Private and Public Identity Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Clash of Identities

Is a private identity a curse or a blessing? Is it necessary or valid to hide who you really are? According to "Aria: Memoir of a bilingual childhood" by Richard Rodriguez and "How it feels to be colored me" by Zora Hurston, creating a private identity and leaving your public identity behind, may be necessary, especially living, growing or entering an environment where it is not that accepting to cultural differences, there is probably not other culture during these times such as the exchange students from the Islam culture from the Azerbaijan State that can relate. "You need to study abroad! In the United States!" are two sentences many high school seniors, that do not live in the United States, hear from their mothers, fathers and counselors. There is a current obsession for children to get educated in the United States. The Azerbaijan State has gone as far as to allocate 55 million dollars for youth education abroad. Where the State sends children abroad, mostly to the United States, for a better education (Ismayilov). When students study abroad, they may seek the same sort of familiarity, congregating with other students from home. In these social circles, they can talk in their native language, tell jokes others won't understand, play music others may not enjoy. Importantly, there is no need for anyone, in this small replica of home, to hide their private life. But many of the Islamic students from the Azerbaijan State who are studying abroad are not lucky enough to find familiarity due to their religion. Because Muslims are looked at as terrorist, they may have trouble fitting in with the new group of people and therefore may choose to present themselves as something they are not. They may choose to abandon their past cultures and societies and embrace the one they are currently in. Which in terms of identity means, that they may choose to leave their cultures, ancestors, societies and their private identities behind, and allow the creation of a new identity, a public identity, that is approved by the current society they live in. Considering all of this, is it really beneficial to leave your private identity behind? Or is it beneficial to protect your private identity in a foreign country? For the Islamic culture, in another country that has high tolerance fort racism. With that said, in this essay, it will focus on how private identity was a blessing for Zora Hurston and a curse for Richard Rodriguez.

What are Public and Private Identity?

So, what is the difference between the public identity and a private identity? The public identity is known as the cover up and some would probably go so far to say the fake identity because you have to lose who you are to become who you are not, which is to fit in. The private identity is who the person really is supposed to be especially when it comes down to race and culture. In this case it is the Muslim exchange students that feel as though they have to hide their private identity because of the racism, bigotry and hate crimes against their culture.

In many social contexts having a private identity, being different from everyone else, is advantageous. This is especially true in societies that encourage embracing diversity. The official "policy" is that everyone is encouraged to celebrate his or her heritage and to respect and value those of others. In that respect, private identity is a positive thing that allows people to maintain a connection to their ancestors and to their heritage. However, a private identity can also be a curse in other circumstances, for example, when we are not fortunate enough to live in a society in which cultural, ethnic, racial, and national heritages are all equally valuable and equally deserving of respect, dignity, and equal treatment in society. A private identity is not something we choose; it is something we are born to. A private identity that denies the members of that minority to the same rights and privileges and benefits as those enjoyed by the members of the majority is more of a curse than a blessing.

Rodriguez world…Blessing or curse?

It appears that Rodriguez did not take too kindly to his private identity and in his eyes, it was more of a jinx than a godsend. Rodriguez offers a firsthand account of another painful aspect of private identity in the lives of minority members of the American society. In his essay "Aria: Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood," he provides views of private identity in an entirely different contexts in which Rodriguez's private identity comes from his ethnicity whereas Hurston's private identity came from her race. Hurston talks about the racism and the limitations she came across and how she overcame them without losing her private identity, Rodriguez recounts an entirely different type of experience, one in which he was explains to the reader that even though the process of allowing the formation of a public identity is hard it is something that is necessary to have success in the future.

Specifically, Rodriguez describes the two very different worlds he lived in as a child: one was the outside world where he spoke English; the other was the private inside world of his family home where he and his family spoke Spanish. Much like Hurston, Rodriguez never actually chose his private identity; rather, he was born into it. He was from a Mexican family with limited command of the English language, and that was it.

Rodriguez does not choose to embrace his private identity and in result is "assimilated into public society."(508) In Rodriguez's case it is not a matter of whether or not he is willing to give up his private identity, because he is forced to give up his private identity toward the long-term goal of gaining a more valuable public identity. He writes that his family was also forced to learn the English language and therefore started to lose their individuality. He states that his "family gathered together to practice English" (505). The practice of English meant the slow demise of their private identities that had, until then, linked them firmly to their Mexican roots. His family was terrified, uncomfortable even, when challenged with the English language and the loud "gringos" who were speaking in it well.

They effectively disassociated themselves from the culture they had forced their family into. Yes, Rodriguez had a lot of incentive lose faith in his private identity, but so did Hurston. As she puts it "Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of a slave" (160). Unlike Rodriguez, Hurston did not give in to the pressure for her to embrace to a public identity, instead; she stood by her African-American roots. Hurston's contradictory experience to Rodriguez's raises the thought that maybe the choosing of a public or a private identity is not because of pressure, but maybe because of something else.

Zora gets her Blessing

When it comes to private identity, it can be a blessing if the person can overcome the obstacles such as in the case of, Zora Neal Hurston illustrates exactly that point in her essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me." Hurston remembers what she referred to as "the very day that I became colored"(159), revealing that she had never previously really even thought about her racial identity or considered herself to be different from other little girls. She describes herself as having been just "a Zora" until she arrived in Jacksonville, Florida, where she discovered that Zora was "no more"(160); instead, Hurston had discovered that she was "now a little colored girl,"(160) based purely on the identity that other people forced on her without any opportunity for her to show them her private identity. She writes that she "found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown -- warranted not to rub nor run."(160) This is the realization by Hurston that she would now always be perceived and defined by others as an African-American and that nothing she could do or achieve of any merit or value could change the fundamental way she was defined by society. But even though Hurston was under pressure, and could have easily chosen to accept a public identity that would have been approved by the society she lived in, she choose not to. In Hurston's words "No I do not weep at the world- I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife."(160) this is the representation of how strongly and aggressively Hurston fought to preserve her private identity, and a representation of why she ended up with a victory in this fight.

Hurston writes in disappointment about the fact that other African-Americans, of the time, typically accepted the negative assumptions about their race by doing whatever they could to deny it as much as possible. "I am the only Negro in the United States…

Cite This Essay:

"Private And Public Identity" (2014, April 29) Retrieved August 19, 2017, from

"Private And Public Identity" 29 April 2014. Web.19 August. 2017. <>

"Private And Public Identity", 29 April 2014, Accessed.19 August. 2017,