I Want to Be Miss America – Should I Change for It?
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Julia Alvarez, the author of I Want to Be Miss America discussed a rather important issue of any society – assimilation of cultures, people who live within some cultural environment. She pointed out one important thing – people want to be like those whose “look” (style, behavior, etc.) is promoted by current trends. The story, told by the author tells the reader about the Puerto Rican family – father, mother, and four sisters. The family moved to the U.S. recently (the reasons are not stated) and wants to call this new land and society their home. Girls want to look like the contestants of Miss America – young, beautiful, all alike. More to say, the entire family has watched Miss America for years, noticing various trends – there have been very few Latino girls, or black girls among the contestants every single year. Alvarez discussed an interesting attitude towards the contest – the whole family loved it a lot. However, they all have different views regarding the best contestant and their best traits (or features). Such state of things was determined by the differences in age, gender, social role, and previous experience. Thus, the father had a more masculine view – he liked the girls on stage for their beauty; the mother preferred to point out their traits of character such as behavior, attitude, etc.; and the girls were fond of their look – the hair, eyes, shapes, legs, and other similar things constituting the outer look of every American girl of that time. Young girls wanted to be like “true” American girls, they dressed like them, shaved legs like them, wanted to be them. However, time has shown that originality, exotic features, and looks are far more preferable. “To this day, after three decades of living in America, I feel like a stranger in what I now consider my own country” (Alvarez, p. 44). The question arises: if a girl wants to be Miss America – should she neglect her ethnic roots and change for it?
The original essay emphasizes the issues that every multinational society has – assimilation. The choice to be made by any representative of an ethnic group that lives within civilized social environment of today is rather simple – to become one of the members of this society with all its rules and regulations or keep its own ethnic “face” and be original. More to say, Alvarez tries to say that originality is more valuable for any person than blind following of common style and behavior. The author states: “We complained about how short we were, about how our hair frizzed, how our figures didn’t curve like those of the bathing beauties we’d seen on TV.” (Alvarez, p. 39). Girls wanted to look like those “TV-barbies” just because it was the trend of that time: straight hair, tall, long legs, white color of skin and hair, etc. They desperately wanted to be not who they were – four Puerto Rican girls with great ethnic roots. Their mother disapproved struggling of her daughters to become one of the American girls. She prohibited American clothing; tried to stop the girls from trying to shave their legs (they were too young to do it, as per mother’s opinion); and she wanted the girls to be who they were – beautiful children from Puerto Rico. It seemed the father agreed with their desire to become true American princesses. However, it was clear that he had no intention to assimilate – behavior and actions were so simple and original so Papi (as the author called him) remained a Puerto Rican without any doubts.
The girls wanted to be the next Miss America. Well, maybe not in real life, but they watched how the contestants behaved; what they did on stage; how they reacted to the questions; etc. They wanted to assimilate in this society of similar ordinary faces since they were different. The girls also learned to be women different from those living in the Dominican Republic. The issue of the Puerto Rican culture (or norm, depending on angle of view) regarding women was rather simple – there were no reasons for girls to want more than to become good mothers and wives, create families, and stick to this model of behavior for life. The author (p.42) describes this issue as follow: “Everything in our native culture had instructed us otherwise: girls were to have no aspirations beyond being good wives and mothers.” American girls (regardless of their intellectual development) were free to do with their lives whatever they wanted. They spoke different things from the stage of Miss America, but they were free in their choice, in their mind! This conflict of ideology was new to the Puerto Rican family and very unusual for those four young girls. It was a real surprise for them – to have the variety of choice of how to live and make this choice by will, but not social fate (Alvarez, p. 42). Such issue is rather common for modern times as well – people do what the social majority does. Most people get married; have kids, jobs, careers, etc. mainly because others do the same. They follow tradition, which is not bad after all. However, it might not make them happy. Being happy is the main reason why everything should be done – not jealousy, not because somebody does it, not because neighbors have such things or do something. A conscious choice is probably the main happiness of the modern world. Freedom of choice, freedom of being consciously original is the greatest gift the modern world can give to a man and a woman today.
Freedom to be original and feel good about it – this is the idea that Alvarez emphasized as the main idea of the article and it is the main goal for any conscious individual in this world. The author supports this idea (p. 44): “They [our classmates] wanted to look exotic – they wanted to look like us.” However, the girls did not have such chance – the authors said it was too late for them to feel happy that even Miss America (well, hypothetically) could have wanted to look like these charming, exotic Puerto Rican girls. The issue of self-identification is utterly important these days for millions of people all over the world – people simply do not know who they really are and who they want to be in order to be happy.
Is it so important to be like other people within their social group to be happy? It is obvious that similarities make people closer so yes, it is important. However, should a person change greatly and want to look like others so desperately to forget the ethnic roots and traditions of the predecessors, his or her own people? Well, the answer is probably no. It is utterly important to remain original; understand one’s own place and reasoning of living. This is the greatest happiness but not straight white hair to be like other girls in the class. Alvarez probably wanted to draw the attention of the youth to the issues of self-identification – young individuals should realize that looks are not the main thing in person. Anyone could be Miss America just being true to one’s heart – it is not necessary to try being someone else.