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Sample Personal Response Essay

 

This essay is a close reading of Gloria Anzaldua’s “The Homeland” in which Melissa interweaves her personal response with analysis.  She examines the complexity of being Portuguese in American culture.

 

MEILISSA MARIE AVILA

 

Trapped in the Middle

 

          The middle.  When one thinks of the middle, he or she may think about the middle of a street, a class, or the middle of the country.  One may also consider the middle of thought, traffic, or of an argument.  After asking more than ten people what they thought of what the middle was, none of them ever mentioned the middle of two cultures or traditions.  In the essay, The Homeland, written by Gloria Anzaldua, Anzaldua describes her homeland as being a little of both Mexican and American cultures.  She talks about the history of Mexico and how the borders between Mexico and the United States were created.  She explains how the creation of the border has dramatically changed the lives of the Mexican people.  She describes the border by using many metaphorical devices; one such example is that of the ocean, “where earth touches ocean, where the two overlap; a gentle coming together, and at other times and places a violent clash” (Anzaldua, 319).  Anzaldua is very realistic and descriptive in her text.  She uses many forms of writing in her personal narrative, which creates an eye-opening and touching story.  She concludes her essay with giving the reader a metaphor of what her homeland is to her, a “thin edge of barbed wire” (327). 

Anzaldua explains how she is stuck in the middle of two cultures due to a variety of reasons.  Those reasons include, the fact that she struggles knowing that the Mexicans must depend on the Americans to live; yet the Americans are too ignorant to even know what is going on.  Moreover, the fact that she lives in America yet her heart and soul lie in the Mexican culture causes her to feel split between the two traditions.  I, too, feel for Anzaldua, yet I am Portuguese and not Mexican.  Though I do not relate completely with her, I do in many ways.  After reading The Homeland, I was opened up to a new story about another culture and at the same time it opened myself up to new ideas about my own. 

          After reading Andaldua’s The Homeland, I was shocked to see myself realize that much of the information that she presented had already been exposed to me, yet I never bothered to look at both perspectives.  Anzaldua is writing this piece of work to inform those North Americans like myself, who are too preoccupied with the North American way of life.  By writing this, she can open North American people up to new ideas about different lifestyles and cultures.  As I thought about this, I also realized that the same is true for me.  I am Portuguese and many Americans are ignorant of the struggles that the Portuguese community has gone through.  I know this, because I am Portuguese and though I have not lived these struggles directly, I have lived with people who have my entire life. 

Both my parents are one hundred percent Portuguese and are from Portugal.  My mom came to the United States when she was three and my dad when he was twelve.  When my dad came to America he did not speak any English, he only spoke Portuguese.  Because of this school was very difficult for him.  While at school, American children continuously teased him and his siblings.  The phrase “green horn” would put him in tears.  Since he was not accepted by many of his peers, it was very difficult for him to get used to the American way of life, yet that did not bring him down.  Through his years at school, he tried his hardest to avoid those who did not accept him and he slowly began to learn English.  As he did, he also began to become acquainted with the American culture.  Like my father, Anzaldua was also made fun of because she was uneducated about the American way of life.  “Faceless, nameless, invisible, taunted with ‘Hey cucaracho’ (cockroach).  Trembling with fear, yet filled with courage, a courage born of desperation” (326).  Though children teased both Anzaldua and my father, they were ironically both avid in becoming accepted by the Americans who were treating them so terribly.

To this day, my father has not been able to speak English very well, yet he has been able to succeed.  In view of the fact that he was not able to speak English well, he did not go to college and had to start working straight out of high school.  He did not only work so that he could succeed, he worked to help his six younger siblings to live comfortably.  Without the help of the Americans, who gave my father many different “handy-man” type jobs, he could not have been there to aid his family and he could not have been as successful for himself as he is today.  If the Americans did not give my grandfather a job and if they did not employ my father and his brothers, there is no way that their family would have survived.  Anzaldua recognizes that without America, many Mexicans today would be without a job.  “Currently, Mexico and her eighty million citizens are almost completely dependent on the U.S. market” (325).  Anzaldua explains that the citizens of Mexico need the United States economy in order to survive. 

Though America has hurt the Mexicans at the same time, it has helped them.  Without the Americans, the Mexicans would not have many of the job opportunities that they have today.  America has also brought advanced technology to Mexico, therefore allowing the Mexicans to experience many more innovations in their lives.  Though many people can easily argue against what I just wrote, one must understand Anzaldua’s opinion: America has hurt Mexico by “the devaluation of the peso” and “half the Mexican people are unemployed” (326) however, America has also helped Mexico in a profound manner, which must be validated as well.

Americans have helped my dad to be who he is today.  Everything that he has for himself and has provided for me was a direct result of his hard work in America and his dedication to succeed.  Today my dad owns over fifteen properties in the Silicon Valley, owns his own business, has built my family a home, sent his children through twelve years of private school and at the same time manages to take time for himself by going on a vacation every summer and periodically go to the lake with his boat and motor home.  My family is better off than I think my dad had ever imagined and he is very proud of that.  Yet, he does not let his proud attitude get in the way of keeping his down to earth and genuine attitude.  Anzaldua talks about how her mother was proud of what she had to offer the Americans.  “How proud my mother was to have her recipe for enchiladas coloradas in a book” (325).  Even though a recipe is something so minuscule, what Anzaldua’s mother had to offer Americans was something of her own culture.  She was able to offer a piece of herself to a country that created her and a country that allowed her to flourish.  My father also offers what he learned in Portugal and was honored that those in America accepted what he had to provide.

On the outside, one may think that my family is rich and that we get whatever we want, whenever we want.  However, in actuality that is not true and unless you have heard my story then you would not know that.  Through all of this, my dad has continued to keep in contact with his Portuguese “side.”  He knows that if he had not come to America, then he would not have been able to be as successful as he was, so he does thank America for giving him the opportunity to do as well as he did.  However, at the same time if it were not for the Portuguese community and family that believed and supported him he would not have made it.  Because of this, he must not only represent his “American” side, he must also represent his “Portuguese” pride.  My dad’s heart lies within the Portuguese community; he goes to Portuguese events every weekend and has a very close bond with the Portuguese population.  Being his daughter, I did not struggle as much as he, yet I understand him and I, too, have pride for the Portuguese part of me and at the same time love the fact that I have the opportunity to live in America.  Like Anzaldua, I, too, feel like I am stuck in the middle.  I do not feel as stuck as I would imagine my dad or even Anzaldua is, but I feel the pressure and can relate in small ways.  I, like my father, attend Portuguese events almost every weekend; I am also involved in the youth Portuguese Fraternal Federation in California.  For as long as I can remember, I have been a part of the Portuguese parades and the youth Portuguese dance performances.  I have gone to the Portuguese bullfights and dances and have gotten to know many people like myself.  At the same time, I went to a school where almost everyone was very well off and was handed anything and everything that they wanted.  I remember one girl in my sophomore class who got a brand new BMW for her sixteenth birthday.  Two weeks later, she got in a car accident; while her car was in the shop, her father went out and bought her another BMW.  If you are shocked that this happened, you are feeling as astonished and stunned as I was when I heard of this.  It was not just one person who was like that; it was a vast majority of my friends.  Though most of them did not get that much, they did get much more than the average person.  Their closets were packed with clothes, yet they wore a uniform to school, they would complain to their parents when they were not allowed to buy a seventy-five dollar shirt, and I never heard them once say “thank you” or offer their help to their parents.  I saw this everyday for many years; and everyday I would ask myself how they could be like that and I hope that I am not that way.  Many people saw me as a person who had a lot but like my best friend once told me, they all know that I am down to earth and definitely not spoiled.  None of my friends ever talked to me about why I would volunteer at the family shelter or instead of going shopping why I would spend a Saturday with my family, they just knew “that’s how Melissa is.”  I pride myself in knowing that my family is my first priority and I am not a spoiled child.  I think that I am like that because of my dad and because of my Portuguese background.  Whenever I went to the Portuguese functions and socialized with my Portuguese friends, I knew that most of them did not understand me either.  They were like me in that they knew the value of a dollar and they were genuine people, but they did not deal with what I did everyday at school.  The lives of my Portuguese friends differed in one major way; they went to public school.  The major difference was the fact that the children were from a variety of different backgrounds and most families were not as well off as those from my school.

I have always felt that I was in the middle; I am part American but I am also Portuguese.  I was faced with many different challenges because of this.  One that sticks out in my mind is when people ask me what nationality I am or when I have to fill in the little bubble on a scantron for a standardized test.  When asked I always say Portuguese, sometimes people question but most of the time they do not.  The hardest is when I have to fill in the bubble on standardized tests.  I do not consider myself white or Caucasian but I also do not consider myself Spanish or Mexican.  I guess that Portuguese is like Spanish since the two countries are right next to each other.  In addition, Spanish is like Mexican so it might be far fetched but I could mark that box, yet I just do not feel comfortable.  My only other option is “other.”  It is awkward marking “other” but I think that it represents me best.  When I see “other,” I see it as Portuguese but also recognizing that I am American as well; and that is what I classify myself as.  I cannot define myself as one or the other; because I am not, I am both. 

          Anzaldua is also both; both Mexican and American.  Anzaldua is Mexican and was teased by the Americans but at the same time she was grateful and proud of the American culture.  She recognizes both cultures and feels as if she is a part of both, yet she wants others to understand her point of view.  I, like Anzaldua, feel that I am of two different cultures and traditions.  Though I recognize them both it is difficult to be a part of both.  It is hard for others to understand our story unless they take the time to listen or read of them.  I do not shun those who do not understand my story but at the same time, I do not force my story on them.  If they wish to hear, they will and at the same time, they will open themselves up to a new perspective on life.  By reading The Homeland not only have I found a story that relates with me, I have found a story that has opened my mind to a new perspective of other cultures and ways of life.


 

Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria. “The Homeland, Aztlan/ El Otro Mexico.”  Writing As Re-vision.  Eds. Beth Alvarado and Barbara Cully.  Needham Heights, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing. 1998. 319.