Is Identity Innate?

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In Zitakala-Sa’s, American Indian Stories, she recounts the transition from her childhood on a Native American Reservation to a Christian boarding school. Zitakala-Sa remembers being initially excited about her move to the East, however, she soon realizes that the missionaries that ran the boarding school were slowly stripping away her identity as a Native American girl. The traumatic experience that brought Zitakala-Sa to this realization was when her long dark hair was chopped off. Zitakala-Sa felt captured and hopeless with the loss of her hair because her mother had taught her that captured warriors had their hair shingled by the enemy (90).  To the Indian girls, losing their hair was so much more than losing their beauty, it was losing their culture and their sense of home.

In the Keywords essay about identity, Karen Coats asks the question: is identity innate? Identity is especially important in children’s literature because customs, traditions, and superstitions are learned through childhood experiences (110). The missionaries strategically targeted Native American children with the goal of eliminating their cultural practices. Native American languages and cultural traditions were slowly stripped away because the children were unable to learn them and pass them on to the next generation. Missionaries stole so much history and took away Native American children’s identity in the process. According to the keywords essay on identity, postmodern critics believe that identity is provisional and fluid, and is more dependent on external forces than inner personalities. Identity is performed, which leads to an appearance of sameness that is a result of repetition of the same performances overtime (109-110). After reading American Indian Stories, I would have to agree with this interpretation of identity. Because the Native American children were no longer surrounded by their culture, they were no longer able to identify with it, and it was slowly taken away from them. The children were not able to express the identity of being a Native American after years of being away from home because it became foreign to them, and they slowly conformed to a predominantly white society.

In 2016, identity is also becoming less individual as everyone is able to express and share their values with millions of people through the internet. People are able to post their values for everyone to see, which causes many people, especially young girls, to conform. Girls are highly susceptible to conforming because of insecurities that the media puts upon them. As a girl it is much easier to go with the status quo than be an individual, and now social media is only heightening this phenomena because it is unavoidable.

4 thoughts on “Is Identity Innate?”

  1. Ashley, you make a very strong point. It is very interesting to see how one grows their identity. As a child, and even now, I was always told that I could be whoever I wanted to be, that I was in charge of who I would become. It is really sad to think that this was not and still is not the case for many people in our world. When thinking about identity, I always thought it was something that came from within… however, I am starting to understand that that is not really the case. Keywords brings up an interesting idea that, “more dependent on external forces than inner personalities.” After reading the books we have so far, I am amazed at the amount of truth this sentence brings. In so many of them, the girls are figuring who they are by learning off of the other people they are with, and the different roles they take on. For example, in “A Kaya Classic,” Kaya starts to ‘learn’ who she is by what others tell her who she is, or how they act with her. After receiving her nickname, she identifies as that and does not stop to think differently. Throughout the entire rest of the book, Kaya is trying to show others that she is not a “magpie,” but rather a strong girl who cares and respects others.

  2. If I may- I agree that identity is dependent on external forces, but that inner personalities have a very important role in developing as a person. Identity is not fluid, because it is scrutinized, doubted, and self-reflected for years. According to my Ed-Psych professor and my ELPA professor, it isn’t until we are in our early thirties that our identity becomes more concrete. Everyone has an identity, but not everyone has the patience to be mindful and figure out what it is. If one is raised in a Christian home per se, their identity is more likely to be in Christ due to the external forces of family, friends and community. On the other hand, if one was adopted, and they didn’t grow up in a Christian home but had strong Christian ties in their distant birth family, they may feel drawn to God or have the urge to believe he is real. This kind of example can be replicated with science, the urge for body modification (hair, piercings, tattoos), language, sports ect. Identity is complicated, but yes- Identity is innate. It’s just up to the owner to decide whether or not to dedicate the time to understanding themselves fully or superficially.

  3. This reminds me of a book I read for another class called “The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, which is a more modern example of a similar concept. In this story, Arnold (the main character, based on Alexie’s lived experiences) lives on an Indian reservation with a terrible school system. With the support of one of his teachers, he decides to switch schools to the neighboring all-white school so he could have access to a better education. He finds himself as an outsider in both of his contexts. On the reservation, he is looked down upon for leaving his people to go to school with white kids, and at school he is different because he is an Indian and lives in poverty. He goes through an identity crisis, unable to find a space where he can fit in and identify with the people around him. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about an example of an experience lived by a Native American in a more modern time.

  4. This post really moved me, as it is a topic that is close and dear to my heart. I moved from Hong Kong to study in a small town in Massachusetts as a 13-year-old without my parents. While a lot of my moral values take root in what my parents have instilled in me at a young age, change and assimilation to the new culture I was surrounded by was almost inevitable, especially at the age where one develops the most. While I’m not American by nationality, I now identify more with American values and am more comfortable with the American culture. Nonetheless, I still consider the many traditional Chinese values that I was preached to as a huge part of who I am now. This multiplicity and complexity of identity is what, in my opinion, makes identity fluid and adventitious.

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