Mis Tres Vidas

My Three Lives.

I’ve never thought about my identity like this before. I just read Jhumpa Lahiri’s article entitled “My Two Lives,” which was published in Newsweek on March 6, 2006. She writes about the difficulties she had growing up as she tried to reconcile her parents’ Indian traditions with her American culture school day reality. Lahiri describes the embarrassment she felt regarding the unique food and music she consumed at home, and her unwillingness to speak to her friends about her parents’ customs.

Most kids are embarrassed by their parents at some point. My parents both have accents, and they’re two very different accents at that. I was teased in school for saying “bean” instead of “bin” when I read the word “been” aloud in first grade during our verb exercises. I was so compelled to fit in that I decided I had to change my natural pronunciation of the word so that now I’m trained to say “bin.” Now that I’m a young adult, I’ve noticed that my half-brother has maintained the “bean” pronunciation, and it makes me jealous! It makes him sound refined and self-assured due to the pronunciation’s British undertones. My colloquial speech has retained little of that class. My Britishness only emerges every once in a while via a “fancy” word or phrase I’ll unconsciously throw in here and there, much to the delight of my friends.

If Lahiri struggled with two identities, I had the extra conflict dealing with three. Not only are my parents immigrants from two radically different cultures, but I am also a second-generation American acculturating into the US lifestyle. Lahiri’s comment that her “conflicting selves [were] always canceling each other out” struck me as only a personally relevant phrase does. Here is written proof that other people go through the same thing I have gone through all of my life. Appearing and sounding American, appreciating British humor and work ethic, and soaking up Latin music and dancing never really happen all at the same time. I’m always recoding my cultural language, depending on who I’m with and which “me” I identify the most with on a particular day or at a particular hour. However as confusing as this can be, I agree with Lahiri again when she writes, “As an adult I accept that a bicultural upbringing is a rich but imperfect thing.” I may not fit into any easy cultural category, but that’s just the way I like it.

 

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