Comparative Analysis: Ethnic Identities And Self Perception

1106 words - 4 pages

First generation Asian-American's found it difficult to determine their ethnic identity. They strove to negotiate with American society a way of being both Asian and American. They struggle to retain an ethnic identity while challenging the rigid gender roles and expectations confronting them. In Onoto Watanna's The Heart of Hyacinth and John Okada's No- No Boy, the Asian-American characters struggle with their split culture. Okada's character, Ichiro, expresses his desire to have a single identity, "I wish with all my heart that I were Japanese or American" (Okada, 16). In both of these novels we see how children are affected by their parent's ethnic roots, and the separation between the old generation and their children. We see the influence parents have in determining their children's ethnicity, depending on the social setting they are raised in. In Watanna's novel both Hyacinth and Koma's ethnic identities are a result of their mother's values and beliefs. Like Ichiro, they struggle with how various people perceive them, and how they perceive themselves.The setting for "No-No Boy" takes place in America during the years following World War II. Ichiro's parents, like other Japanese immigrants, had come to America "with the single purpose of making a fortune which would enable them to return to their own country and live adequately" (Okada, 25). For this reason, his parents viewed their stay in America as temporary. Ichiro's parents had lived in America for 35 years without learning the language or making any effort to fit into American culture. Ichiro's parents' refusal to assimilate into American society rooted the struggle Ichiro faced with determining his identity.Ichiro felt torn between his Japanese family and his desire to fit into the American culture. Ichiro believed, "It wasn't okay to be Japanese and American. You had to be one or the other" (Okada, 91). His mother didn't give him much of a choice. Ichiro's decision to be a "no-no boy" was driven by his her strong Japanese influence. If Ichiro had joined the American army and fought against her Japanese people, she would have disowned him. He would have lost his family, but gained American status. The generation gap between "old Japanese" and their children created a communication barrier that prevented any type of mutual understanding. Ichiro's mother was narrow-sighted (an "sick"), and could not comprehend the position she had put her son in. Ichiro feels segregated from American culture and strongly regrets his "no-no" decision. He is haunted by the unspoken words, "This is America, for American's. You have spent 2 years in prison to prove that you are Japanese - go to Japan" (Okada, 91). Ichiro lacks a feeling of belongingness.In Onoto Watanna's "Heart of Hyacinth", Hyacinth battles between her natural identity and her racial identity. Like Ichiro, Hyacinth's mother played a large role in shaping her identity. This novel takes place in Japan. Hyacinth was born to American...

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