This past April, North Park held the first-ever Cornerstone Writing Awards, an event that recognized exemplary first-year student writing in four categories: "Comparison," "Analysis," "Narrative," and "Reflective." Winning writers received a $100 prize as well as the opportunity to read their work to an audience comprised of Cornerstone peers and faculty.
This essay is the winner of the Analysis and was written for Melissa Pavlik's class.
The Fluidity and Inescapability of Stereotypes
When I was living in a small countryside town in the Philippines, the majority of the adult women in my life were housewives. The small percentage of women I knew that were not housewives were mothers who attempted at being extraordinary by opening a small karinderya, a tiny restaurant, with money their husbands’ had given them. In this small, secluded town, I knew my options for the future were severely limited. At a young age, I knew that I would be judged by the people around me if I stepped out of our social norms of Filipino society. Everyone was supposed to be the same. We lived in a tiny bubble of stereotypicality that we made ourselves. When I moved to America, only then did I realize that everyone could be different from each other. However, in America a new wave of stereotypes hit me. Instead of expectations of motherhood, hopes of joining the medical field were pushed on me. It was then that I realized that stereotypes were both fluid and inescapable. While it was impossible to be separated from stereotypes, the stereotypes that surround me changed.
In the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian y Sherman Alexie, the main protagonist Junior felt the weight of societal expectations from within his reservation. On the reservation, Junior was ridiculed by his peers and neighbors, called multiple degrading nicknames, and classified as a retard because of his speech impediments (Alexie 4). When Junior began attending an all white school outside his reservation, new stereotypes were placed upon him as he was expected to be nothing more than a burnout and a drunk. Concurrently, in
Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”, Adichie only viewed her houseboy as very poor and did not realize that his family could be more than that. Adichie was guilty of placing stereotypes on her fellow Nigerians, but later learned of the stereotypes Americans placed on Nigerians as Africans. Adichie learned that stereotypes are simultaneously placed on ourselves as we stereotype others. Although individuals reject the stereotypes outsiders place upon them, the same individuals perpetuate stereotypes on others within their own culture proving that stereotypes are inescapable.
In the book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior was outraged by the fact that his school in the Rez was outdated and had limited resources. He displayed his anger and disappointment by throwing his old geometry book and accidentally hit his teacher, Mr. P, in the face with it. This accident led to a confrontation between the two. While Junior expected his teacher to reprimand his actions, Mr. P ended up confessing to Junior about his guilts that in early years of his teaching career he hurt a lot of his students through intentionally killing off his past students’ culture (Alexie 29). This confrontation reveals the stereotype of white people assuming Native American culture is inferior to mainstream American culture. This causes Mr. P to tell Junior to leave the reservation because if he were to stay he would eventually “give up” like his peers and lose the chance to “succeed” in the eyes of middle-class, white America (Alexie 36). Even when Junior moved to a better school in Reardan, he could not escape the stereotypes. Instead of being seen as the type of people who given up, Junior began being evaluated through the lens of white society. The Reardan community automatically presumed that he was inferior to them, “I woke up on the reservation as an Indian, and somewhere on the road to Reardan, I became something less than Indian. And once I arrived at Reardan, I became something less than less than less than Indian”(Alexie 69). Although Junior left the Rez to escape the stereotypes there, he had a whole new wave of stereotypes placed on him by the people in Reardan. Junior felt lonely and depressed because he felt that he left the reservation for nothing. He was frustrated that even though the stereotypes around him changed, he still wasn’t seen as the individual that he is.
In the “Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Adichie talked about how in her early childhood when they hired a new houseboy, Fide, from a poor family. Her knowledge about him was limited and she thought nothing of him, but knew he was poor. When her mother and Adichie went to visit his family in their neighboring town, she saw a side of his family that she never expected. She was shown a beautifully handcrafted basket that Fide’s older brother had made. This moved her because she never assumed that someone so poor could be able to create something so intricate and beautiful. This interaction showed the stereotype that Adichie placed on Fide and his family. The stereotype that the lives of poor people lack beauty. In this situation Adichie placed stereotypes on her fellow Nigerians because she lacked knowledge of the realities of Fide’s life. The tables were turned on Adichie when she began publishing novels and was criticized for the “lack of authenticity” in them. Adichie was told her experiences were not authentic just because her story did not fit into the mold of “African literature”. Adichie was discounted by her professor because her work did not show the African stereotype that most people presumed African life to be like. In this situation, the roles were reversed. Adichie went from the person to stereotype an individual, to the person who was being stereotyped. Through this experience Adichie learned first hand that stereotypes are harmful when individuals perpetuate harmful stereotypes on people within their own culture. Later when Adichie fell victim to stereotypes of what could be considered the “typical” African experience, she was able to see that the chain of stereotypes is inescapable. Additionally, when Adichie first traveled to Mexico from the United States, she realized that again she harbored stereotypes against others even when she rejected the stereotypes placed on her. Through her TED Talk, Adichie shows that although stereotypes are certain as long as we only have a single story of people different than us.
For women in the Philippines, motherhood was the end goal. Women were highly praised for simply for being a mother to a child. Motherhood was the only thing that they were expected to achieve due to the stereotype that my small town had put on women. This stereotype was not true for all of the Philippines, but it was the reality of my small town. When my mom married into the Jaurigue family, this stereotype was automatically placed on her. While pregnant, she wanted to be more than a housewife. Unfortunately, everyone in the town ridiculed her and made her feel guilty for wanting more. She was pressured by the people around her to stay at home and be nothing more than a mother and a wife. Her bachelor's degree in Accounting was never used. As our family grew, additional pressure from our town limited her choices. Our town expected nothing more of my sisters and me than motherhood, but my mother rejected these stereotypes and we were raised with different dreams in mind. My mother encouraged us to think outside the box Filipino society pressed us into. When my family moved to America we hoped we could escape the stereotypes of my small town. In America however, stereotypes were still present. Instead of being expected to become a housewife, new dreams of a career in the medical field were pushed on us. However, I dreamed of becoming an artist instead of a nurse. I’ve drawn ever since I can remember, but my family thought it was just a hobby that I would eventually outgrow. I knew it was the career that I was going to pursue. I was able to push away from the American stereotypes placed on me and turned my dream into my future.
Stereotypes are truly inescapable because despite people ignoring and deciding to reject the stereotypes that people outside their own culture place on them, they continue to maintain alternate stereotypes that is within their own culture. In the Philippines, the stereotype of women being housewives and nothing more were replaced as I moved to America by the pressure of the adults around me to become a stereotypical Filipino and take on a job in the medical field. Additionally, Junior’s experienced the inescapability of stereotypes as he moved from the stereotype of being a “retarded” nerd to a “Native American” in the eyes of Reardan community. Finally, in Adichie’s childhood story of assuming that Fedi’s poor family wasn’t capable of conceiving beauty and the role reversal of her being stereotyped of the fact that she didn’t produce an “authentically African” novel. In all these examples, it can be seen that stereotypes are inevitable. Everyone has been stereotyped and simultaneously stereotypes those around them. While the exact stereotypes may change with the lenses people are examined under, ultimately stereotypes define the human existence. It is only when we recognize the stereotypes around us, and most importantly acknowledge the stereotypes we hold against others, that we can began to see ourselves and others for who they are.
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