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American Culture and Standards: The Bicultural Struggle

Essay by   •  July 5, 2011  •  Book/Movie Report  •  938 Words (4 Pages)  •  2,640 Views

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In the book Something to Declare, Julia Alvarez is a Dominican immigrant struggling to fit into a culture she is not familiar with. Her journey to fit into American society is difficult because she comes from another country. Intimidation by American standards causes Alvarez to struggle as a bicultural individual, which makes her strive to change herself to conform to American ways, but little did she know, she would find herself along the way.

Julia Alvarez informs the reader that as a child she was raised to question herself and keep her opinions to herself. When talking about her youth she says, "We had already acquired the habit of doubting ourselves as well as the place we came from" (44). As a young girl she saw that women in the Dominican Republic went straight to being wives and mothers. When coming to America she learned that women could live more freely than women from the Dominican Republic, which live under a dictatorship.

When trying to fit into her new surroundings Julia Alvarez felt forced to give up her Dominican culture to conform to American standards. In her essay "La Gringuita America" she states, "At school there were several incidents of name-calling and stone throwing" (62). This made her insecure. She felt like an outsider that did not belong.

Just like all teenagers Alvarez wants to be accepted by her peers and she made modifications to herself to fit in better. In her essay "I Want to Be Miss America" she says, "As young teenagers in our new country, my three sisters and I searched for clues on how to look as if we belonged here" (37). She talked about how she tried to straighten her hair to look less Latino and put on makeup to look more American. She talks about how her and her family would watch the Miss America contest together, and that is where they drew conclusions that Americans set high standards for themselves with how they should look. She used this experience to help her figure out what she could change about herself to look more like an American. She states, "So we painstakingly rolled our long, curly hair round and round, using our heads as giant rollers, ironing it until we had long, shining shanks like our classmates and contestants, only darker" (39). She realized in the end that no matter how straight her hair was, nor how much make-up she wore, she could never look like a stereotypical American girl. She says "I would never be one of those girls [...] It was just who she was-an American- and we were not. We were foreigners [...] that could never, no matter the sun block's or foundation makeup, be made into peaches and cream" (43).

The more that Julia Alvarez tries to change herself into what she thinks an American girl is the more she realizes that nobody can fit into a particular stereotype because they are all constantly changing. She says, "Had we been able to see into the future [...]



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