America is often addressed as a melting pot of several cultures, cultures that are embraced and accepted by those of natural citizenship. The latter is a statement of fact, to a certain extent. It’s difficult for many people to identify themselves. If I was born in America does that mean I am solely American? In cases like this, people find themselves torn between two worlds and two cultures – the one they were born into and the one they were born from. This common struggle is reflected frequently in literature. The poem, ‘I am Joaquín’ by Rodolfo Gonzales, is a tribute of sorts to the way Mexican-Americans (and others of Latinx descent) have to constantly fight to embrace and reclaim their culture in America, and even within themselves. Similarly, the novel turned film ‘The Hate U Give’ written by Angie Thomas, follows the life of a young black women torn between her identity as a member of her African American community and as a student at her predominantly white Preparatory school. Both Gonzales and Thomas, from personal experience, tell stories that detail the journey of finding one’s identity in a ‘melting pot’ boiling with stereotypes and injustice.
The term ‘Chicano’ was used insultingly in the past, suggesting a Mexican-American person of lower status and culture. In ‘I am Joaquín’, Gonzales created Joaquín, the narrative voice of the epic poem, to tell the history of the cultures that formed his identity as a Chicano – he refers to himself as a toiling Indian, Spanish despot, Mexican, etc. In doing so, Gonzales started a revolution and gave his heritage the cultural manifestation it deserved. He gave Chicanismo a platform and more importantly, gave other Chicanos the knowledge of self-awareness and the inspiration to self-identify. Throughout the poem, the phrase “I am…” was repeated constantly and in doing so, confirmed Joaquín’s own identity and insinuated that he, and his ancestors and descendants yet to come, are one in the same. The tone of the poem starts angrily but ends on a hopeful note. This is because Joaquín starts to understand that Chicanos have been forced under oppressions since the beginning of time; and despite the best of efforts, it’s unfortunate that they are still/will continue to be seen as less than in America. Joaquín understands this, however, does not accept it. He, instead, is more determined than ever to fight for the recognition of Chicanos in America and for to continue to fight for equal rights. The publication of ‘I am Joaquín’ played a key role in kickstarting the Chicano movement in which Gonzales was a huge part of.
Just as Gonzales’s poem was an homage to Chicano culture, Thomas’s novel is a celebration of blackness in America. In ‘The Hate U Give’, Starr, the story’s main character, is a 16-year-old girl who witnesses the brutal police shooting of her childhood friend. After watching this injustice, and the events that followed it, first hand she is drawn into the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement. The novel speaks powerfully about the harmful and inescapable stereotypes and racism that African-Americans are subjected to, especially in regard to the heartbreaking death of innocent young black men. Race is central to the story told in ‘The Hate U Give’ in that, Starr struggles (like Joaquín) to find her identity. She fights a constant battle within herself, making sure she is not seen as “too black” or “ghetto” at her all white school and “too white” in her black neighborhood – she is never able to be her true self. Throughout the course of the novel, Starr learns to embrace both sides of herself and brings all aspects of her personality together. ‘The Hate U Give’ also addresses the way pervasive racism serves as an obstacle that prevents black people from acquiring justice. By the end of the novel, Starr understands to accept that the injustices the people of her community face will continue, but is not discouraged rather, is reinforced with the unwavering resolve to fight against it.
In both ‘I am Joaquín’ and ‘The Hate U Give’, we see two groups of minorities that are repressed and not given the same economic status or equal rights as other people in America – an unfortunate reality of the world we live in. Joaquín focuses on reclaiming respect for his heritage and Chicano culture. Starr and other characters in the novel, focus on obtaining justice not only for her friend but for all oppressed groups. Both artifacts reveal crucial experiences that oppressed cultures face in America. Both also uncover the remarkable way people come together to embrace and fight for their culture. ‘I am Joaquín’ and ‘The Hate U Give’ similarly illuminate one central message: enduring and surviving racially motivated adversity in society, but never at the cost sacrificing one’s identity.