What it means to be an American

What it means to be an American

The photograph above is taken from Coco Fusco’s performance collection: The Postponed Event, Norte Sur. I chose this photograph to portray the theme of cultural citizenship. In this picture, Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez display extreme cultural identifications of what it means to be an immigrant in the Unites States and conforming to cultural ideologies as they interpret the role of two natives. On the left, Guillermo Gomes is displayed as an Aztec to represent the native inhabitants of central Mexico. On the right, Coco Fusco takes the role of an Afro Cuban priestess. Just as Horace Minor does with his article, Body Rituals among the Nacirema, this image as well portrays an interesting twist of the idea of being “Americanized” and encountering this culture.
Cultural citizenship is defined as “the right to be different with respect to the norms of the dominant national community, without compromising one’s right to belong, in the sense of participating in the nation-state’s democratic processes” (Rosaldo, 57). I believe this photograph does an excellent example of showing us what it means to keep one’s identity of self in a mobile society that asks for adaptation towards the American culture. We see Guillermo holding a burger on one hand representing the fast food nation of America while wearing sunglasses and an Americanized style moustache. Coco holds one of America’s icons of popular culture, Mickey Mouse, which is a symbol of the American dream. These two visuals in a sense are icons representing some value of the American culture whether it be an ideal or a value. This ideal vision is what people yearn for coming to the United States and gaining citizenship. America: we are going places. This is what attracts a majority of people moving into the U.S. hoping for a new start, hoping to make it big, or hoping to achieve the American dream. In order to achieve the American dream, most immigrants become “Americanized”, hiding their true culture and background from the rest afraid of being labeled, rejected, or simply, afraid of not belonging. One’s authenticity may even become questioned. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures. Moving to the United States may put one’s authenticity into trial. How true can you be to yourself when having to conform to social pressures?
Rosaldo states that “cultural citizenship is a process that involves claiming membership in, and remaking, America” (p58). By claiming membership, and gaining citizenship, one feels closer to home and gains a sense of belonging in a country that was once foreign. However, some may argue that one is making the self a part of the United States in fear of cultural genocide and disenfranchisement (Ramirez, 15). Aihwa Ong believes cultural citizenship is achieved through a dual process; where “becoming a citizen depends on how one is constituted as a subject who exercises or submits to power relations” (p.542) with a modern attitude of self-making. It is a process of subject-fixation where the immigrant begins to take up the practices of surveillance, discipline, control, and administration. As Guillermo and Coco become objects of embodiment through their dress ware, both may participate in self-surveillance by accommodating to the ideologies of what it means to be “Americanized” and may even lose a part of their culture by conforming to citizenship, but yet, may gain status in the social ladder. When two strangers come from different backgrounds and different cultures, citizenship seems like the ideal as it will mean they would share “symbolic adaption into the same fraternal society” (Mead, p.36), and hence, feel they belong.
In this photograph though, both seem to have a smile on their face. They embrace the American culture while still maintaining their cultural identity. I believe that by incorporating the native head dress, it shows the ideal of fitting in but yet maintaining a sense of where you come from. In part, they are still holding on to their past while accommodating to the American culture. The ideal of every immigrant coming to the United States may be as Margaret Mead states: “a world in which we don’t fully belong, but which we feel, if we work at it, we some time may achieve” (p 53).
-Aurora Rodriguez

Aihwa Ong, “Cultural Citizenship as Subject-Making” (1996).
Margaret Mead, “And Keep your Powder Dry” (1943).
Ramirez, Reyna, “Native Hubs” (2007).
Renato Rosaldo, “Identity, Conflict, and Evolving Latino Communities: Cultural Citizenship in San Jose, California”

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by | March 17, 2013 · 5:04 PM

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