Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Ying and The Yang

If I could pinpoint a common theme in the thread of my existence, I would say it was Duality. As a young college student I was deeply touched by John Donne’s themes of pleasure and pain in his poetry. There could not be pleasure without pain, and often times, one would essentially meld into the other. The theme in his poetry struck a chord in me, as it seemed to be along the same lines of the ying and the yang: happiness complimenting sadness; light shining through the dark; and other related forms of duality, which have always fascinated me. I think the reason for this may be that, as a Puerto Rican woman, I find there is a duality in the facets of my life. 

I was born and raised in New York, yet I have a strong attachment to my culture as a Puertorriqueña. As a child, my mother pulled my sister and me out of school at least three times a year to spend at least three months in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. There we learned about the island, had freedom to frolic outside, were taught to celebrate our roots, and practiced the Spanish language on a continuous level. Then, when we came back to Brooklyn, we would remain indoors, and I would have to read words in dictionaries to avoid forgetting to speak in English and to avoid the mispronunciation of English words. We were free in Puerto Rico, and caged birds in New York. 

This may be related to the sense of trust and comradery my mother felt on the Island, as opposed to the fear and isolation she felt in New York. As such, I witnessed a duality in my mother; she struggled to maintain her identity as a Puerto Rican woman without being pigeonholed by stereotypes. She struggled to teach us our heritage so we wouldn’t become part of a melting pot; instead to be a functioning part of a salad bowl.

In the media, Latina’s are frequently depicted as primarily sexual beings who nurture their partners and families, yet have hot tempers. Now, this depiction has lessened in recent years, but I find that it’s still prevalent in film and on television. Nevertheless, this is only one aspect of any woman.

Aside from their sexuality, many women are enthusiastic about education, are zealous in pursuit of their careers, and are passionate when it comes to family and relationships. And if you look closely, there is a duality there, and hopefully, a balance. Despite the strides we have made in modern times, Latinas are still expected to be married and start a family by a certain age. With that underlying pressure there is also a stronger pull that stems from modern thought to become independent, educated and successful outside of any marriage and family. In this day and age, where does this duality come from?

It is my belief that two forms of thought have been the primary players in forming this duality. There is the cultural influence of a machista attitude of a woman’s role in learning to care for the home, be demure, and behave as proper women should behave in order to be married and have a family to care for. Then there is the influence of a feminist mentality, in pursuing an education, a career, being able to take care of oneself and be a completely independent and self-sustaining individual, perhaps without the need for marriage or family.  Latin women of my generation are especially equipped because of this dualistic upbringing, rather than in spite of it. Being exposed to these two types of thinking has influenced a generation of women who want it all – and certainly get it, by taking the most positive elements of both modes of thought and creating something that suits them completely.

I am proud to say that I am a member of this generation. I think these modes of thought have made me a well-rounded person. Maintaining cultural values is important. And so is cultivating new ones. It is important to embrace who we are and where we come from, even with the apparently opposing sides - the ying and the yang. I know that these facets make up the whole of who I am as an individual and as a Puerto Rican woman. For that I am grateful.

*The images in this post is of an art piece in my home which I created, depicting opposing images of myself.