The article by Kathleen Hall, “There is a Time to Act English and a Time to Act Indian: The Politics of Identity among British-Sikh Teenagers,” (1995) exposed me to the inherent hardships associated with the complex process of identity formation among the youth of multicultural societies. The children Kathleen Hall wrote about were raised in a social world far removed from their parent?s homeland. She explains how these children are pulled between two ways of life; they are pulled between two worlds that are separate and mutually exclusive (Hall, 1995, p.247).
Being a fourth generation American, I have never experienced the difficulty of assimilating to a foreign culture; however, I would argue that we have all experienced the hardships of adapting to contemporary social norms. A key element to identity is that it is a socially constructed category that remains fluid and changing. Individuals are able to play with various elements in their social and cultural repertoires in order to construct their identities. In order to illustrate the changing processes of social identity formation, I interviewed four girls from my sorority who were required to learn how to identify with the sorority even though their previous identities and cultures were distinctively different. As I look around our campus, I see numerous girls with the ensigma of a specific sorority attached to their shirts, and boys with that of their fraternity. In fact, I notice the same emblem on my own shirt. I question the purpose of such a symbol, but conclude that it is just a way to identify membership into the culture of Greek life in general, and the culture of our specific sorority in particular. There are many elements associated with being a member of a house. In our sorority, for example, we are required to attend chapter meetings, respect our older “sisters”‘, behave in a respectable manner, wear our pledge pin, learn about our house, and be proud to be a potential sister.
... would influence one's identity. Then, even beyond all these personal and social structures, societal opinions about gender, race, culture, ethnicity and nationality ... must have an impact on identity. Many attributes of ...
In addition, there are also many intangible characteristics and stereotypes, which also go along with our three letters. The reality is that most of the girls are middle class, white, and Jewish, who were raised in the New York City area. However, not everyone can be placed under this category. Therefore, it is logical to assume that those girls who don?t fit under the same umbrella of characteristics may experience the same confusion and hardships of the Sikh children who lived in Britain who were forced to experiment with various cultural and social elements to create their own identity. My friend Anne would assert the validity of this assumption. Anne is a first-generation Chinese American. She has lived in a world surrounded by people who looked physically different from her. Her neighborhood was primarily Caucasian, along with the boarding school she attended for the past 5 years of her life. Anne, from an early age, was socialized into the daily norms and culture of white Americans. Ironically coming to Cornell, with a very large Asian population, Anne explains that her first few days were a culture shock. She was never immersed in such an ethnically diverse community before in her life.
There were so many Asians surrounding her that she found it strange. Anne, however, sought friendship in this minority population because she had an automatic bond with the others in the group due to a common background. For the entire first semester Anne was entrapped in a world surrounded solely by the Asian culture. All of her social activities and friendships were direct results of her new association into this group. She began going to Church with her friends, going to all Asian parties, and even attended various cultural meetings on campus. Strangely, she wasn’t happy; she felt isolated and sought diversity. With the advice of her two older sisters who had experienced Greek life, they encouraged her to participate in “formal rush” to broaden her friendship base. The percentage of Asian Americans involved in Cornell Greek life is rather slim. When she explained her plans to her friends she was met with much opposition; they couldn’t understand why she was willing to betray their friendship in search of “white girls”. In truth, Anne didn’t know why either, but she followed through with her plans. Anne initially thought this experience would broaden her horizons, since she had been living a secluded life embedded in the Asian culture.
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She was seeking diversity no matter how hard it was going to be to obtain. Anne chose our house because she noticed distinctly different personalities in the girls she met. She said the girls made her feel very comfortable and welcome; a feeling she didn?t get from the other houses. Ironically, Anne realized soon that, in actuality, the sorority she had chosen did not fulfill her desire of diversity. As she looked around at the other seventy-four eyes of her pledge class she saw none like her own, and none covered with black skin. She told me that, “most of the girls shared the same background; actually, not only did they share the same background, but they were also from the same part of the country which made a huge difference.” (personal communication, March 8, 2000).
Anne felt extremely alone. She was just as much an outsider in this new group as the one she had just left. I asked Anne if she felt pressured to adopt the ways of the other girls, and if she noticed herself changing her own style in order to “fit in”. Her answer surprised me. She explained how all the girls have always seemingly accepted and respected her; however, she personally felt the need to change in order to feel more comfortable. Anne claimed that the most important aspect of feeling comfortable in your surroundings is having common ground with the people you associate with; therefore, if you are in the minority, you have to sacrifice some of your own personal norms and adopt the majority’s ways. She expressed the feeling of being caught between two worlds: one where she was supposed to identify with a bunch of Jewish girls who were culturally different from her, and a group of Asian girls who felt she had betrayed them. She lived a dual life, trying to please both social groups. Interestingly, I noticed Anne forming strong bonds with the other few girls in the sorority who were sharing this similar experience of feeling distance and unaccepted in the sorority since they looked physically different.
... from the juvenile and innocent perspective of a young girl. Considering that Anne was still young when her diary was created, most ... was to expose the falsehood of neo-Nazi and rightist groups in Europe and the United States” (Barnouw, qtd. in Mitgang ... World War. This diary was done when Anne was hiding in a safe house with her family and friends in 1942. As ...
I interviewed the other girls who didn’t quite fit the sorority’s generalizing characteristics: Rachel is Dominican, Dina is Persian, Elese is Protestant and they all had similar stories. Everyone emphasized how the pledging process has been very hard, due to lack of initial common identification factors. These girls, like all the others, sought Greek life in order to establish a sense of belonging and commonality with a group of people; however, due to racial and cultural characteristics of these four girls their initial experiences were tainted. Rachel’s ethnic roots from the Dominican Republic are displayed through her physical beauty. She has thick curly-brown hair and olive toned flesh that is supported on a pear-shaped frame. She lives a life immersed in her culture, prefers her native tongue when speaking, and sought romantic and casual relationships with those who shared her ethnic identity. Coming from a predominately Hispanic neighborhood in the inner city, she was shocked by her decision to join a predominately Jewish sorority with no other Spanish girls in the pledge class. The decision was especially hard considering that her culture was very much alive in her daily routine.
Rachel said the only basis for choosing this house was through brief meetings with the older sisters whom she really liked. She knew this was a superficial approach, since the girls she spoke with would not be the girls in her pledge class or the ones she would be living with the next year, but had no better indicator. She explained how it has been a real challenge for her to feel part of the group. Many times she felt like an outsider because so many of the girls had instantaneously formed strong bonds with each other or had already known each other; she felt alone. She has tried to maintain a positive attitude throughout, although there were times when she felt helpless and ready to give up because she wasn’t making the connection with the rest of the girls. Dina has a unique twist to her story. She is Persian and was raised in a home where women were taught to be submissive and modest. Most would have considered Dina to be one of the shyest of the group, and many associated this with her distinct Middle Eastern culture (since she never seemed thoroughly excited at our initial social events).
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However, I learned that this was just her personality and had nothing to do with her culture or religion. She was just naturally passive, and it would take her a while to acclimate to her new surroundings. She felt intimidated at first and closed herself in. This resulted in her first few weeks being very rough. Lastly, Elese explains the perfect example of how her religious identity was almost challenged. She told me a story about Ash Wednesday. She came to the house for dinner with a black mark on her forehead. As she walked throughout the house she got awkward glances, confused stares, and numerous questions. It was then that she realized the differences she had with the others — religious differences. However, she also realized that these differences were not inherently negative, as she explained the marks to her interested new friends. She realized that the confused looks were not out of disapproval, but rather interest. She remembers one of the older girls telling her at rush, ?In our house individuality and uniqueness is praised?; she was now able to understand the truth in these words.
Pledging is finally over, and I, along with all of the pledges, would admit that we have meshed into one social unit sharing a deep social bond. For these past ten weeks we have been forced to learn, accept, and socialize with every single girl in our house. There have been so many crucial events through which we have formed and sustained the social bonds that distinguish us as a group. Our sleepovers, candle-passing talks, the wearing of our common pledge shirts, our pin, sister bowling nights, having dinner together, and teaching each other initiation rituals have all enforced the bond we share with each other. The candle-passing ritual brought everyone closer after the first few weeks. During this activity the entire pledge class sat in one big dark circle and shared their deepest secrets. There was warmth and love in our circle. It was on this night that the boundaries of our membership were drawn. We laughed, we cried, and then we hugged for hours. From that point on nothing was the same; we gained a new respect for one another. We had formed one unit, separate from all ?outsiders? who were not present in the circle. However, initiation was the event that created the everlasting bond between us.
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All initial doubts about becoming a member of our sorority were erased on Sunday, April 2. As we, all thirty-eight, sang a song we had created on our feelings about pledging tear?s ran down everybody?s cheeks. On Saturday night we had been denied initiation. The bonds we had created were truly tested. It was amazing to see how the social identity we had formed together was sustained. We took this obsticle on together; we stayed up almost an enitre night making sure every girl knew exactly what she needed to know. Ironically, it was Anne, who motivated the rest of us. Anne wrote us all an email that night to ensure that no-one would give up. She wrote, ?I just wanted to thank all of you for making my weekend and semester. You guys definitely made pledging worth it. I think about how I felt at the beginning of the semester (basically I hated it) and I am surprised by what I feel now. I know I’m being really cheesy, but I know I can really count on you guys to be there when I need you the most. We can?t give up now guys; we are in way to deep. I love you guys!? (Hsu, 2000).
I don?t know if these emotions came about from the sleepovers or dinners, but they are obvious in all of our hearts. We have established a common ground, we are all sisters, and with this we have taken on a new common identity. The reality is that we all came from different social groups. Anne, Rachel, Dina, and Elese were the most vivid examples, but I would argue we all did. For example, I was the only Brooklyn girl with no close friends in our pledge class. Although we all came from different walks of life, we all are now able to proudly identify with the AEPhi emblem on our shirts, and that is just one of the threads that holds us together — forever.