Otherness and Americanization

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Othering is a way of defining and securing one’s own positive identity through the denouncement of another. Whatever the markers of social differentiation that shape the meaning of "us" and "them," whether they are sexual, racial, geographic, ethnic, economic or ideological, there is always the danger that they will become the basis for self-affirmation, involving denigration of the other group. Since American society is very diversified, it is all too common for everyone to be exposed to Otherness. Such practices are likely to have powerful repercussions and often begin at childhood and continue throughout adulthood. In the essay, Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood, Richard Rodriguez recalls his first experiences with Otherness at a young and vulnerable age. The concept was all too real as a Spanish-speaking child of Mexican immigrants, attending an all-English speaking school. He mentions that he was “socially disadvantaged” living in a primarily English part of town. His family was distanced and sometimes shunned by society, whom they referred to as los americanos or los gringos. He identified his family as functioning differently from the American norm, a key component of Otherness.

His keen, young mind easily distinguished between English and Spanish by the different sounds of the languages. He believed Americans to have “gringo” sounds and the firmness of their articulation meant that they belonged in public society. With this also came the realization that his parent’s couldn’t easily speak English. Though this sometimes made him uncomfortable, the separation that Rodriguez felt from society made him treasure his time spent at home surrounded by the comforting sounds of Spanish. It was the only language spoken in his home, making it private, special and welcoming. “Excited, our voices joined in a celebration of sounds. We are speaking now the way we never speak out in public-we are together…” (655). This emphasizes a key component of Otherness,...
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