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The Idea Of Identity Among Immigrants In America In The Novel The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

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The history of America is a key of exploring what means exactly being an American and how somebody can be identified. As it is said in EOD an American term is a complex of different nations from different regions. In my essay I will focus to explain how American literature helped people to understand the term of American identity Sheldon Hackney says that: [1: Originally: a native or inhabitant of America, esp. of the British colonies in North America, of European descent (now hist.). Now chiefly: a native or citizen of the United States. Cf. also Latin American n., North American n., South American n., etc.

The National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity, a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities, does just that. It invites diverse groups of Americans to come together-by teleconference, on the internet, through the radio, in face-to-face discussion groups-to talk and to listen to each other about what holds us together as a country, about shared values in a heterogeneous society, about common commitments in a society that contains all the divisions of race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion that are the source of sectarian violence in almost every other quarter of the globe, about the unum in our national motto.

The problem of identity is very common for specific groups, especially for people of second-generation. It might be confusing and very hurtful for immigrant’s children. Also, is very often to feel different than a society tells them to. All labels still last, although people seem to be more opened and tolerant, America is still a place for all kind of people but each of them have a label. The multicultural country, not so united, is well pictured in a novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao written by Junot Diaz. First, I will show the phenomenon of the personality of Oscar, I will compare it to different novels and I will show differences and similarities.

Firstly, it is essential to focus on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This novel shows all problems that the American society knows and struggles all the time. That is the reason why it has been chosen. Looking deep into it, it is well shown the history of American background, some chapters also talk about Dominican- Republic history and its situation which helps to understand the problem of young people who are in between two different cultures. Mónica Fernández Jiménez in her work titled The Struggle for Identity and the Need for Documenting History in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is mentioning that aspect and she says that:

This need to provide young generations with critical historical information is reflected in the novel through the efforts that the narrator makes to recollect and retell the personal story of Oscar, the protagonist of the book, and his family.

From the beginning, the author presents Dominican society- immigrants who are neighbours, they spend time all together, children are raised in a specific neighbourhood, far away from the perfect American playground. Even if those children wanted to socialise, they were put immediately to the special category called ‘’immigrants’’ or ‘’children of immigrants’’. Oscar is a perfect example of bilingual person who knows probably more than average American kid. Because of his curiosity to the world, he does not seem to realise when he switches between two languages. Moreover, he assumes that others perfectly understand him. Apart from that, being second generation immigrant child is not so simple and young people cannot find by themselves who they really are:

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Problems related to having an immigrant origin and living in segregated communities include being the victim of categorisation and labelling practices imposed on individuals and the subsequent creation of artificial and unstable identities.

The categorisation is one of the problem with American identity because it makes a person/ individual to choose. What with people who don’t want to choose? What if some of them are feeling well with the idea of being in between? Apart from categorisation, there is another problem with a national shame. It means that some protagonists (for example the mother of the main character) who continuously wanted to hide their original background to forget where are they come from. It is very interesting how important aspect plays a psychology in those kind of situations. There is a terminology called Escape theory, invented by C. Nathan Dewall. In that case perhaps Oscar’s mother was trying to escape from the past and cut herself off negative memories to start again as a new person. Her identity is broken but readers do not exactly know why because it is not mentioned in the novel. It can be only imagined how confusing it is for second generation when their own parents try to keep in secret their first identity while they (children) are living between two worlds, cannot be fully accepted by Americans. It is important to focus on a fact that those immigrant’s children are not connected to their roots because parents are keeping it silent. In the very the same moment they do not feel like Americans because of their parents. It is a circle that never ends. The adaptation problems are very common as it was shown above.

Who suffer here the most? Probably young people from Second generation who used to live between two different cultures and each of them identify them. America created as a blend of cultures but at some point stopped to blend. Now either you are an American or not. How can the identity of those children be stable without the acceptance? Sheldon Hackney found an answer for that:

After that discussion had been boiling along for a while, a young Latino activist was recognized, looked steadily around the big table, and said in a voice full of challenge, ‘I am not an American. There is nothing about me that is American. I don’t want to be American, and I have just as much right to be here as any of you.’ What an American thing to say– squarely in the great tradition of American dissent. He was affirming his American identity even as he was denying it.

Indeed, an American identity seems to be only a terminology, only a label that people want to stick to others. But human’s brain is so complicated that as individuals we do not need to decide who we are and which side are we picking up.

All those thoughts are getting closer to the conclusion that everything what we, as humans, took from home behaviour, has own explanation of how other sees us. For example, with Dominican Republic roots, boys can treat girls differently. That means, they can feel as superiors to girls and they will not treat them worse because of some world view but because of the home background and roots that stick to their parents and foreign culture they practiced. Oscar’s behaviour was part of upbringing and part of his foreign roots. On the other hand, when Oscar is going to university, kids are not seeing him as a Dominican and that means that barrier between typical American and immigrant might be broken. However, looking closer what those kids mean was the fact that the way he speaks and even moves is something they find very American.

In conclusion, it is very hard to say what American identity is. Oscar is a perfect example how, especially second generation children, feel when everyone wants to put a label like they were some product. Their history is impossible to change but looks like people do not like to change the future either. They cannot accept immigrant’s children as first originals who were raised bilingually but most of time they are and behave like Americans- they go to American schools, they have American friends. People should stop to categorise especially second generation who is lost between two worlds, who is trying to discover identity. Americans tried to figure out who they are as well, long time ago. It is very surprising to see that it (putting labels on people) still lasts, in a country so open and tolerant, that cannot accept such an important decision of individuals.


  1. Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt [film], dir. Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman (USA,1989) Girl interrupted [film], dir. James Mangold, (Columbia Pictures, Syrena EG, 2000)
  2. The Silence of the Lambs[film], dir Jonathan Demme, (Orion Pictures, 1991) Dan Wells, I Am Not a Serial Killer, (Tor Books, 2010)
  3. Dan Wells, I Don’t Want to Kill You, (Tor Books; Reissue edition,2013).
  4. Dan Wells, Mr. Monster, (Headline,2010)
  5. Jeff Lindsay, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, (Orion, 2005)
  6. Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, (Faber & Faber, 2009)
  7. Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, dir. Thomas Kail, 2015.
  8. Jiménez, Mónica Fernández, The Struggle for Identity and the Need for Documenting History in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Literary And Political Reviews, Literature, 2018, pp. 1-14
  9. Sheldon Hackney, The American Identity, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Winter, 1997), pp. 11-22 You [TV show], Netflix, 2018

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