In Chavez’s Independence Day and, Cofer’s Silent Dancing both women share their stories of growing up and dealing with racism. However, they experienced racism differently: Cofer’s family faced discrimination from both without and within, while Chavez learned the meaning of shame and anger.
Both faced a double-edged identity: having a different color of skin, and being a woman. Although they wrote of the racial discrimination that they witnesses, underlying these was their sexual identity. Their being female made them subject to certain roles and behavior, and rendered them struggling more with discrimination than their male counterparts.
Chavez begins her story with her mother escaping the world she lived in – the dangers that were unique to single mothers, the fear of being a woman in a male-dominated world. The young Chavez starts out optimistic and oblivious to the world around her. She saw men with guns but did not understand the danger it presented. She only smelled her mother’s fear, and from that she grew afraid as well. Chavez could not understand why the color of her skin was an issue – she used to pride herself with having the best tan, and finding herself in a different part of the country suddenly how she looked shaped her reality.
Even though she did not see herself as Indian, or Norwegian, or Mexican, she was forced to live as others saw her. She could not do anything about it – she was powerless at how others gazed at her. To their eyes, she was a native, and that was it. When the lodge owner pointed his gun at her just because of her supposed heritage, she grew ashamed. Of what, she cannot say exactly – of looking the way she did perhaps. Later years she found that she should not be ashamed, but angry.
She learned to live with being seen as a native and everything that came with it – forming bonds with the natives, and being persecuted for it. She grew stronger as a person because of what she had to cope with. Alaska became her home even with its fangs ready to bite on people like her.On the other hand, Cofer grew up surrounded by her family and community. Her father was in the Navy and as such she did not experience a full frontal assault on her ethnicity unlike Chavez. She was always protected, and her parents tried to fit in the American tradition. They upheld their own Puerto Rican culture, but also assimilated the foreign culture of their new home.
Although Cofer did not relate any direct experience of discrimination, she saw it everywhere. They could not get a better home because they were Latino in a community of Jewish people, and then because the shade of their skin was dark and could not pass for European. But they thrived, mostly because the Latino culture is intimate – families stick together through thick and thin. However, this culture has a backside: it also discriminated against the other culture. In the family gathering, the story centered on her cousin who tried to be as American as possible, hoping that by doing so she will have more opportunities. She was modern and liberated by Latino standards, and was frowned at. They stick together against the face of discrimination from others, preferring to buy goods from fellow Puerto Ricans than in the local grocery and pass judgment on their own who tries to be different.
Cofer saw the Jewish merchants accept Puerto Ricans if not as friends then as good customers, but her people could not accept one of their own who has tried to be more American. Cofer saw how discriminating her own people can be on their own kind.In both stories, the female sexuality is essential in the experiences of the writers. Chavez was helpless faced with a rifle because she was young, but also because she was female. Even if she was older she would still probably not be able to do anything about the situation more than what her mother did, which was to talk to the lodge owner. The people in the lodge accepted the blatant prejudice and offered no apologies.
They could not defend themselves, as compared to the native who the lodge owner pointed a rifle at who was able to defend his integrity and shoot the man down. In the same way, Cofer’s cousin was passed judgment because she was Puerto Rican and woman. She was expected to behave that way, to be humble and submissive to their men.
Cofer’s confident cousin was sentenced to a life of disrespect because she had an affair and an abortion, and there was no redemption for her – she was seen as always needing a man, and then that no man will take her seriously.The issue of racial and gender discrimination are still present today even if there has been a significant leap in the integration of ethnic communities and feminist movements. Women enjoy equal rights with men – and with the dawn of postmodernism raised awareness of the power struggles between men and women. Now, women are armed not only with knowledge but also with validation from other women who fought for their rights. However, women in certain ethnic groups might still be experiencing some form of discrimination unique to their culture, although this is slowly changing as ethnic groups find ways of assimilating the American culture with their own.
In the same way, different cultures are now represented in academic curricula and ethnic students are given privileges to move ahead. Perhaps the skin and face of discrimination has changed as we have grown accustomed to seeing Latinos and natives. What about the influx of Asians, like Koreans? This year a young Korean man went on a rampage and killed his classmates and then himself. This tells us that although we have come far in accepting other nationalities and cultures in our land, there is still more work to do in accepting them in our society, so as not to make them alienated. Each of us needs to be free from prejudice and isolation, in all its forms, after all.