Two Ways of Belonging in America is an essay written by Bharati Mukherjee and it is about the experience which she and her sister; Mira, had in the United States. They were both different than the rest of their family, but their lives in America were completely different from each other as well. While Mira chose to marry an Indian and remain her cultural identity, Bharati married an American-Canadian and embraced the American culture. All of this led to various difficult situation during the period of over three decades.
The story of two sisters of Indian heritage in America is related to Frederick’s conception of ethnic hierarchy. “A dominant group – conceiving itself as society’s charter membership – has claimed rights and privileges not to be fully shared with outsiders or “others”, who have been characterized as unfit or unready for equal rights and full citizenship” (Frederickson 634). Mira was not very concerned about this because her main goal was to return to India once she got retired, but Bharati was disappointed that she could not be an equal member of the American society. She did not want to be treated as an immigrant anymore and that was not possible because of the politics. They were both disappointed by the treatment in America because “the government officially turned against its immigrant communities, particularly those from South Asia” (Mukherjee 275).
Frederickson’s model is presented well in this case in a negative way because it is about racial and ethnical discrimination. “The sharpest and most consequential distinction was always between “white” and “nonwhite”. The first immigration law passed by Congress in 1970 specified that only white immigrants were eligible for naturalization” (Frederickson 634). Therefore, it is obvious that Indians were not white and came from a specific culture which was not Western. They had their cultural heritage which they respected and although they spoke English, their pronunciation was quite different than the American pronunciation of English. All of this led to a discrepancy between the immigrants who were legal and between the citizens who always had greater rights.
Both Mira and Bharati wanted to be respected while living in the United States and did not like the fact that the law changed which would affect their legal status. Bharati says: “I embraced the demotion from expatriate aristocrat to immigrant nobody, surrendering those thousands of years of “pure culture”, the saris, the delightfully accented English” (Mukherjee 274). Therefore, Bharati expected to be treated well in the American society and to be able to have all the rights, including the right to vote. Her goal was to become a naturalized citizen while Mira’s goal was to remain faithful to her own Indian cultural heritage while still being treated as equal to American citizens.
This story is about the system which is unjust and fosters discrimination. It is especially not just towards Bharati who married and American-Canadian and tried to adopt the American culture. She had to feel disappointed because she was not well accepted and her assimilation was not welcome. Both of the sisters remained to be treated as immigrants although they were legal. However, they thought that they deserved more than just that because of living for so many years in America.
Mukherjee, Bharati. "Two Ways to Belong in America." Away: The Indian Writer as an Expatriate. Ed. Amitava Kumar. New York: Routledge, 2003. 272-75. Print.
Fredrickson, George M. "Models of American Ethnic Relations: A Historical Perspective." Rereading America. Eds. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins, 2001. 632-644. Print.