Ethnic Identity and Cultural Construction
Identity and culture are two of the basic building blocks of ethnicity. The word "ethnicity" is used to describe a specific population's characteristics of fundamental aspects that all humans share. When applied loosely, ethnicity becomes a blanket term to define large populations, undermining the worth and the diversity within that group and emphasizing the differences between cultures. Yet those differences come down to matters of preference and socialization within each culture. In “Constructing Ethnicity”, Joane Nagel talks about the nature of ethnic identity and its relationship to cultural construction in the U.S. Nagel believes that the construction of ethnic boundaries through individual identification, ethnic group formation and official ethnic policies illustrates the ways in which ethnic identities are created. And that cultural constructions assist in the construction of community when they act to define the boundaries of collective identity, establish membership criteria, generate a shared symbolic vocabulary and define a common purpose. Grace Paley supports this view in “The Loudest Voice”. A story about the involvement of Jewish children in a Christmas play which leads to debate and commentary throughout the Jewish community, where some embrace assimilation into primarily Christian America, while others firmly safeguard the integrity of ethnic and religious identity. Ethnic boundaries are central mechanisms in ethnic construction. Nagel states, “Ethnic boundaries function to determine identity options, membership composition and size, and form of ethnic organization.” What she is basically telling us here is that ethnic boundaries determine who a member is and who is not. Paley supports this view in his story. Shirley states, “Ach, Clara,” my father asked, “what does she do there till six o’clock she can’t even put the plates on the table?” “Christmas”, said my mother coldly.” This...
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