- Negotiating Identity:Migration, Colonization, and Cultural Marginalization in Lara Rios and Vicky Ramos' Mo and Carmen Lomas Garza's In My Family/En Mi Familia
Contemporary children's books commonly thematize the personal and developmental growth necessary for children and adolescents to undertake a valorized societal role and function in adulthood. Forming a stable and felicitous sense of identity is crucial to this process as it allows for the creation of a framework that links personal goals and choices to the life course as a whole (Crockett, et al. 5). Subsequently, individuals are able to perceive themselves as having a purposeful existence in which they feel they can exercise a meaningful degree of control (i.e., agency). But what of those children and adolescents whose personal growth and development take place within a marginalized cultural and/or racial group whose adult members are not perceived by the dominant mainstream culture as undertaking valorized societal roles? How then can a child growing up in this cultural context form a felicitous sense of selfhood without forfeiting his or her cultural and racial heritage? This theme surrounding the act of negotiating identity within the context of cultural marginalization is investigated in challenging ways in Lara Rios and Vicky Ramos' Mo and Carmen Lomas Garza's In My Family/En Mi Familia.
In terms of genre and ideological standpoint, Mo and In My Family are, however, notably different. That is, the former is a young adult magical realism novel that deals with issues of indigenous identity and culture within the context of over 500 years of colonization, while the latter is an autobiographical picture book that deals with the recent history of mass migration by Mexican people to the USA. Another significant difference between the books involves their intended audience and their authorship. That is, In My Family is written and illustrated by a Mexican American woman about her own childhood experiences and is directly targeted at Mexican American children in an effort to foster cultural pride, while Mo is written and illustrated by two non-indigenous Costa Rican women about a fictional indigenous character, and the book is aimed at a non-indigenous audience in order to foster knowledge and understanding about this marginalized group. What these books do have in common, however, is the thematic depiction of children and adolescents from traditional non-western cultures whose sense of identity is problematized by the dominant mainstream culture that effectively deems them as the marginal Other. Indeed, the protagonists in both are female members of marginalized cultural groups whose adult members seek to instill the next generation with a sense of pride in their cultural and racial heritage in the face of a dominant mainstream culture that deems this difference as shameful. The most important trait that these books share is their aim to transpose marginalized cultures to the center by not contextualizing them within the wider mainstream positioning of the dominant culture. In so doing, the books are able to depict the adult members of the Mexican American and the indigenous Costa Rican culture as occupying valorized roles within their culture, thus providing effective role models for the child and adolescent members of their communities. In this manner, both books aim to function as effective identity builders and supporters for children from marginalized cultures by fostering knowledge, understanding, and ultimately pride in the culture's unique identity.
Seyla Benhabib (1999) argues that culture and identity are inextricably linked, that is, "culture is valuable ...because it enables a meaningful range of choices in the conduct of our lives, and because it forms the horizon against which we form a life plan in the first place" (407). Together culture and identity forge the foundations with which individuals, peoples, and nations understand their place in the world and give meaning to their experiences. Indeed, human development, from childhood through old age, takes place within the immediate social contexts of everyday life, such as the family, the workplace, educational institutions, the community, as well as within peer and social groups. The roles and relationships that we adopt and that are made available to us within these social contexts form the basis of...