This is a very long CPU because our poetry seminar fuelled some kind of flame in me that I can’t seem to to take out. I hope you enjoy <3
… the role adversity plays in shaping an individual’s identity. (June 2011)
In response to Quique Aviles’, My tongue is divided into two.
The immigrant experience of leaving, or even fleeing, perhaps, one’s own country of heritage is one of contradictions. With a heart of gratitude, those seeking refuge find it in a new country; this is a chance to begin again. The opportunity to create an identity for yourself. Despite the endless opportunity to find success and peace, a lack of acceptance in society that affects families for generations. There is a perpetual struggle that each immigrant understands to a certain degree, marginalizing them to the sidelines. The outside is an unfavourable place of discrimination and conflict with identity – what other solution is there, but to assimilate oneself into western culture? Within every immigrant, and arguably, every person of colour living in a white dominant society, exists a power struggle between two sides of their identity: ethnic and their new immigrant identity. Initially, an individual undergoing adversity may feel confusion on the conflicting parts of their identity; however, through this adversity, true values will surface, solidifying one’s identity through acceptance.
In Quique Aviles’ insightful poem, My tongue is divided into two, the conflict of certainty, or lack thereof, in one’s identity is evasively present – evidenced through the clear use of simplistic diction. The constant battle to reconcile the dichotomy between Aviles’ Salvadoran side and American side is discussed throughout the piece. I, too, struggle with reconciling parts of my identity, as I am an immigrant. Although having migrated to Canada at only a year old, I still feel contentions between what I feel I should be, who I really am, and who I want to be. Identity cannot be definite; it is ever changing, shifting in ideas, perspectives, and culture. The complexity of identity and our own human desire to compartmentalize oneself is reinforced through the repetition of the line in the majority of the stanzas, “My tongue is divided into two”. It is human nature to categorize everything, we, ourselves, are no exception. It is difficult to accept that we are capable of being classified in more than one category, that the world is not as certain as black and white. By the tongue – symbolically representing Aviles, himself, alongside his identity – divided “by virtue, coincidence or heaven” indicates the question: whether or not identity is dependent upon the control of virtue, the accident in coincidence, or the destiny within heaven. As being a Canadian-raised Filipino, I often feel as though I am unable to truly identify with either Canadian or Filipino culture. For instance, I lack the ability to fluently speak Tagalog – what is supposed to be my native tongue. By being constantly surrounded by those of the Filipino community, I felt a sense of otherness. I would often isolate myself, attempting to find English speakers, in order to feel some sort of adequacy.
This creates conflict within the mind of an immigrant, unable to find a home on either side of their identity. There is a constant duality present with the independent and free American side that “wants to curse and sing out loud” or “likes to party”, contrasting with the humble and conscientious Salvadoran side that “simply wants to ask for water” or “takes refuge in praying”. I possess very strong connections to the Filipino culture. Fortunately, I am still able to understand Tagalog, but in practice, I struggle. I was raised with both Canadian and Filipino values – upholding what I personally believe are the best traits of each culture. I am in such an opportune position in which I have the freedom to decide what I would like to value and practice, to a certain extent, of course. I am able to practice the Filipino values of utmost respect to those older than us, yet practicing Canadian culture when conversing – as it is not always strict and unmoving. However, this freedom is not always existent. In elementary, it is known that children can be very candid. I have received comments and criticisms based on the food I brought for lunch, the way my parents raised me, or the colour of my skin. To avoid such judgement, I continued to hide parts of my Filipino identity at school. I tried to follow all the trends all the other white girls – that I tried so hard to impress – were following, just to please them. There are situations in which I feel more inclined to portray a side of my identity that will dominate the other, just to feel some acceptance by those around me. In order to appease the different sides of an immigrant’s life and to avoid judgement and marginalization from others, they are susceptible to disguising a fraction of themselves in fear of not being able to amount to the level of expectations their ethnic or American sides hold.
Society has ingrained within us that our identity cannot lie on a spectrum, that an individual must be certain of one part of themselves that absolutely defines them. This is untrue because the truth lies in between polar opposites. Aviles asserts that as an immigrant, it is imperative to fulfill the responsibility of “being a voice for the message” – an advocate for those experiencing similar endeavours. The responsibility to share one’s experience to cultivate connections with others of spreading awareness of the immigrants’ triumphs and trials – to be an advocate for those experiencing similar endeavours. I feel as though I have found my voice as an immigrant only so recently. I never realized that my “dual” identity was the source of my confusion. In my family, we are the lucky ones. My parents attained high levels of education in the Philippines, that of which had credits that transferred to Canada. Only upgrading was necessary in order to be employed as what they studied for in the Philippines. Other families experience hardship in that an immigrant’s education and career – no matter if they received the highest level of education, just so long as it was from another country – are completely dismissed and have no value once they have immigrated to Canada. Perhaps there is discrimination to those that are not fluent in English, those being deemed as not as educated or intelligent based upon their ability to fluently speak English.
The social expectations of perfect English hinders them in this purpose, silencing their voice because of their own “heavy accent bits of confusion” as they are “drowning in a language”. That “saying things that hurt the heart” or speaking in a way that pleases those around them will protect them from being the other. The internal struggle of attempting to conform to the expectations placed upon them – Aviles likening himself to “a border patrol runs through the middle frisking words asking for proper identification checking for pronunciation.” In my personal experience, I feel this sense of insecurity when attempting to speak in Tagalog. I often find that my inability to encapsulate the proper accent is humiliating. Yes, I was taught Tagalog growing up, but such immersion into an English speaking country, it was difficult to practice when I depended on English as my means of communication. Currently, I feel like I have neglected such a prominent and significant portion of my Filipino identity, because without language, it is automatically more difficult to connect with a culture. On the other side of the coin, immigrants struggle, and punish themselves, for not being able to speak English fluently.
Depending on one’s surrounding environment, different facades pertaining to the fulfillment of the expectations contributes to the decreasing sense of control; “not knowing which side should be speaking which side translating”. In parallel to Aviles’ experience with the conflict in El Salvador, he likens his “tongue” to “border patrol run[ning] through the middle frisking words”, exemplifying how past adversity reflects in present circumstances. It is evident that an immigrant undergoing the external adversity of being silenced based off their ethnic heritage, coupled with the internal adversity of questioning the validity of their identity inhibits them from solidifying their identity, resulting from a lack of self acceptance.
However, through time of constant improvement and confidence in oneself and their own abilities, Aviles argues that it is possible to find a balance and harmony between both parts of an individual’s identity, creating a sense of certainty, and thus, security in their life. The stanza in which Aviles utilizes the same four words in English, but rearranging the order in each line, creates a sense of transition – similar to the transition immigrants experience in learning English: once, confined by the rigidity of the complex rules and the many exceptions to said rules, making the language all the more difficult to master. Although through time, individuals are freed from these constraints; upon realization that perfect English is not a competition to be won against those around you, but an artform that is more forgiving than one may initially assume. Despite the grammatically incorrect transition from “tongue english of the funny sounds” to “tongue in funny english sounds”, there is a slight newfound confidence within the “tongue” – representative of himself and the accepting of his identity, both parts. The facade I decide to wear is dependent upon those who I am around. In the past year, the people that have surrounded me use Tagalog as the dominant language. In fear of being seen as too white-washed, I started integrating more Filipino pop culture into my vocabulary and lifestyle. From learning dance trends in the Philippines to watching Filipino movies, all of this was an effort to avoid marginalization. I took this pursuit more seriously as I considered to further my studies in the Philippines. I am finally able deepen my connection to my culture through simple, seemingly meaningless ways. Once an individual feels a sense of acceptance towards their identity, the adversity within the pressure of conforming to the expectations of those around them alleviates and instead, influences their identity, as opposed to completely consuming it.
The repetition of the title line, “My tongue is divided into two,” and “I like my tongue it says what feels right” twice, indicates a sense of resolution to conflict – to find resolution in both parts of one’s identity by saying it twice – once on both sides of the tongue. Through time, maturity, and the disregard of irrelevant opinions, I am able to find salvation in the acceptance of both sides of my identity – by never satisfying myself with what I may know about my cultures. I continue to strive to deepen my understanding of the cultures that are ingrained within me.
Aviles experiences the external adversity produced by the civil unrest he left behind in El Salvador and the racial injustice he aims to abolish, yet he still experiences the internal conflict I am able to connect with of conflicting sides of his identity trying to overcome the other. Through this adversity, the realization of the importance of one’s own acceptance is of much more significance than that of others; therefore, reconciling the contention between conflicting parts of one’s identity.