¶ … pain when it comes to being different. In both Zora Neale Hurston's essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" and Richard Rodriguez's " Aria: Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood" the two writers discuss the differences they come upon that molded their principles and sentiments as they grew older. For Hurston hers was about being of a dissimilar race than her environment. For Rodriguez, his was about being different by communicating in another language. Both felt the effect it had on not just their lives, but also their thoughts as they matured into adulthood.
Rodriguez and Hurston viewed their differences as some sort of handicap. Each author imagined themselves in some way as being handicapped in life, of either not comprehending the language or not comprehending being of a different race. However, both authors found a way to overcome their personal struggles through turning these thoughts and struggles into growing experience that gave them awareness to generate an opinion and move on with life. Both Hurston and Rodriguez use the stories of their childhood to drive the central points of their essays.
Zora Neale Hurston's "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," consists of a series of remembrances of experiences she had being black and how being black came with a set of its own feelings and nuances. Although at times her color becomes ostensible when in a place, (she stands out of the crowd by being the only person of color) she has full confidence in herself. A good example of this is when she attended the school in Jacksonville. There, she becomes aware of her color, but this did not greatly impact how she reacted to it on a negative level.
When she is listening to the sounds of jazz music, she understands that being "colored" is not just what the color of her skin is, but the colors that are inside her and make her more animated, and more knowledgeable. She is not insipid. She has two sides to her: what she deems the wild or jungle inside herself and the approachable, welcoming aspect on the outside. She distinguishes that the past is what completed her, completed her wisdom, and allowed her to become more appreciative of things. And that being colored does not always designate someone racially but the colors that make up life in the soul.
For her, experiences were the colors that painted an individual. And although her experiences as a black female were what made her feel different from her white counterparts, she learned to overcome and deal with these differences through understanding the meaning behind being black and further being who she is. Many times writers like Hurston deal with obstacles or issues in life by flipping over or viewing at it from a different angle, a different lens. She saw how people may have viewed her, and then she saw how she viewed herself.
"BUT I AM NOT tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all but about it" (1).
She fought the perceived baggage that came from being colored and decided to paint her own picture from her own perspective. In doing so she liberated her feelings, her image, and her experiences from that of being a colored girl to being an individual. She grew and blossomed from learning that she was different instead of letting it bring her down like so many others around her did. In the beginning of the essay she mentioned how colored people acted around her: "The colored people gave no dimes. They deplored any joyful tendencies in me, but I was their Zora nevertheless" (1).
It's similar to how Rodriguez reacted in his experiences of being different. Like Hurston, Rodriguez tried to turn a perceptively negative situation or negative memories into forms of growth and wisdom. The experiences in their essays shaped them to be the wonderful writers they are seen as today. Rodriguez (which will be discussed later) showed it (discovery of differences) through language and Hurston showed it through music.
With the illustration of the music along with the man sitting next to her, the feelings she received from the music played showed the depth of sentiments and experiences she went through. It was not the same for the man sitting next to her as he was calm and unappreciative of the music and was not on the same level of depth as she was. The tone of the piece alters for Hurston with the comprehension of her mood and the confidence within herself. For the man, it was merely a piece of music he listens to, to relax.
Hurston goes on to explain the evolution of her experiences with jazz music. When she was young it was innocent, but when she elucidates how she had to go to school, it became more worrying. The jazz music became frantic and when it was playing it came with the realization of her place in the world of acceptance and the possible meaning behind it all. "He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored" (). This line explains the whole essay. That after the troubles of growing up being "different," she grasps it is not her skin but rather, her inner spirits that make her different and sprightlier and that it is not a bad thing after all.
In Richard Rodriguez's essay "Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood," he writes of his childhood and the experiences of being bilingual. Being bilingual for him impacted his opinion and perceptions on a lot of things, mainly on bilingual education. As a young child he was frightened and nervous while going to school because he was different in how he spoke. He could not comprehend English and therefore understood it as this frightening foreign language. He felt most relaxed at his home where he felt a linking with the accustomed sounds of Spanish that his family spoke. Hearing his parents communicate English to strangers, he could only notice the sounds. It was jarring to him and made him feel uncomfortable with English as means of communicating. As school continued, Ricardo was doing poorly. His nun teachers went to his home and invited his parents to speak English to him so he may become familiar with the language and do transversely do better in school.
After his parents began talking to him in English, Ricardo soon understood and spoke English. One day he answered a question correctly in class and everybody understood him. It gave him an immediate sense of accomplishment and connected to a whole other world. In Rodriguez's words: "Taken hold at last was the belief, the calming assurance that I belonged in public" (333), but the consequence of this was he began to feel detached with his family. His parents spoke little English so the relationship and communication in the family lessened and later on, they spoke no language at all.
It began with his parents' view of Americans and "gringos." They separated themselves from the gringo world and their own world in their home through language. When they had to go to offices and discuss things in English, they tried their best to communicate what they needed to, but only truly were able to be themselves when talking at home in Spanish. This separation through language is what made it difficult for Rodriguez to feel the same as his peers. While his peers spoke the same languages at home, he had to try to understand both languages and the meanings that came from them.
He discusses this separation in detail on page 331. "Outside the house was public society; inside the house was private. Just opening or closing the screen door behind me was an important experience." Before he became familiar with English, the world when he stepped out of his home felt foreign to him. Furthermore, the language of the "gringos" and the way the whites looked at him made him feel more like a foreigner than anything else. So when he learned English and the dynamic changed from feeling home at home to feeling aloof, that was difficult for him to process.
But like Hurston, his experiences although at first made him feel different, made him feel separation, it also matured him and allowed him to realize who he truly was and is, who his parents were, and what it was like to grow up bilingual. As Rodriguez grew older, he understood it was not about learning English or Spanish. It was about understanding the unique tones that generated from the languages…
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