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Perception of the Role of Race in America By: Julia Piccirillo-Stosser

Abstract

How does the contrast between Martín and William in Mother Road represent how the institutionalized idea of race has prevented the existence of Latinos being included in the American family?

Race is an idea that began in the United States in order to establish a hierarchy of people; a hierarchy where the white race is the most powerful, intelligent, and scientifically better. By placing specific emphasis on the Hispanic and Latino culture, I investigated the lack of representation of this group of people through the development of race, which translates into their minimal representation today. In order to understand how race has developed into being a symbol of certain characteristics and beliefs in today's world, I analyzed how the role of race has changed over time. These defining characteristics have contributed largely to an American culture that prevents inclusion. In addition, these characteristics have been portrayed and spread through written performatives, including the play Mother Road by Octavio Solis. Mother Road contrasts two men from the same bloodline with completely different life experiences and goals due to their race. Therefore, it is important to understand how these difference have developed over the course of race becoming part of American history.

However, how we view race and its role in America is constantly changing, therefore I will conduct an analysis on how race is currently being represented in America. The Pledge of Allegiance is an example of an American gesture aimed to unify America under a central culture. However, I determined how these institutionalized aspects of America promote unity while inversely furthering race as custom, and therefore marginalizing the impacts of race. It is important to recognize that through our own experiences and personal struggles we all perceive the role of race in America differently. Therefore, I conducted interviews with ten students of different race and ethnic backgrounds to inquire about how they have experienced the effect of stereotypes, and its influence on their perception of America today. Questions included demographic information, their experience related to stereotypes based on their race, how they perceive inclusion in America, and the America they stand for, even it is not the one we currently are living in.

Nikita Melwani, 18/ Los Angeles, California/ Asian/ Indian

Stereotypes: "Indian people have the belief that your parents are super strict, and you're forced to marry an Indian person... there are very specific job stereotypes to what you 'should be'".

Inclusion: "I think it has definitely gotten a lot better, where you live is not just one race living in one are".

I pledge for an America that will protect me and will honor the differences of everyone here, not just a set of beliefs and conforming to it, we should stand for diversity.

Serina Li, 18/ Beijing, China, Manchester, NH/ Asian/ Chinese-American

Stereotypes: "Growing up in two different countries I have had very unique stereotypes of my race. In Beijing, I was raised in a very international atmosphere. However, after moving to New England, a lot of conflict dealing with my diversity occurred, my middle and high schools were 99% white students. People would make Ching Chang noises... made me uncomfortable in so many ways. But I have always been someone that would not put up with anything that disrespected my culture. Language is also another "stereotype"... there isn't actually a national language in the U.S....you need to adapt and try your best to understand others".

Inclusion: "The U.S. is supposed to be the melting pot of all kinds of diverse individuals, I haven't exactly felt like this is the case. Because of how internationally involved I am with friends and family from all over the world, contrasting to many other countries, inclusion of races in America is not quite realistic".

The America I pledge to be a part of is the America that is curious, accepting, and understanding of all cultural backgrounds. Not the one that is driven by fear and hatred.

Tovia Sobel, 18/ Burlingame, CA/ White/ Jewish-American

Stereotypes: "People do have stereotypes about Jewish people such having curly hair, a big nose, and greedy. I have curly hair but have not had people accuse me of being greedy because of my race. I don't think stereotypes based on race can ever always be true".

Inclusion: "I believe that we are more inclusive than 50 years ago but still have a long way to go. People believe that America is more inclusive than it really is. People still have a mindset that races are separate, they always say things like "all races are equal", but people from different races aren't perceived or treated that way".

I pledge to see all races as equal in America.

Nicholas Lividini, 18/ Ossining, NY/ White/ Italian

Stereotypes: "I've never personally been stereotyped but some of the stereotypes that are placed on Italians can be true".

Inclusion: "Back in my hometown I thought inclusion was executed well but once I got to college that mostly disappeared. Often times we don't actually practice what we preach".

I pledge to be a part of a country of freedom that my grandfather fought for. We should all be granted equity as claiming equality will not cut it in today's day and age.

Christina Conte, 16/ Ossining, New York/ White/ Italian, Irish

Stereotypes: "Yes, I think a lot of the stereotypes based on my race are true. But, a lot of the ones associated with minorities aren't".

Inclusion: "I feel we practice what we preach when it comes to inclusion of races in my own town because there is so much diversity here".

I pledge to be part of an America that welcomes every race and ethnicity no matter what.

Emma Tavangari, 18/ Los Angeles, California/ White/ Russian, Jewish, Iranian Bahàí

Stereotypes: "Since I am white-passing I would say I haven't experienced too much in the way of stereotype, but I have been the target of anti-semitism and xenophobia... my father is constantly being called an Islamic terrorist by Americans. I don't think any of the stereotypes are true, especially those based on looks- my father is not Islamic, nor does my mother actively practice Judaism, despite their looks".

Inclusion: "Race inclusion in America I think has really not come as far as we say it has- I think racism has gotten a lot more subtle, but it has not disappeared. I think that the continued use of racist structures and power dynamics in society permeates every aspect of our lives despite our insistence that racism is part of a historical past".

I pledge for an America that is rigorously self-critiquing, that functions for all and not for the few, and that is less about tradition and historical rhetoric and more about progress and dialogues about equality"

Ariana Cardenas, 17/ Ossining, NY/ Other/ Ecuadorian

Stereotypes: "I have experience stereotypes of not knowing English, not having financial stability, and people often assuming I am less knowledgeable. As a Hispanic Latina, I have constantly been doubted in my ability to succeed".

Inclusion: " It is preached that the U.S. is the country of equal opportunity. Often a hispanic person's inability to receive a higher education results in them having low-income jobs. Additionally with the discrimination toward innocent immigrants who come to build a life, they are immediately labeled as "drug dealer". It has been historically implemented that the United States has made mainly black and hispanic people minorities, making it harder to succeed and seek the same benefits as every other American".

I pledge for an America that isn't dehumanizing... where people with no resources are given the opportunity and should be helped to build a foundation of life and success no matter where they are from.

Kate Sullivan, 18/ Long Beach, California/ White/ Italian, Irish, Swedish

Stereotypes: "I have personally encountered the stereotypes of white people being ignorant of other races/cultures. I think these can be true to an extent of where they were raised and whom they where raised by (friends, advisors, teachers included). Growing up in a very diverse city and going to an inner-city public school, these stereotypes are definitely false. My peers and teachers were extremely socially aware. However, having family in white-dense areas such as Orange County and the mid-west, these stereotypes can be somewhat true because they are less exposed to a variety of cultures".

Inclusion: "In America, the inclusion of races is also very dependent on geographic location. Many states/regions tend to be more exposed to other races and are more conscious of a long history of a dominant white society that we need to leave in the past".

The America that I pledge to be in is one that upholds the values of the constitution, that every person is created equal. I pledge to a country that puts the success and wellbeing of citizens about all no matter what race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status"

Sabrina Piccirillo-Stosser, 18/ Ossining, New York/ White/ Latina- Brazilian

Stereotypes: "A lot of people personally get confused as to what my race is because I have tan skin, they immediately assume I am Hispanic. However, when I'm with my friends from high school who were all white, we became known as the 'white girls' and were always thought to live in nice houses, have a lot of money, and such. It was interesting to see the difference to when I was by myself or with my family versus which I was with my friends in school".

Inclusion: "In some areas of the United States, I do believe we have inclusion. From my town I saw that there were a difference in friend groups and where people lived based on their race. America is definitely developing to be more inclusive country".

I pledge to be part of an America where diversity is seen everywhere and in everything. I hope to see a new progression toward a bigger fight to solve separation between races, ethnicity, and identities of all types.

Anisha Chandy, 18/ Pleasantville, NY/ Asian/ Indian

Stereotypes: "Asian Americans have been stereotypically portrayed as "nerdy", solely concerned with academics. While I grew up in a household that always prioritized education and knowledge, my parents never forced academics on me and they gave me the freedom to pursue any subject or interest that I wanted".

Inclusion: "I believe that some parts of America are hyper aware of race and its many connotations, while other regions are more ignorants. Urban and coastal areas are highly diverse, exposing residents to the unique and interesting cultures of each race. Rural areas of America tend to be more homogenous, allowing for misinformation about race to spread and heighten resentment. Education and exposure are the key to making sure all races feel included in American society".

The America that I pledge to be apart of is one that does not hide or ignore the differences of others, but embraces them. I hope that one day people of all races will come together as Americans to promote equal opportunity and inclusion in our society.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all"

Essay

Two men with seemingly infinite differences take the stage as the main characters of Mother Road. One, an old white man from Oklahoma tracking down the last of his lineage to leave his farm to in his death. Although, he doesn't seem to be blatantly racist, he is clearly uncomfortable about the possibility of being related to a man of a diverging race. Countering him is Martin, William’s long lost relative, who is of Mexican origin and is a thick cut farmer trying to avenge the death of his Amá. He doesn't question is blood relation to the Joad's, only if they are his actual family and purpose he can find through his new connections. As they embark on a journey back to Oklahoma, we witness the contrast between their life experiences, as well as the unforeseen similarities both men have had in struggling to find a place that feels like home. Traveling down the “Mother Road” brings the two men together in more than just blood, through the true feeling of family between an unlikely pair. It is clear that both men had no understanding of the other during their first meeting, but after witnessing the others own struggles, they realize how similar their lives actually are.

William and Martin differ in their race, a custom in America that prevents both men from viewing the other as true family. Race is used in every aspect of our lives, whether it is to define a person’s skin color, to place college applicant in a specific pool of students, or to determine a worker’s wage. Yet, even with all the power that race assumes in America, it is not understood well enough to actually make any of these classifications. Over the decades since its creation, it has been defined and redefined countless times in order to account for new groups of people, or to determine who an American can be. Thomas Jefferson made the first public depiction of race through Notes on the State of Virginia, where he described the innate differences he believed there to be between people of different races. Jefferson claimed, “those from Africa are inferior to the whites both in body and mind”, validating the reasons behind the enslavement of African Americans by arguing they are not truly men.

This first establishment of race translated into the ‘requirements’ for who was an American citizen; generally, it had to be someone who was assimilated or civilized to white American culture, or who was a typical white American.

As westward expansion continued, Indians became the subject of this civilization, as they were seen as the only race who could be “saved”, and therefore eligible to be American citizens. But, as they resisted transformation and held true to their own cultural values, President Andrew Jackson stated “they do have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and superior race, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear”. Therefore, the U.S. government was in complete control to adapt who they felt was “worthy” of citizenship based on race and their own beliefs on innate intelligence. Scientific notions were then developed to justify the mistreatment of other races, as the white race was "born superior" and "meant to rule over the other races". Yet, the United States wanted to continue to act as a country of freedom and equality, making written works like the Pledge of Allegiance the optimal way to display this false narrative.

The presence of a system of racial meanings and stereotypes, of racial ideology, seems to be a permanent feature of the US culture. (4)

Race was now established as a primary way to categorize people, simply based on the color of individuals skin, or their physical features, it was assumed whether or not they were American. New races were created as immigration increased, as specific markers for a race were provided with social meaning. Although the U.S. developed new race classifications for Indians, those from Europe, and African Americans, the Latino and Hispanic community was left out, preventing this group of people from being represented in a custom that America has been using to create a hierarchy of people. Even with our multiple perceptions of America today, there is no limit on people of certain races from becoming American citizens, yet by never including Hispanics into one of America’s most established customs, they were excluded from being added to the American family, even after they are legally allowed to be a part of it. The implications of this ostracization are widespread, as America developed into a country where all were supposed to receive free and equal treatment, Latinx individuals were consistently not included in the equation. Mother Road depicts this struggle, as William and Martin clash in their representation of what family means, and how one is related to them. The gesture of creating a “new American family” apart from one that is only characterized as looking alike, or being blood related, is an important factor to breaking down the misunderstandings of race. When the William and Martin first meet, they are only connected by blood, William aiming to leave his farm to Martin, and Martin looking for a way out of the poverty he has been living in. Although both men place value in family, they immediately fail to see each other as such due to the boundaries institutionalized race has placed on what the “typical” American family is. Generally, Americans only believe they are connected with those who look like them, whether it is because that is who they associate their family or friends are, or who they believe have similar struggles as them. Yet, Mother Road used Martin and William to depict how we can redefine the American family as being much more than just blood relations; we are all related to each other through our experiences, which pushes back at the core of what race is used for in America. The comparison between Martin and William is a prime example of where established aspects of American culture, like the Pledge of Allegiance, fail to acknowledge the differences in experiences of people of distinct races.

Race overflows the boundaries of skin color, super exploitation, social stratification, discrimination and prejudice, cultural domination and cultural resistance, state policy. (4)

As race has been used historically to control aspects of American culture, it is included in many American institutions. Each day in school we would stand for the pledge of allegiance in order to declare our commitment to being part of an “indivisible” America, one that provides “liberty and justice for all”. An American establishment that all citizens are required to take part of contradicts many of the experiences the citizens of the United States encounter every day. With heightened restrictions of the legality of immigration, those who aren't white or who don't succumb to American culture are labeled as illegals, terrorists, or detrimental people to the country. When filling out a demographic form Hispanic and Latino citizens are forced to select "other", unless they choose to give into American classification and select "white". Until they adapt how they view themselves to correspond to how a majorly white government sees them, Hispanics and Latinos aren’t a true part of our country, aren’t represented in our racial system, and therefore, are isolated from being part of the new American family.

Born at a disadvantage, people of minority race do not experience as inclusive of a life as those who are white race. The Americas we perceive around us aren't unified, based on our race, or furthermore the race we are labelled as, controls the America we experience. Yet, no matter our differences, we all pledge for an inclusive country, one where everyone can be treated as equal.

What does it mean to be an American? Does it mean to have white skin, practice Christianity and speak English? Does it mean to leave behind your ancestral culture, your passions or beliefs for a country aspiring for sameness? Or should it mean accepting our differences, being proud of them, and using them to create a country where all people are free to live as individuals, within a larger American family? The past has failed to define what we should pledge to be a part of everyday.

Today, we all live in different Americas, trapped by our race or physical appearance into stereotypes that do not define us, and prevent us from being one. Tomorrow, we must recognize our connections, that we all are fighting for a better future; putting aside our assumptions, we must work to create an America free of race. A place we are all proud to pledge to be a citizen of, where we can all be part of the new American family.

Bibliography

Solis, Octavio. Mother Road. 2019. Oregon Shakespeare Festival, unpublished.

Adelman, Larry. The Story We Tell: Race--The Power of an Illusion. California Newsreel, 2003.

Adelman, Larry. The House We Live In: Race--The Power of an Illusion. California Newsreel, 2003.

Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. "Racial formation." Social class and stratification: Classic statements and theoretical debates (1998): 233-242.