With the population of Conte’s students, as well as the global school’s concerns and needs in mind, I have selected three books to explore identity. Each book will address certain types of identity such as personal identity conflict and expression of self. In this unit, the books chosen portray characters that are unique from others in their environment. In general, these readings will address and answer the essential questions of this unit: “Who am I?” and “Who am I in relation to others? Who or what influences identity?” Through reading, writing, and discussion, students will be able to understand and define their own identities. Moreover, they will be able to analyze how others define them. Often, society attaches labels to them based on those who looks different, speaks different language, and has a different cultural background or race.
Using simple books, texts, or short stories is a great way to address and discuss complex topics such as identity. Students who participate in this class are encouraged to examine the idea of identity through class discussion and journal writing. In addition, students are expected to summarize and to identify the theme or the main idea of each text. At the conclusion of each text, students will be required to have open dialog in regards to identity and come up with specific actions to help create a positive and welcoming school community.
In order to explore and understand identity, the unit will begin by reading a book,
by Julia Alvarez. The story follows a Hispanic girl, Julia Alvarez, who migrates to United States from the Dominican Republic. Julia, a middle school student, tries to blend in the best way she can; unfortunately, the color of her skin, her name, and her accent do not make this a simple task. As hard as she tries to fit in with her American classmates, she cannot get away from a disturbing question from her classmates; “Where are you originally from?” Her response never fails to surprise them when she utters her full name and her different pronunciation. Julia harbors her confused feelings toward her mispronunciations and is eventually given Americanized nicknames by people she meets in New York City. Initially, Julia hates it when people pronounce her name incorrectly. Ironically, she also enjoys that she can reshape or reconstruct her identity by using her flashy American nicknames given by classmates, but she soon discovers that she cannot own this false identity.
As time goes on, she plays with the idea of having an “American” name that is plain and simple, like Judy. She describes the shame and difficulty she encountered each time she had to introduce her eccentric extended family members, with complicated names, at her graduation. At the same time, she describes her wish to go back to her family’s homeland, saying, “Leave me to pursue whatever mischief I wanted in America, Judy Alcatraz, and the name on the wanted poster would read. Who would ever trace her to me?”
In the end, she embraces her heritage and is grateful for her diverse and colorful, exotic family and she learns that one’s name is central to one’s identity. She opens her graduation presents, which include a typewriter, and she begins to write her rich multicultural and no longer embarrassing story. She looks forward to having a beautiful future by embracing her identity. Under her Dominican name, Julia has written essays and novels, which celebrate her identity, which is centered in her Dominican heritage.
Students will discover that their names, given at birth, not only define their identity but also how others accept or reject them. A name alone is the first stage in the creation of individual identity. Using a name, the main character develops into the type of person she would like to be. She embraces her unique name and different background. To conclude individual or collective identity lesson learned by using the text
, students will explore the relationship between their individual identities and how their own identities are influenced by others.
The unit will then transition to the second part of identity: identity conflict. Prior to introducing and reading the second text “Fish Cheek,” students will discuss their own identity using their personal collages created in the introduction of the unit. Following the discussion, students will then participate in creating a map or a collage that responds to the question “Where am I from?” This activity will lead into discussion of identity conflicts. This lesson will begin by identifying their individual cultural or racial backgrounds. We will create a map or a collage of “Where I’m from” as a class project.
Following the creation of the map, students will be introduced to another multicultural text “Fish Cheek” by Amy Tan. In this memoir, the character struggles between her Chinese identity and the American identity she desperately attempts to create. I will also use sections from the graphic novel, American Born Chinese by
Gene Luen Yang
, to compare the characters from those readings. “Adolescents often find themselves in conflict with their societal, cultural, or parental identities. Children from a cultural minority have an especially difficult time forming an identity when the values of their culture clash with the values and standards of the dominant culture” (Irwin 23).
In this text, for Christmas Eve, Amy’s mother invites the minister and his family for dinner. Amy is ashamed of her Chinese heritage and to make matters worse she has a crush on the minister’s son, Robert. Amy’s mother is planning to cook traditional Chinese dishes. Amy is afraid that the American families will find the traditional Chinese food strange. Amy feels this food will make them appear more foreign and different. She also worries about how the minister’s family will view and receive the behavior of her large extended Chinese family. When the guests arrive for dinner, Amy is mortified and embarrassed by how her family members eat with chopsticks and reach across the table into different dishes instead of passing them, as the American guests are accustomed to do. To add to her embarrassment, her mother reveals with pride that she made the fish cheeks because they are Amy’s favorite. In addition, her father belches loudly to show appreciation for the meal. Although this behavior is typical in Chinese culture, Amy is horribly mortified.
After the guests leave, Amy’s mother gives her a skirt as an early Christmas gift. The style of her new skirt is popular among the girls at school. Amy’s mother tells her that it is normal for her to want her appearance to fit in, but she should always hold on to her culture. That night, Amy realizes that her mother understands her identity conflicts. Amy also appreciates and understands how important it is to be proud of her culture.
Reading “Fish Cheek” and having discussions that focus on dealing with cultural and societal identity, students will be able to realize and understand that the conflict they have in their homes could be related to their conflicting identities. This identity conflict could open up dialogue to discussions of other identity experiences; they may have both internal and or external conflicts. After extensive discussion, students will be able to explain and understand their own identity in relation to their cultural, ethnic, or racial background. They will also appreciate that America has many different cultures, and students must think of their individual identity in relation to their culture and race.
To tie our unit together, I have decided to use one of Sandra Cisneros’s short story; The House on Mango Street. Even though I chose this story at the last minute, I believe it is a great way to end the unit. The House on Mango Street addresses many identity concepts: gender, culture, sexual, ethnic, and economic. I chose this book because of a conversation I had with a group of students. During our weekly lunch bunch, the group of sixth graders began to discuss their neighborhoods and how much they dislike them. I also learned that most of my students live in neighborhoods that are predominantly from the same race. The Latino students mostly live in the Latino neighborhoods, such as in Fair Haven or in a section of the Hill. The African American students live in what they call the “Jungle.” Much to my surprise, my students define themselves by where they live. It is my hope that my students will realize that their current neighborhood or their economic does not dictate who they will become or where they will live in the future. By reading this short story, I think the students will connect with the main character and know that they have a power to shape their futures.
I am going to use this book differently; instead of reading it in class and discussing it, I will assign some pages to be read at home, and I will ask the students to record their reactions, thoughts, feelings, and connections in their reading log. During CREW, we will discuss the assigned readings and the students will continue to respond to questions
The main character in The House on Mango Street, Esperanza, despises her name, her home, and how it reflects her identity. The story begins when Esperanza’s family buy a new house on Mango Street. The house is located in the Latino section of Chicago. Esperanza is very disappointed by the house; it neither is the house that her parents dreamed of nor is it located in the right neighborhood. She is not only ashamed of the house and the neighborhood, but she is also displeased with her own appearance. Esperanza feels her looks do not match her true inner personality. She is also very self-conscious about her name and jokingly longs to change her name to “Zeze the X.” Esperanza also feels sad about the lives of the women in her family and in her neighborhood. She vows that she will not end up like so many women in her life.
Esperanza encounters both harsh and joyous realities on Mango Street. Living on Mango Street opens Esperanza’s eyes to the violence and hardships young people encounter in rough neighborhoods. She forms many friendships, some good, some bad, and some short. With Cathy, her first friend in this neighborhood, the friendship is short-lived. Cathy’s parents move because they believe the neighborhood is getting bad due to the lower income families similar to Esperanza’s family moving in. Soon after, Esperanza befriends two sisters: Lucy and Rachel. These two girls adopt her into their circle. Together, they parade around Mango Street in high-heeled shoes.
Eventually, Esperanza starts to notice her sexuality. She is excited when boys notice her on the street or at a dance. Sadly, sexual violence destroys her image of true love. Still Esperanza dreams of having a boyfriend, but unlike most girls in her neighborhood, she sets higher standards. Through all these hardship, Esperanza promises herself to leave Mango Street, become a writer, and build her dream home. At the end of the story, Esperanza learns that she cannot cut ties to Mango Street. She realizes that Mango Street has affected and influenced her dreams and her personality and, as a result, shaped her identity. That is why Esperanza tells stories about Mango Street: finding the beauty amidst the dirty streets is to find her true self.
After reading the novel and having a discussion, I want students to recognize and acknowledge how we grow up and where we come from are major factor in who we become or who we are today. I also want students to embrace their backgrounds and understand how their background makes them unique. By analyzing The House on Mango Street, the students will be able to identify and sympathize with Esperanza and see how, through her coming of age, she appreciates where she comes from and finds her identity.
After learning about the diverse identities that exist in my school, it is important to celebrate them. To conclude the unit, we will hold a multicultural fair where different international cuisines, languages, clothing, art, and dances are showcased. Students may work in groups or individually. They will research the country of their ancestors and create a showcase for the international day or multicultural day to celebrate the different cultures. On the day of the fair, we will invite administrators, staff, parents, and students for a tour. Each visitor will carry a passport as he or she tours different countries. Visitors will also write down facts they learn. If time permits, students will perform native dances for visitors.