A person’s identity has many facets, and it develops over time. For example, one’s interests, personality, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, politics, and nationality all influence one’s identity. In certain contexts, particular aspects of one’s identity may be more prominent, while in other situations, people may feel pressure to hide parts of who they are. Experiences shape one’s identity, and identity inevitably shapes one’s experiences. This audio story collection focuses on individuals who feel conflict among aspects of their identities. They may be torn between who they are and who others want them to be. Ultimately, by embracing their own personal stories and the complexity of their identities, these figures ultimately come to accept themselves for who they are and make deliberate choices about who they want to be.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of Arnold Spirit, a young Native American who leaves the reservation to get a better education. In this semi-autobiographical book, author Sherman Alexie discusses big issues including choosing your identity, figuring out where you belong and the hardships American Indians face living on reservations.
Sandra Cisneros writes about working class Latino life in America and has won many awards for her writing. She is best known for her book, The House on Mango Street. The themes in her writing include the meaning of home, belonging, crossing boundaries and cultural expectations of women. Her new memoir, A House of my Own, describes how her own life also reflects these themes. In this interview, she talks about being connected to Mexico and to the United States, and how she hopes to be an ambassador passing between the two cultures. Furthermore, she works to honor the women in her family while also being an independent woman and breaking some cultural traditions. Listen to hear more about how Sandra Cisneros has created a house of her own.
Jacqueline Woodson’s free verse memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the National Book Award in 2014. Woodson has published 30 books and won three Newbery Honor Medals. This book explores different perspectives in a desegregating America. In this interview, Woodson talks about her experience of segregation of race and religion, and how her experiences are often similar to students who she talks with today. She talks about the need for more diverse literature in schools, along with her book being appropriate for a wider audience-- not only brown students. Listen to hear her discuss how she integrates her personal experiences into her writing.
Children of immigrants can often feel like they’re never completely accepted either in their adopted home country or their parents’ country of origin. The author Jhumpa Lahiri was born to Indian parents in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is an author of many books, including "The Namesake" and "The Interpreter of Maladies." But she says she’s struggled to feel like she belonged in America. Mixed feelings about identity form a central theme in her work. Listen to hear how Jhumpa Lahiri has dealt with the difficulties of immigration and the struggles of tradition and how these themes have influenced her writing.
Angie Thomas’ novel, The Hate U Give, tells the story of Starr, a young woman of color, who turns toward activism after witnessing the murder of her friend Khalil by a police officer when she is 16 years old. The novel is closely modeled after Thomas’ experiences as a student, and on the stories of several of the young men who have been victims of racialized police violence in recent years. Listen to this audio story to hear the author talk about what inspired her to write this groundbreaking novel.
Eddie Huang is an American chef, lawyer, and author. Both of Huang’s parents are Taiwanese immigrants. Huang’s father ran a number of restaurants when Huang was growing up, where Huang would often work after school. As an adult, Huang visited China to reconnect with his roots, and, while there, he cooked and served food to locals. Following this trip, Huang wrote his second memoir, Double Cup Love (his first, Fresh Off the Boat, was turned into a popular television series). Listen to learn more about why Huang went to China, what he learned while there, and how he views the connection between food, culture, and identity.
While the names of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other civil rights activists may be familiar to many Americans, there are likely others who are lesser known. Bayard Rustin was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin explained in interviews how his sense of identity was connected to his fight for social justice. Listen to this story to learn about how Rustin’s identity as a gay man and his identity as a Black civil rights activist intersected in ways that had significant impact on his life and his notoriety.
Margot had planned to vacation with her rich prep school friends, but instead, she’s spending the summer working at her parents’ supermarket in the Bronx. This is where Lilliam Rivera’s novel, “The Education of Margot Sanchez,” begins. It’s a tale of a teen who’s caught between two different worlds, trying to decide who she really is. Listen to hear the author of the book describe what she loves about writing “unlikable” characters like Margot and how her own experiences shaped the story.
In 1969, Lynn Girton fell in love with a woman for the first time ever, not even understanding what homosexuality was. Her adopted daughter Molly is also gay, and despite this commonality has had a very different experience of life. Listen to hear mother and daughter discuss their different experiences of gender and sexual identity.
What defines your identity? Is it what you believe? Where you were born? Or what you look like? In this audio story, African American poet, writer, and artist Claudia Rankine talks about her exploration of the connections between race and blonde hair. Rankine’s initial response to the question, “Why might a person choose to go blonde?” was that people simply wanted to lighten their hair. But she soon wondered if there might be more to it. To find out, she interviewed and photographed women of all skin tones who chose to dye their hair blonde. The result was a gallery exhibit entitled “Stamped.” Listen to hear about what the artist discovered when she explored the connections between race, identity, and blondeness.
Several Asian Americans were asked the question: Do you consider yourselves Brown? Some said “yes,” others said “no,” and the reasons they gave for their answers varied. For some, their answer was based solely on their skin tone. For others, their answer was more complicated and took into account cultural and social factors. In this audio story, Asian Americans discuss the discrimination they have faced based on their skin color. Listen to learn more about why some Asian Americans do or do not consider themselves Brown and how the way others view them affects their lives.
After the owner of a tattoo shop south of Baltimore posted on Facebook that he would offer to cover up any racist or gang-affiliated tattoos for free, his post quickly went viral and attracted a lot of attention. His philosophy is that people who have made mistakes should have the opportunity for a second chance to display a change of heart. Listen to this story to find out where this idea originated and how one tattoo artist has helped people to reshape their identities.
Frank Li, the protagonist of David Yoon’s novel Frankly in Love, lives a double life: one as his first generation immigrant parents’ perfect son who only dates Korean girls, and another where his girlfriend is white. Listen to hear author David Yoon talk about his own experiences growing up as a Korean-American and how his personal life inspired this coming of age story.
What identifies a person as Native American? Is it tribal citizenship? Is it ancestry? If so, how much? The fact that Senator Elizabeth Warren registered as “American Indian” with the State Bar of Texas in 1986 has generated public discussion about who can call themselves Native American. The U.S. census indicates significant growth in the number of people identified as Native American over the last sixty years, estimated at 2% of Americans in 2010. Listen to this story to learn about the complexities associated with identifying as Native American, and then debate: Should tribal citizenship define Native American identity?
People with uncommon names often hear them mispronounced. They say it can be annoying, but also hurtful. A person’s name often reflects their background, identity, or family history. When others bungle the pronunciation, those with unusual names sometimes report feeling excluded and different, as if they don’t belong. Listen to people with less common names explain why they care about proper pronunciation and what people can do when they’re not sure how to pronounce a name.
Outdoor recreation is enjoyed around the world. The U.S. has its own particular set of traditions, which, for a variety of reasons, have not always been inclusive of all Americans. Ambreen Tariq, an immigrant from India, explores the meaning of camping for immigrants and people of color in her children’s book, Fatima’s Great Outdoors. She argues that the urge to connect with nature is universal, and camping offers immigrants the chance to participate in a fun, quintessentially American activity while maintaining their own cultural identities and traditions. Listen to the author describe her own experiences camping as a child and why she begged her parents to serve bacon for breakfast.
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