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Contemporary American Literature V1 Essay

What is race? We are all flesh in blood. We all bleed. Does this really make us different? After reading “Recipe” by Janice Mirikitani, “Puerto Rican Obituary” by Pedro Pietri, and “Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question” by Diane Burns, The answer is yes and no. All three of these poems show you that while we may all be human and experience the same emotions, we are not always treated that way. Race plays a major role in how we are treated and how we precieve ourselves. These poems illustrate how race can make one feel self-conscious, lonely, and misunderstood.

“Recipe” explains how a women of Asian decent could make her eyes round to hide her race. This recipe would give her “round eyes.” (1) By using tape she could mask her true identity. This allowed her a chance to avoid the injustice the Asian people were suffering after the bombing of pearl harbor.

The tell tale eyes of the Asian people, while beautiful, had made her feel ashamed to the point where she felt the need to deny who she was. Such a self loathing can leave one very unhappy, to the point where even in her poem she must remind herself “do not cry.” (16) This poem tells a very sad story of how race can internally hurt ones self esteem. It also displays that discrimination due to race also comes from the inside, not just outside sources.

On the other hand, “Puerto Rican Obituary” takes a complete different tactic in addressing race. It tells us how the aspect of race comes from everywhere. How the affected race, in this case the Hispanics, longed for what the other race had.

“These empty dreams
about the ideal
white american family
with black maids
and latino janitors” (112, 117-120)
It tells us how they never saw their selves as more then what others saw them as. They also felt the same prejudices against their own neighbors. “Died hating all of them/ because they all spoke broken english/more fluently then he did.”(243, 248-249) By doing this they justified what others thought of them, and learned to think that of them selves, and their people. In doing this they killed their people, themselves and any chance of happiness. “All died yesterday today/ and will die again tomorrow/ Dreaming” (99-101)

“ Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question” has more of a defeated stance to it. She knows what is coming, and she gently answers their questions. She has come to terms with the fact that no one will see her as more then an outsider. “ No, I didn’t make it rain tonight.” (21) She is defeated. She knows the stereotypes and finds it easier to just give up on herself, then fight to make them understand her heritage.

To conclude, while race does not necessarily make us different, it can seem that way. We live in a generation where race is not seen the way it was in the past. This is not to say that race is not an issue. It is! It is an issue that others not only oppose of each other, but one we also use against ourselves. Unfortunately, because we fight this internal struggle with our own race and how people see us, we also alienate ourselves and those different from us.

Works Cited:
Mirikitani, Janice “Recipe” The Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume E. Seventh Edition. Paul Lautner. Boston: Wadsworth. 3444-3445. Print. Pietri, Pedro “Puerto Rican Obituary” The Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume E. Seventh Edition. Paul Lautner. Boston: Wadsworth. 3322-3330. Print.

Burns, Diane “Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question” The Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume E. Seventh Edition. Paul Lautner. Boston: Wadsworth. 3386-3387. Print.

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