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Many people consider themselves belonging to certain groups. For example, someone may belong to a country club, a team, or club. Each of these groups have something in common; the power of how influential they can be on a person. On a team, it is expected to set aside your time for games and practices. By having these commitments, you suddenly base your whole life off of them. This is a part of belonging. Belonging comes with many expectations and consequences, though it also causes people to feel things they can only feel by belonging. Through the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, he faces the many consequences of living the hillbilly lifestyle in his childhood but then gains a new perspective on his life as he matures. In the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Coates struggles with his background and identity as he picks out bit by bit how much is really going on in the world within African American culture. Within the poem “The Search for My Tongue” by Sujata Bhatt, Bhatt describes what it is like to truly identify as her native self rather than an ethnic English speaking woman who submerged herself into the English culture. The idea of belonging does not only refer to belonging to a physical place; belonging is what is felt within that gives a sense of security and comfort.
Influencers change feelings and ideas towards the place of your belonging. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance was poorly influenced by his parents when he was young and naive. Unexpectedly, one of the most influential people in his life was his Mamaw. Despite her pregnancies as a young teen and rickety hillbilly attitude, she was Vance’s crutch to lean on in the darkest moments of his youth. Through all of the out lashes from his mom and worries about school, Mamaw was always there to pick him up and give him a new perspective on his struggles. Mamaw believed in Vance, seeing that he was definitely not the one to live his own hillbilly lifestyle. "She often remarked that if anyone in our family "made it", it would be me." (129) Mamaw enforced self-dignity into Vance because she saw his potential that no one else had ever seen out of his hometown of Middletown, Ohio. In Coates case, one of his influences was the death of Trayvon Martin which he references in Between The World and Me. Martin was an innocent African American boy shot by a police officer and died, which soon brought a lot of attention towards the ideas of extreme racism and unnecessary fatalities of young African Americans. “…Racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men. But race is the child of racism, not the father.” (7) Coates even refers back to the earliest examples of racism, such as slavery and the Middle Passage that has an immense impact on the self-acceptance of African Americans and their skin. Coates no doubt has pride in his colored skin, though he fears what ideas young minds get when they learn about situations such as Martin’s. Coates provides us with these examples of racism in real life, real people situations to give a sense of security and comfort to the future of African Americans rather than being afraid to belong.
Many people believe that you should “never forget where you came from”. It is tempting to conform and assimilate into other cultures, though your roots will always come back. In “The Search for My Tongue”, Sujata Bhatt expresses the struggles she faces with remembering her native language but living her everyday life using her foreign language, English. She does not fully forget her native language, it does come back in small doses, though it is never forgotten.
But overnight while i dream it grows back, a stump of a shoot grows longer, grows moist grows strong veins” (lines 16-17).
As she expresses, Bhatt’s native language is like no other to her. This language identifies her and always leads her back home no matter where in the world she is, to where she belongs. Perhaps if her feelings of belonging did not pertain to the language then she would move on to find that she belongs elsewhere, though that is not the case. Instead, this is the case for J.D. Vance. As much as he strayed away from the hillbilly lifestyle after the Marines and Ohio State, he will never forget how much he enjoyed a few hillbilly customs. “The wealthy and the powerful aren’t just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores. …I took a Yale friend to Cracker Barrel. In my youth, it was the height of fine dining—my grandma’s and my favorite restaurant. With Yale friends, it was a greasy public health crisis.” (188) Even as a Yale Law student and all he has gone through, Vance still finds himself in a Cracker Barrel because it had such a positive impact on him when he was younger. There were not many special things in his life though Cracker Barrel with Mamaw was something memorable for him. Both Vance and Bhatt find comfort within miniscule parts of their past belonging. This guides them to find their true belonging that they could not find before due to their circumstances.
It is easy to lose yourself if you force yourself into somewhere that you do not belong. For someone with no concept of identity, it is merely impossible to find your belonging. Coates did not fully develop his identity until he put all of the pieces of the puzzle together of racism towards African Americans. It was very uncomfortable for anyone of color to be immune to these sort of tragedies and events that were uncalled for. The entire narrative of this country argues against the truth of who you are. (99) By thoroughly dissecting the events that took place during Coates late teens and early twenties he discovered that within this whole mess he really could not be bothered. No matter how he identifies himself, what opinions he has, or how he presents himself there will always be someone to say something bad about you. If the truth is you are gay, then you are gay. You belong to the LGBT community. There will be many people who celebrate you, but there will always be an overwhelming amount of people who will harshly criticize you. It is how the world works. Vance, for example, was harshly criticized and thrown around by his parents. They were absolutely unsupportive and abusive when he innocently spoke to them about any accomplishment or aspiration of his. "…but without my attitude, my childhood homes would have consumed me" (246) Vance never had a true picture of “home” as a place in his head. Home was where he was treated horribly, and the location changed so often that the only place he could consider a home was Mamaw’s. Despite unstable, unhealthy environments Vance and Coates both feel free to identify as whatever they feel since they were restricted from that in their youth.
The idea of belonging does not only refer to belonging to a physical place; belonging is what is felt within that gives a sense of security and comfort. The true beginning of belonging is to realize that no matter how you identify, there will always be a critic. If you truly identify as something, then that is your true identity that no one has control over. No matter where life takes you, you will always find your way back to your roots. There are certain people in your life that know much more than you ever will through experience; which is why you need to take their knowledge and make the best sense of it to you. No matter what, you are the only person that can feel your feelings and know where you belong.
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