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The Impact of the Environment on Our Identity

Bdragon's picture

The environment can have a large impact on a person’s identity. The people that they surround themselves with influences their values and beliefs. That does not mean that a person cannot divert from that and develop their own identity, based on how they truly want to be. Yumi, in Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation, is an example of a person who feels the need to run away in order to thrive and become the person she wants to be. Additionally, I also felt that I need to be in a new environment in order to create my true identity.

     Liberty Falls is a town in Idaho that is very traditional and oppressive in the fact that they do not want diversity. The police officer came to Yumi’s house asking for "The ones you been allowing to stay on your daddy's property here. That gang of hippies" (155).  Already one can see the problem that the town discriminates the eco-activist group as “hippies” because they believe in different ways of how agriculture ways are.  Later on “they were carrying signs: CLEAN UP LIBERTY FALLS! STOMP OUT PORNOGRAPHY! PROTECT OUR CHILDREN! THIS SAITH THE LORD” (304). They want to cleanse the town of anything that does not fall into their specific values, and they also want to shelter their children from that. Their children grow up thinking they have to think and act a certain way, or else they won’t be accepted in their society. Additionally, Phoenix, Yumi’s son, says that people at his school are saying “they want to clean up the schools…get rid of everybody. Niggers, Japs, queers, wetbacks, hip pie scum, whatever” (237). Again the children have been brainwashed to think that anyone needs to look and think the same. Their racism is so extreme that they are willing to go violent measures in order to enforce that. It is not the children’s fault that they turned out this way, but their environment. All their life they have been taught to be narrow minded, since the town does not have enough diversity to view the world any differently. This is the town that Yumi grew up in, and she made choices that did not agree with their views which causes her to run away.

   Not only did the town cause her to run away, but her parents did as well since they share similar values as Liberty Falls. At fifteen years old she felt the need to run away because she had an affair with her teacher, and had an abortion. These were two things that her parents and the town were very against. After she ran away she wrote to her father “the shame was yours, and I knew if I stayed, I’d be poisoned by it. I’d grow up all screwy and bent with the weight of your shame. So I left. It was an evacuation, Daddy” (37). Deep down inside she knew that her parent’s expectations of what they wanted her to be, was not what she wanted. The mistakes that she made would define who she is as a person, and she wanted to be freed from that. Her parents were restricting her of becoming the person she truly is. Her running away did not stop her from becoming a college graduate, mother, and a teacher, which shows that she was able to develop apart from her parent’s ideals.

   Going out of Liberty Falls allowed for Yumi to experience different perspectives of the world, instead of staying in one bubble. Just like I came to college in order learn from others, and open my mind to different perspectives that I had not thought of before.  It is important for people to be capable thinking in different perspective, because they will be able to understand people. If one understands people, they will be more able to accept them. Now that Yumi has opened her eyes being away “oh please, God get me out of Idaho, and I promise I’ll never set foot her again” (156).  This just exemplifies even more why she needed to get out of that town. Even coming back as an adult, one can see she’s accepted different types of backgrounds, which is shown through her multiracial children.  Yumi cannot stand to live in a place that is so narrow minded, which could have been the reason she waited so long to come back. I believe that if it weren’t for her love for her parents and the regret she would feel if she did not see them before they passed way, she would have never come back to Liberty Falls. It is filled with people who want society to remain static and is not open to allowing anyone to change their mind. My hometown was not as extremely conservative as Liberty Falls, but leaving there was one of the best choices I have ever made. Many of the students here at Bryn Mawr are open minded, and that allows for people to grow and develop their identity. I have learned so much about what my identity is and what I want from my life by being in such an academic environment. I know some people who had to leave their hometown because they were not accepted there, and believe that is also what happened to Yumi.

    The environment can have a great impact on a person’s identity and what they become in life. That does mean they can’t go somewhere else where the environment allows them to thrive more, like Yumi and I did. I might have not been in the same extreme situation that Yumi was in when she left her town, but the end result is that we both are more aware of the world around us. I want to end of with Oprah Winfrey saying  “surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher”.




Anne Dalke's picture

Your essay makes me smile. You might be interested in looking @ the syllabus for the first ESem Jody and I ever taught together, 16 years ago (!). It was called “Transition and Location:  On Leaving Home, In Search of a Place of Understanding, and worked with precisely the phenomena you trace here, of you and Yumi needing to leave home to find an environment that allows each of you more possibilities for growth. See /local/mcbride/TransitionsLocations.html

I’ll also be very interested to hear reports from you over the next 4 years—will you find limits to what you characterize as the “open mindedness” of Bryn Mawr? Some spots as “blind,” and equally as troubling, as those you saw in your own hometown? Or in the extreme, violent racism of the children in Liberty Falls?

Another book that talks profoundly about this idea of needing to leave home in order to become yourself (but also speaks poignantly of what is left behind) is Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride.Check it out!

One thought about organizing such a paper, one that works back and forth between the personal and the textual: I’d suggest re-ordering this so that the opening is about your experience, and then elaborating on that by describing Yumi’s. It’s great to begin a paper with what you know experientially (it tells us who the author is, what your investment in and orientation to the topic is) but then it really needs to grow beyond you, to offer more general observations to people who are not yourself, rather than return to the personal @ the end. (Oprah works well here!)

When you come to your conference on Wednesday, I’ll want to interrogate the notion you use repeatedly of  “a true identity,” of Yumi’s becoming “the person she truly is.” If identity and environment are truly bi-directional, in influencing one another, if “who we are” is always developing in response to where we are, then can we really identity a “true identity”? What if you or Yumi had stayed @ home: would you not have developed a “true self”? Do Cass or Lloyd fail to do this? You say that Mawrtys are allowed “to grow and develop their identity,” that you are learning “so much” about you’re your identity is and what you want from your life by being in such an academic environment.” But how can that be “truer” than the identity you left behind, if it’s contingent on where you are?

During your conference, we’ll also need to think together about your next paper: does this draft have an emergent third one in it, or might you be ready to start drafting a new paper about The Collapse of Civilization?

P.S. The grammar’s getting better! What’s helping that happen?!