In the United States of America, race and ethnicity are two dichotomies which are used to categorize people. However, ethnic and racial identities are two interconnected concepts. It is not actually possible to explain racial identity without mentioning ethnic identity. These two ideas are complementary. The way an individual perceives him/her self ethnically shapes how they look upon themselves through the racial perceptions; besides, it will influence how the external world regards these individuals. I am a Chinese woman. I am a Hispanic woman. I am a Jewish woman. These are common statements different women use while expressing their ethnic and racial identity. This reflective essay, therefore, aims at articulating the experiences of a Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic woman living in the United States of America.
While growing up as a Jewish girl, I rarely felt privileged or oppressed as a result of my identity until I reflected on the true meaning of these terms. Equity was a principle of my household when I was growing up. My mother and father had divided tasks befitting one’s ability; therefore, privilege or oppression was not inculcated me. However, after reflecting on the meaning of privilege and oppression, I realized I had encountered both of them as a Jewish woman living in the U.S. I am a member of the Jewish Reform Movement, which advocates for rights of women in all aspects of life. A few weeks ago I shared how I lead service after receiving my tallit with a Chinese woman, and she was struck by the reality that I am allowed to lead service in my religion. Her amazement made me feel a privileged Jewish woman considering that in Chinese Orthodox Church she cannot be allowed near the altar. Similarly, I also experienced oppression when I attempted to join Sea Scout. During my schooling days I was an adherent of the Girl Scout, so after school, I heard of Sea Scout which was with the concern with mariner skills. Since I had a passion for water linked activities, I thought Sea Scout was an ideal place for me. Nevertheless, I was told female are not allowed to join because they are not suitable for marine activities. Therefore, as a Jewish woman, I feel appreciated by my community but segregated by systems and organizations that are male-dominated. Besides, Jews are held with a lot of respect today in the U.S thus making my experience unique.
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As a Chinese woman who is born and brought up in New York City, I feel autonomous and fulfilled. The reason for this feeling and experience is that I am not constrained by the traditional subordination of women in Chinese culture. Besides, I a born and raised in the U.S hence I enjoy all the political rights just as an indigenous American. While growing up in New York, I was acculturated through the church, public school, and the modern culture. Therefore, as a Chinese woman who is born and nurtured in America, I feel strong opposition to the traditional Chinese subordination of women as well as any other form of discrimination due to my racial and ethnic identity.
As a Hispanic woman who was born in Spain and grew up in America, I feel both bicultural and bilingual. I write and speak both Spanish and English with equal proficiency. However, to some American think that I not Hispanic per se since I was born in Spain. Conversely, Latinos believe that I am not Hispanic enough for the same reason. As a consequence of this, I feel my ethnic and racial identity is confusing and in constant change depending on whether I am in Spain or America. Nevertheless, as a Hispanic woman, I feel the need to assert my Latino identity through my ability to dance Latino songs and use of Spanish language. This decision is inspired by the fact that my father is from Spain and therefore I have a right to Hispanic identity.
Following the three experiences narrated it is explicit that the British ideals significantly influenced Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic women. In traditional cultures of the three ethnic communities, women had distinct roles which limited them to remain within the household. Women were inferior to men, and as such, they were not supposed to work external of the home. However, British ideals have revolutionized the place of women in the traditional Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic communities. As a result, women have eventually acquired public status as opposed to the traditional subordinate status they had. While Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic men worked as farm laborers, house servants, and in manufacturing factories, women started to work as domestic maids and in food and garment processing factories. Although the majority of these women lacked adequate communication skills to enable them to move to well-paying jobs, working outside their homes offered these women economic opportunities.
Similarly, working outside home allowed women from these communities to form and join church and community organizations thus gaining a stronger voice. Education and the emergence of the Second World War opened allowed women from minorities such Jews, Chinese, and Hispanics to enlarge their public participation as well as their social-economic status. Women from these minority groups were involved in Red-cross, defending of factories, spreading of propaganda, and in military service. Though women from these communities continue to face challenges, they encounter minimal discrimination today due to the improved diplomatic friendship between American and countries such as Israel, China, as well as Spain and Latin American countries. Consequently, it is evident that women from the minor ethnic communities continue to make progressive expansion in areas such as education, politics, economics, religious, and family life.
The responsibilities of women from Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic communities are fundamentally different from those of the Native Americans. For the Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic, women were supposed to remain at home taking care of the household. However, for Native American women were warriors, builders, craftswomen, and farmers. They were not limited within the household as compared to their counterpart in Chinese, Jewish, and Hispanic communities. In Native American communities, women were responsible for collecting and building houses for their families. They designed, constructed and maintained the houses within these Native American communities. Women were, therefore, known as co-workers with men, a source of life and providers of strength to build the communities. Besides, women in the Native American communities often assisted their men to hunt and gather food for their families. Once animals were hunted, they were responsible for slaughtering the animal and cooking for their families. They also made clothes and shoes for their families. It is thus evident that responsibilities of women in the Native American tribes were entirely different from those of women from Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic communities.
Ethnic and racial identities are complex concepts because they are dependent on numerous aspects. This reflective essay has, however, narrated the experience of three women from Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic communities. Each experience manifests a unique feeling of each woman within her ethnic and racial identity. Besides, the essay illustrates how the British ideals impact the experiences given. It further demonstrates how these ideals brought transformation to the traditional conception of women. Moreover, the essay has contrasted the responsibilities of women in the Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic communities to those of women in the Native American tribes. The contrast has indicated that their responsibilities are entirely distinct.
- DuBois, Ellen Carol, and Lynn Dumenil. 2016. Through women’s eyes: an American history with documents.
- Barker-Benfield, Graham John. 1998. Portraits of American women: from settlement to the present. New York: Oxford University Press.