-entry). The short story is frustrating to read because the whole ordeal could have been avoided entirely had King’s mother identified herself as Canadian. Why couldn't she just say "Canadian" and have been done with it!? The implications of this identification, however, have deep roots in King’s family’s cultural associations. By saying that she was Canadian, King’s mother would be denying her true heritage.
We have discussed in class the fragmentation of one’s nationality and how this seems to be an idea deeply rooted in Western culture. By knowing exactly where your ancestors are from, you can get an idea of who you are as a person. This breakdown does, however, seem to fall short in many ways. By asserting myself as a quarter this or half that, I am simply illustrating the difficult divisions that exist in our world. Does it mean that I have respectively only inherited a quarter of the luck of the Irish? Am I only a quarter responsible for Germany’s past indiscretions? Can I only make lasagna half as well as I should be able to? It is clear that stereotypes do nothing to bridge the gaps of society. Like Shylock’s great speech in the Merchant of Venice, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” We are all human. Associating ourselves in this way or that way does not move humanity an inch toward progress.
Gloria Anzaldua’s poetry captures this effect quite well. She is neither half Chicana or half Tejana or half lesbian or half feminist or even half man or half woman. She is all of it, bound together into one being, one spirit. To identify solely with one race or another does not give meaning to our lives. It is experience, more so than even the past, that makes us who we are. It is what we contribute to this world and to each other than will define us. Ashes to ashes. In the end, the breaking down borders will be more constructive than erecting them.

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