A person’s identity is a topic of concern in many disciplines including education. Besides, personal identity formation is a vital developmental task that starts in childhood and continues throughout a person’s adult life. Consequently, one’s identity is not static. My identity has been shaped by my background as a minority in the U.S. However, the U.S. culture has also played a huge role in my identity formation. I would therefore identify myself as being bicultural and a believer in biculturalism.
According to Schwartz and Unger, biculturalism represents proficiency and comfort with both one’s traditional culture and the culture of the nation or region in which one has settled (26). However, the focus of this paper is not my identity. Rather, the paper seeks to trace the identity of a Chinese born American and how the environment has helped to shape her identity. While the home environment has played a part in my interviewee’s identity formation process, the school and peers have had the greatest influence on my subject’s identity.
Description of the Interviewee and Analysis
My interviewee is a 25 year old female American born Chinese. The interview revealed that my subject has vast knowledge of who she is. This is reflected in the varied terms she used to describe identity. Apart from referring to herself as an American born Chinese, she stated that she is part of the middle economic class in the U.S.
The identity experiences of my interviewee have been shaped by several factors. Apart from home experiences, the school, and peers have helped to shape my interviewees identity as an American born Chinese. Her experience as American born explains why my interview considers English to be her first language as opposed to Chinese. However, the interviewee’s educational experiences heavily influenced her identity development.
The school environment made my interviewee realize her identity as an American born Chinese. She informed me that as she made new friends at school, they would ask each other about their racial background. From this experience, she realized that she was different from most of her friends. While she was born in the U.S., most of her friends at school had migrated with their parents because of work related issues: this was mostly true of her Korean school mates. She also stated that unlike her teachers, her peers have heavily influenced the process of her identity formation. For example, she enjoys American holidays such as Christmas because they are celebrated by most of her friends. She celebrates traditional American holidays as a way of avoiding judgment from her friends.
In addition to the school environment and her peers, the identity of my interviewee has been greatly influenced by her parents.
Communicating to her in Chinese is one way through which her parents have affected the identity formation process of my interviewee. When asked about the influence of her parents on her identity, she answered that “Yes because they speak Chinese to me at home.” Through this influence, the interviewee has started learning the Chinese language. Before, she could only communicate in English. As she grows, she realizes that knowledge of Chinese is vital if she is to communicate with her relatives. Consequently, my interviewee has been compelled to practice code switching at home. According to Hornberger, and McKay, code switching entails the use of two or more languages in the same speech situation (116). In this case, my interviewee switches between English and Chinese as she attempts to gain proficiency in the Chinese language. Besides, her parents continue to influence the type of holidays she celebrates. The parents use financial incentives as a means of encouraging her to start celebrating Chinese holidays. Whenever there is a Chinese holiday, the interviewee explains how her parents give her red envelopes with money to purchase whatever she desires.
The experience of my interviewee mirrors what I have undergone through in the process of my identity formation. Like my interviewee, the environment and my minority background have shaped my identity. At one time, I strongly identified with my home culture and did not know how to communicate in English. However, with time and the interaction with the school and friends, I slowly learned how to write and communicate in English.
From the interviewee’s experience, I have taken away the fact that the things people accept as comprising personal identity vary. From her experience, I have learned that personal identity entails the attributes of an individual. Apart from beinf physical, the attributes may also include membership to specific social categories. Besides, I have learned that they must be attributes of the individual that one is aware of, and which differentiate the person from others. For example, my interviewee realized at school that her Chinese background differentiated her from her peers with Korean backgrounds.
The interviewee’s experience also relates to the theories discussed in class. According to Kellog and Lidell, models like those proposed by Root in 1990 and Rockquemore and Brunsma in 2002 perceived multiracial identity as being a fluid process happening throughout the lifespan (525). Evidence of identity happening throughout the lifespan of a person is present in the answers given by my interviewee. When asked if peers and teachers influence her identity, she responded that “it is mostly my friends and other classmates because they’re the ones who judge you.” Consequently, looking for acceptance and approval from her peers is one way through which the ecological theory of identity formation has been reflected in the experiences of my interviewee.
My understanding of the process of identity development has been reinforced by this experience. From when I started school, I have always been taught that the environment plays a large role in what one becomes. However, I have never had the time to prove the assertions that the environment heavily influences identity formation. Interviewing the American born Chinese has given me the opportunity to practically experience the influence of the environment on the process of identity formation. The greatest lesson from this interviewee has been that peers heavily influence the process of identity formation.
Summary and Conclusion
There are several different ways that an individual may describe their personal identity. These many varied ways are a reflection of how one’s identity is affected by several factors. Besides, I have learned that a person’s identity cannot be static: it changes as a person interacts with the different agents of socialization. For example, peers may influence one to like and even celebrate American holidays. However, parents may again use their coercive and persuasive power to influence a person to start liking their traditional holidays.
Hornberger, Nancy., and McKay, Sandra. (Eds.). New Perspectives on Language and Education. Multilingual Matters, 2011.
Kellog, Angela., and Lidell, Debora. “Not Half Double”: Exploring Critical Incidents in the Racial Identity of Multiracial College Students.” Journal of College Student Development, vol. 53, no. 4, 2012, pp. 524-541.
Schwartz, Seth., and Unger, Jennifer. “Biculturalism and Context: What is Biculturalism, and When is it Adaptive? Human Development, vol. 53, 2010, pp. 26-32.