Escaping the Eurocentric American Stranglehold Ethnic variety is one of the defining characteristics of the American people. The American people, however, define themselves based on their cultural background. Armando Rendon and Judith Ortiz Cofer are two writers with passionate perspectives on encroaching Anglo assimilation. Rendon reflects on his near loss and reclamation of cultural identity in his essay, “Kiss of Death,” while Cofer’s heritage is tested and strengthened through her encounters with Anglo judgment in her essay titled “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria.
In Rendon’s “Kiss of Death” and Cofer’s “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria,” Euro-centric America threatens to drain the color and life out of Latin American culture simply due to lack of understanding and tolerance. The childhood experiences of both writers show how their cultural identity was at risk of being erased. In his essay “Kiss of Death,” Armando Rendon articulates his brush with Anglo cultural dominance and his willingness to abandon who he was by stripping himself completely of his heritage (91).
While Rendon’s childhood serves as an excuse to allow his cultural fire to die out, Judith Cofer expresses her confusing adolescence in “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I just Met a Girl Named Maria,” in stating, “I suffered from what I think of as a ‘cultural schizophrenia’” (391). Rendon’s Mexican-American heritage is intentionally forgotten in an attempt to blend in with his fellow classmates, to assimilate into the Eurocentric American culture. Cofer’s Puerto Rican parents, on the other hand, are very strict in ensuring that she lives her life as a Puerto Rican in America.
Cofer’s Puerto Rican background leads to a cultural clash with her environment where she is viewed as an outsider because of her choice of clothing and her Latino appearance. From childhood onward, both writers grow to understand their cultures in a colorful light against the stark, barren void of Eurocentric American influence. The stranglehold of Anglo influence tightens its grip on the two writers throughout their education. Rendon’s environment in school leads to his assimilation into the white man’s world. He slowly begins to ignore his native tongue, favoring the ease of conversation in English.
Rendon’s transformation is nearly complete by the time he is in college: “By the time I graduated from high school and prepared to enter college, the break was nearly complete. Seldom during college did I admit to being Mexican-American” (92). RendOn rarely admits to being Mexican-American; only when he is pressured about his surname or he has the opportunity to meet Latin American coeds does he admit his Latin heritage (92). Cofer, in comparison, is treated as a social outcast by the Anglo of her early education. Cofer relates an instance in which she is asked to dress as though she is attending an interview for Career Day.
She and her friend dress in what they have been raised to believe is appropriate attire for the occasion: “wearing their mother’s ornate jewelry and clothing,” (Cofer 392). However, the Puerto Rican girls are ridiculed for their dress, one that is deemed “more appropriate for the company Christmas party” (Cofer 392). Where early on in his education, Rendon chooses to assimilate into the Eurocentric American or Anglo culture and thus loses touch with his ethnic roots, Cofer, on the other hand, celebrates her Latin pedigree and suffers the consequences.
The very pressures of conformity and ethnic generalization serve to boost both Cofer and Rendon’s respect for their cultural diversity. Rendon’s cultural re-awakening occurs during his journalism career when he is assigned to cover a story about Christianity courses (Cursillos de Cristiandad) being taught to recently immigrated Mexicans (Rendon 93). Of his life-awakening experience at the Cursillo, Rendon explains: Within the social dimension of the Cursillo, for the first time in many years I became reimmersed in a tough, machoambiente (an entirely Mexican male environment).
Only Spanish was spoken. The effect was shattering. It was as if my tongue, after being struck dumb as a child, had been loosened. (93) Rendon experiences the culture shock of being around his native people and is thus awakened to the Mexican-American buried deep within him after years of Anglo dilution. While she didn’t experience quite a paradigm shift in her cultural identity, Cofer’s Puerto Rican heritage is strengthened by the presumptuous racism of Eurocentric Anglo men she encounters during her life. In Puerto Rican custom, men are expected to show appreciation to beautiful women.
Cofer explains: “The males were … given an opportunity to admire the women and to express their admiration in the form of piropos: erotically charged street poems they composed on the spot” (393). Under those same customs, a proper woman is expected to ignore often bold advances. Cofer’s resolve is tested and questioned by Anglo men, who mistake her manner of dress as a “sexual firebrand” (392). She also experiences men imitating popular culture by breaking into song and embarrassing her with their renditions of Evita and West Side Story (Cofer 391, 393).
All in all, Rendon finds a means in which to rediscover the Latin-American within himself, while Cofer finds reason to strengthen her cultural resolve. Rendon and Cofer both express their concerns that the Eurocentric American or Anglo cultural blockade is forcing a slow death on their people’s ethnicity and suppressing their cultural heritage. Rendon comes to the important realization that the Mexican-American identity must not only be preserved for his people, but they must preserve their identity for the rest of Anglo America.
He asserts: “I very nearly dropped out, as so many other Mexican-Americans have, under the dragging pressure to be someone else, what most of society wants you to be before it hands out its chrome-plated trophies” (Rendon 94). Rendon calls his people to action so that they may stop pretending to be what America wants them to be. He concludes that Latinos must resist “the Anglo kiss of death, the monolingual, monocultural, and colorless Gringo society” (Rendon 94) and make their culture their own.
Cofer illustrates her similar stance on preservation of culture: There are thousands of Latinas without the privilege of an education or the entrees into society that I have. For them life is a constant struggle against the misconceptions perpetuated by the myth of the Latina. My goal is to try to replace the old stereotypes with a much more interesting set of realities. (395) Cofer hopes that Anglo America judges her for what she’s accomplished in life rather than for the color of her skin, her accent, or her style of dress.
Fundamentally, both Rendon and Cofer believe that Latinos must celebrate and thus validate their heritage and culture. Without an identity for themselves, both writers express that their cultures would be doomed to ethnic homogenization. Rendon is grateful that he was rescued by his people from “the Anglo kiss of death,…”(94), while Cofer owes her appreciation for her Latino heritage to her parents who stressed “virtue and modesty were, by their cultural equation, the same as their honor” (392).
Through their personal experience, these two authors illustrate how the ignorance and insensitivity of other people can lead to the near extinction of diversity in one’s native culture. Cofer and Rendon both have a unique solution for avoiding the clutches of Eurocentric American cultural suppression: ethnic minorities must establish an identity for themselves so that the rest of America cannot assign them an identity founded on racism or ignorance.
Works Cited Cofer, Judith Ortiz. “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria. ” 1993. The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry. Rpt. in The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues Across the Disciplines. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller. Wake Tech ed. 10th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 391-395. Print. Rendon, Armando. “Kiss of Death. ” Side By Side: A Multicultural Reader. Eds. Harvey Weiner and Charles Bazerman. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. 91-94. Print.
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