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Finding success when staring in the face of adversity never fails to be one of the most difficult things in the world. Adversity comes in many forms, it could be the weather, family or friends, religion, and for a lot of people, adversity shows in skin color or the culture they are born into. Amy Tan, the author of ‘Mother Tongue,’ is an Asian-American who grew up in the United States with her mother from China. She grew up speaking both English and Chinese at home, a unique trait considering a lot of American students don’t speak more than just English.
In pursuit of an English-based career in writing, Tan was inherently supposed to fail based on the people and situations in her life hindering her. The author of ‘The Myth of the Latin Woman’, Judith Ortiz, is a Puerto Rican woman who grew up in New Jersey with her family. She grew up practicing cultural traditions that are stemmed from Puerto Rico and imposed on her by family heritage.
Throughout her life, Ortiz was at fault for looking like a Latina woman and was often a target of cultural and racial stereotypes pressed on Latina women. These are two very unique people with two very unique pasts, both of whom have faced adversity as a result of the families and circumstances they were born into. Among the two stories these women write, parallels can be drawn regarding the treatment of these individuals. However, the response they make to prejudice determines their ability to find success.
‘Mother Tongue’ and ‘The Myth of the Latin Woman’ work against each other by giving personal examples of how a different point of views can either fight prejudice or let prejudice remain a constant.
Judith Ortiz reflects back on her life, growing up in a Puerto Rican family, early life celebrations, and traditions typically associated with Latin X culture. The general tone of Ortiz’s piece is a negative one, even from a young age she, “resented the stereotype that my Hispanic appearance called forth from many people I met” (204). The feeling associated with her own heritage is resentment, almost as if Ortiz is ashamed and uncomfortable with who she is. Resentment doesn’t manifest a sense of pride in the person she was born to be. In ‘Mother Tongue,’ Amy Tan writes about a whole different experience with being diverse in regard to the language she spoke at home with her Chinese mother. Growing up she would go to American schools and learn English while also conversing with her mother at home in a broken English constructed with a heavy Chinese accent. The challenges she faced differ greatly from Ortiz’s being that they were based on language rather than appearance. Amy Tan’s reaction to her circumstances give a blissfully positive outlook to a challenging situation. When speaking about her mother’s broken English she exclaims, “That was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world” (Tan 7). The perspective she takes on her heritage is so full of excitement, it’s happily expressed, and held close to her heart. It’s the type of attitude that will break the chains of hinderance. In direct opposition to finding comfort in the person Amy Tan is, Ortiz continues her negative train of thought, “You can leave the Island, master the English language, and travel as far as you can, but if you are Latina· the Island travels with you” (203). Home isn’t a source of comfort and peace for Ortiz, she tries her best to run away from the person she is and can’t seem to escape it. The problem for her is the appearance she has been given; it makes her stand out in ways that doesn’t deem fit enough to her standards. Embarrassed by this, Ortiz runs away from her being rather than loving and accepting it, which is the winning strategy that Tan exploits wonderfully.
The difference between Tan and Ortiz is the root of their circumstances. The things that held Tan back were linguistic, the problems she faced were vastly different than the problems Ortiz faced. Everyone struggles with their appearance some people are obese, some are anorexic, some are tall, and some are short. The traits that you can change are the easiest to overcome, with enough will power anyone is able to be their best self and fix what they believe is wrong with them. Judith Ortiz can do nothing about what she looks like. She “obviously belongs to Rita Moreno’s gene pool” (Ortiz 203). Rita Moreno played a Latina women, Maria, in the famous musical ‘West Side Story’ which creates a whole new series of problems in Ortiz’s life. The alternative title to ‘The Myth of the Latin Woman’ actually is “Just Met a Girl Named Maria” (Ortiz 203). This idea is so heavily touched on in her writing. ‘Maria’ is used throughout her essay, especially in the beginning, as an allegory to represent her appearance. This is fundamental to the core issues she deals with, more often than not she is perceived by others in a way that hinders her ability to be a part of society in a normal way. This doesn’t however stop Ortiz from acknowledging the benefits of what she looks like, “This is sometimes a very good thing it may win you that extra minute of someone’s attention” (204). The one and only time that Ortiz is able to look at her situation in a positive light. Offering a different insight to how she is able to live with what she’s got compared to what she spends the rest of the essay analyzing. Obviously, an extra minute of someone’s attention isn’t good enough to outweigh the bad. But the intention of that sentence was to show that not all is bad with her appearance which leaves room for acceptance of her situation and the ability to be optimistic. Some traits can’t be changed, and humans will forever be stuck with physically and mental characteristics that aren’t malleable, but optimism can be employed to change the state of any grievance with a certain characteristic. The audience can see this same example of optimism is used abundantly throughout Amy Tan’s ‘Mother Tongue’ amplifying the idea that these inherited roadblocks can be dealt with by finding a positive perspective.
Despite the problems dealt with by both parties having roots in different circumstances doesn’t mean the hinderances these two women faced are any less prominent throughout their lives. When talking about the language she learned at home, Amy Tan “Believe[s] that it affected [her] results on achievement tests, IQ tests, and the SATs” (7). These tests are fundamental parts of life as a young adult moving forward in life. Tests like the SAT are used by state governments, public school systems, and colleges to determine how smart and capable people are. It is often argued that tests like these show no actual truth about how intelligent someone is, and Amy Tan could probably attest to that. However, that doesn’t mean that she was able to get any sort of benefit of the doubt when it came to her performance on these tests. Performing poorly on an SAT is curable, but due to the circumstances of her situation, Amy wasn’t able to understand simple grammatical subtleties of the questions asked of her and was forced to work harder than anyone else. A setback Ortiz faced was not being able to be taken seriously as an accomplished writer. When performing a reading of her poetry as a restaurant Ortiz had an interaction with a costumer in which, “she ordered a cup of coffee from me, assuming I was the waitress” (207). Not only incredibly racist, but also just extremely discouraging for someone who is trying so hard to succeed like everyone else. Even when the opportunity for success presented itself to Ortiz, her victory was only short-lived being humiliated by being objectively assumed to be just another Latina waitress. Judith Ortiz was able to find a way to get past using her platform as a writer, a poet, and public reader to show the discriminations that Latin X people face, specifically Latina women, she aims to shed a positive light on the truth that she and millions like her are more than their appearance. Amy Tan was able to positively move forward in life too, when faced with people telling her she wasn’t meant to be an English major in college, she “Happen[ed] to be rebellious in nature, and enjoy the challenge of disproving assumptions made about me. I became an English major my first year in college” (Tan 8). With people telling Tan that she couldn’t be what she desired due to her family and ‘abilities’ in English she was able to positively find a way to fight against that oppression. She is in no way, shape, or form harming anyone by using their opinions to fuel her burning desire to be the best that she can possibly be. Challenging herself to prove the doubters wrong worked. Tan was able to go on to graduate college with an English degree and pursue a life in writing and literature. She doesn’t use her platform to inspire others intentionally like Ortiz does, but she inadvertently can be a symbol of beating opposition to any Asian-American person who grew up using the same broken English her family used when she was growing up. There is no right or wrong way for people to find a path in life. More often than not our paths are rocky and full of obstructions mental roadblocks, external judgement, and for some people, prejudice. Life’s not fair and people can be awful, they will pick you apart and tear your heart from your chest without a care in the world. Fortunately, humans are incredibly gifted in the art of adaptation, cemented in the mind somewhere is a sense of will. In order to tear through the barriers blocking the path of life, a certain level of will power must be exercised. If the will of man is stronger than the ground beneath him, than the path they follow can never be the wrong one. Fortunately, healthy outlets and optimism helped both of these highly intellectual people find a place to be unapologetically themselves.
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