“Two Ways to Belong in America”-Bharati Mukherjee

The final selection of our class blog is, as many of you have noticed, quite different from our previous readings. Unlike Lederer’s “All-American Dialects”, Baldwin’s “Black English”, and Tan’s “Mother Tongue”, Mukherjee does not explicitly discuss differences in our languages, dialects, or speech communities within American society. Instead, she shares a personal essay about her experience migrating to another country and how it differed from her sister, Mira’s experience. If one read this essay without having studied speech communities, as our class has, he/she probably wouldn’t have made any connection to speech communities. To be honest, at first, I didn’t either, until I recognized the implications of the differing speech communities Bharati and Mira decided to join upon their arrival in America.

Mukherjee(Bharati) explains in India she and Mira were “almost identical in appearance and attitude”. However, in America, Bharati chose to marry outside of her ethnic community, and therefore entered into an entirely different speech community from her sister Mira, who married her ethnic equal and maintained her membership within her Indian culture’s speech community. Because Mira decided to preserve her Indian heritage and lifestyle, she did not desire to become assimilated into American society, but instead wanted to maintain her own identity as an Indian immigrant working in America. Mira did not welcome the new legislation that encouraged legal immigrants to become American citizens like Bharati did. The sisters found themselves viewing their new life through the eyes of  two completely different speech communities. Mukherjee writes “Mira’s voice, I realize, is the voice not just of the immigrant South Asian community but of an immigrant community of the millions who have stayed rooted in one job, one city, one house, one ancestral culture, one cuisine, for the entirety of their productive years”.

Through this selection I’ve learned how much of an impact a speech community can have on one’s identity, not only through language, dialects, and social connections but from ethnicity, culture, lifestyle, and politics. I’ve also gained a new appreciation for diverse cultures from the perspective of immigrants. There’s been a long-standing argument about the “melting pot” versus “tossed salad” debate. Should we encourage immigrants to assimilate to American culture or welcome diversity? I’ve gotten in arguments with my mom several times about this issue. She believes English should be declared America’s “official” language and anyone who chooses to live here needs to learn English rather than try to teach their own language. Although I agree it’d make communication easier if everyone learned English, I welcome the diversity of different languages and want to become fluently bilingual at some point in my life. I understand the perspectives of both Bharati and Mira and appreciate Mukherjee’s essay for expressing both sides of the issue from two completely different speech communities.


21 thoughts on ““Two Ways to Belong in America”-Bharati Mukherjee

  1. “Mira’s voice, I realize, is the voice not just of the immigrant South Asian community but of an immigrant community of the millions who have stayed rooted in one job, one city, one house, one ancestral culture, one cuisine, for the entirety of their productive years.” That right there shows how stepping into different social and racial groups will cause diversity and even within the same groups new speech communities can arise. As Mira who married an Indian boy she stuck to the culture and morals of her family. I think only recently in the past 20 years has a change for interracial relationships which intermingles the couples past family values, dialect, and speech communities which makes America able to have such great diversity and variety in the world of literacy and speech.

  2. I think it is neat that this reading pertains to diversity and ethnicity because it ties in with a business lecture I just had today. Without diversity there is no learning new things. Every person brings a new thought or idea in no matter what. When the thought or idea comes from different places, such as a different country, it allows everyone to expand on that new thought or idea and grow from it. Although it is hard to tie in speech communities to this example it makes me realize that Bharati welcomed a new “speech community” into her life when she married out of her ethnicity. As people would say, she “stepped out of the box” and did not let her speech community she grew up with her whole life determine who she would spend her whole life with. Bharati and her significant other now have formed a speech community of their own.

  3. I think it’s interesting that by reading this I now realize that changes in speech communities can occur so suddenly and drastically. Bharati and Mira started out in the same speech community with their family but when they moved to America they became part of a totally different speech community. Then their speech communities separated again when they both got married. Marrying another Indian and then a Canadian-American causes great separation of speech. In turn, this creates much diversity that has an effect on multiple countries. I completely agree with you that a speech community can have an incredibly profound impact on a person’s identity.

  4. I like how you made clear the differences between this article and the ones we have done in the past. I too learned how much of an impact a speech community can have on one’s identity in almost every aspect. It is important to welcome the diversity of other cultures and languages into our country, though not always convenient, it’s what makes America thrive. I think that there is a balance between the girl’s way of living, that you can be an American citizen and still keep your heritage, there doesn’t always have to be two extremes.

  5. I think that it is really interested that she did not want to become assimilated with the culture of the us but she did want to marry outside of her country. I think if you are from another country you always want to keep some memory of the place you are from. Also combining them with what you have grown with, is a hard task. There are so many different cultures and experiences that happen that influence you for the good or bad, you have to balance all of them and how they effect you.

  6. I found it really neat how you were able to compare not only yourself or our class into this response, but even the pieces of literature that we read in and out of the class as well. While it was not quite a comparison of their similarities, you took a different approach and compared their differences. I think that’s a bold thing to do because it isn’t always easy to accomplish, but you definitely did. I felt like I didn’t even need to have read the reading because you went into such detail that it provided me with all of the information I needed. Overall, very in depth and informative.

  7. I love how in the first paragraph you pointed out that Bharati’s essay is different than any we have read in the past. While reading the essay I didn’t even think about it like that, but you’re so right. I really enjoyed how personal and relatable this essay was. I think we can all relate to Mukherjee and Mira in a way. We all had a certain dialect and speech community we were apart of growing up. By moving from our hometown to college, whether we realize it or not, our speech communities have changed. We are no longer in the comfort of our own home or friend group and that causes us to change our dialect and speech community to communicate with all of the new people we meet in college. Eventually, we will all create our own speech community here. Although it is nowhere near as drastic as Mira and Mukherjee’s experience, we all know what its like leaving our home and starting an entire new life with a new speech community somewhere else.

  8. The speech community is not only characterizing your speech habits. It is the community that you live in. Speaking is only part of the community. You are considered part of the community if you share the same speech habits as the rest of the community, but you most likely also share other similar qualities. In many cases speech communities are similar geographically, ethnically, racially, politically, and even culturally. Speaking the same as the rest of the community is only one of the differences that set you apart from others.

  9. I really enjoyed your post and also find it interesting that two sisters who came from the same place, have the same culture, and lived by the same guidelines for so long could become so different just by taking different approaches to life by coming to America. But I guess that’s why people say this is the land of possibilities where anything can happen. They each joined separate communities that they thought would fit them, and even though they are different, I’m sure both sisters are happy and living the way they want.

  10. It would be such a change if I were to be born in another country and then come to America. I think it is interesting that Mira wanted to preserve her Indian heritage. She did not want to change and that is why she married another Indian. I also think that it is interesting how two sisters could be so different just by the choices they make. I actually agree that English should be declared Americas official language. It would make life here a lot easier for everyone. If everyone were required to learn English, including immigrants, people would get by so much easier.

  11. I agree with you, in that “I’ve learned how much of an impact a speech community can have on one’s identity, not only through language, dialects, and social connections but from ethnicity, culture, lifestyle, and politics.” I couldn’t say it better. I like what you wrote, because I too can relate to Mukherjee and Mira. As everyone knows by now I moved to the United States from South Africa and now I’ve taken a look at how me and my sister reacted to the move. In a way, I tried to keep as much of my “South African” as possible, where on the other hand my sister, “Americanized” herself.

  12. I can definitely relate to Mukherjee because me and my brother have had a similar experience. We both moved here in 1999 with my parents and we were alike as we could be. However, when we came here my brother began to develop his own network of friends which didn’t include me. It hurt me when I was younger because we were so distant but when I started school I developed my own network of friends too. During those couple of years, me and my brother didn’t get along at all because of our different groups of friends and different ways of living. It wasn’t until a few years ago we’d finally bridged the gap and realized we weren’t so different after all. All though we belonged to different speech communities outside of our family, we were still family and we shared our very our speech community.

  13. I really liked your blog about this work and think it really captured what she was trying to relay to us. I found very interesting when you said, “Mira decided to preserve her Indian heritage and lifestyle, she did not desire to become assimilated into American society, but instead wanted to maintain her own identity as an Indian immigrant working in America.” The fact that she did not want to fully take on our culture and keep her roots was really cool to see. I found it kind of admirable that she did not want to forget where she came from but still embraced our culture.

  14. I really enjoyed this article also because it relates to me a lot. I have a black dad and a white mom, and in the time they first met and got married these things weren’t happening that much. My moms mom did not approve of my dad and didn’t think things would work but my parents did not care and proceeded to get married and have lived happily together for 24 years now. The assimilation of the African culture and Caucasian culture in these times were minimal yet groundbreaking and I feel like it is very weird for people who want to stay strictly to their roots. I feel like it shouldn’t matter who you marry or what your trying to do but you just have to live your life how you want.

  15. Its really interesting that the two sisters had very different views on being in America. While Mira refrained from anything besides her original culture, Bharati embraced the different culture. It must have been hard for the sisters to have such opposite views. I am not sure what I would do if I moved to a different country.

  16. Mukherjee’s writing was definitely an interesting story to say the least. You made a good point when you described how they both chose to live different lives when coming to America. Bharati saw this a new experience and a fresh start to become whoever she wanted to be, and Mira decided that she didn’t want to change anything about her heritage and culture and that she thrived with her kind of people whom she was most comfortable with. I can honestly relate to this story through the eyes of my dad. He is the only one within his family who decided to leave Great Britain and come to America for new experiences and different opportunities. He, unlike his family, grew tired of England and didn’t like what it had to offer, so he came here and has grown as a man and still resides here to this day. His family stuck to what they knew and what was comfortable to them, and my dad took a giant leap of faith to experience America. Well done writing your blog!

  17. I loved how this reading showed the clear, major differences in two speech communities. Although the sisters both came from the same country, they grew to have two completely different lifestyles.
    I think it’s great how diverse Amerca is. Yes, it would be easier to have English be the sole language of the United States, but it’s all the different people that make America so great. And they should be able to keep parts of their old lives with them.

  18. I liked how you compared the difference in the two speech communities. The way that Bharati saw an opportunity and went after it despite the traditional ways of how her family worked. I can relate to this because I am the first person in my family to go to college. Everyone in my family went straight into the workforce or military after high school. My father worked his way up to where he is and raised to me work hard for what I have. I have been doing so but he also gave me the option to just go straight into the work force instead of college. I saw the opportunity to go to college even though nobody in my family has done so and I ran with it.

  19. I found that you had powerful points and strong comparisons. You showed and gave light to the differences between these two speech communities. I also find it interesting that Mira decided to hold onto her heritage and what not. In a way we can all relate, we all had our own individual speech communities growing up; however, now that we are in college we are surrounded and apart of a whole new world of speech communities. Well done, I enjoyed your response.

  20. Your piece had many comparisons and strong rationalizations that revealed the differences between the two speech communities. I really enjoyed the way the author split her life with her sister’s life growing up. I could portray a comparison between me and my brother because we are in the same situation as she was. My speech community was always a lot more laid back and lazy whilst my brother’s crowd constantly studied and never went out. Even though this comparison of speech communities doesn’t thoroughly reveal the true differences while growing up between my brother and I, I think that the importance in where one grows up and how their lives are shaped by speech communities can be seen in all our lives.

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