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Language that Defines Identity

Language is one of the most important factors that form a person’s identity. It helps people to define who they are, which culture they belong to, and what their ancestral heritage is. However, in the modern world people often change their place of living, whether voluntarily or not, and, consequently, face numerous identity problems. The way immigration influences one’s identity, the inner struggles that immigrants face are the topics discussed by Richard Rodriguez in his essay “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood” and by Gloria Anzaldua in “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”. The two authors agree that life in a foreign country where people speak a foreign language is a challenge for one’s self-identification and social identity, but their views on the need to assimilate and acceptance of the majority language differ.

In his essay, Rodriguez claims that even though one’s native language is an integral part of one’s private life, there is a need to learn the language of the country one lives in as it is essential for the formation of social identity (41). Rodriguez uses his own experience of struggles of being a Spanish-speaking immigrant in the United States to describe the way this influences perception of people and the world around. Rodriguez makes a distinction between the language spoken at home with relatives and the language spoken in public, outside of home. According to him, these are two separate, but interconnected domains of life (36). If a person has no knowledge of the language spoken by the majority of society, this person is not able to have a full-fledged social life and identify him-/herself as a member of this community. People who do not speak English in the US are alienated here, they feel like strangers. On the contrary, when a person chooses to embrace the majority language, his/her private life suffers by losing its intimacy. Rodriguez states that assimilation is a necessary and valuable process because in this way people discover their public identity, understand their place in the society (41).

He does not reject the fact that in this way private individuality suffers, but it is a necessary sacrifice in exchange for social and political advantages.Anzaldua also uses her own experience of being a non-native English speaker living in the US to come to a conclusion that a person’s mother tongue defines who the person is: “I am my language” (361). However, simple usage of a native language is not enough. For Anzaldua it is important that the language is recognized and legitimate: “Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself” (361). Anzaldua rejects assimilation and opposes the possibility of identifying with another language apart from the one that the person considers his/her native. Native language is also an inherent constituent of the culture that the person belongs to, which defines certain people, distinguishes them from others, and unites together. Yet, accordnig to Anzaldua, if one’s native …

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