-r” ~~!!!; .
Two Ways to Belong
Born in 1940 and raised in Calcutta, India, Bharati Mukherjee immi-
grated to the United States in 1961 and earned an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in
literature. Mukherjee is the author of several novels, including Tiger’s
Daughter (1972) and Jasmine (1989), and short story col/ections, such
as The Middleman and Other Stories (1988). She teaches literature
and fiction writing at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Two Ways to Belong in America” first appeared in the New York
Times. It waS written to address a movement in Congress to take away
government benefits from resident aliens. Like her fiction, though, it is
also about the issues that confront all immigrants in America.
This is a tale of two sisters from Calcutta, Mira and Bharati, who
have lived in the United States for some 35 years, but who find
themselves on different sides in the current debate over the status
of immigrants. I am an American citizen and she is not. I am
moved that thousands of long-term residents are finally taking
the oath of citizenship. She is not.
Mira arrived in Detroit in 1960 to study child psychology and
pre-school education. I followed her a year later to study creative
writing at the University of Iowa. When we left India, we were
almost identical in appearance and attitude. We dressed alike, in
saris; we expressed identical views on politics, social issues, love,
and marriage in the same Calcutta convent-school accent. We
would endure our two years in America, secure our degrees, then
return to India to marry the grooms of our father’s choosing.
Instead, Mira married an Indian student in 1962 who was get-
ting his business administration degree at Wayne State Univer-
sity. They soon acquired the labor certifications necessary for the
green card of hassle-free residence and employment.
Mira still lives in Detroit, works in the Southfield, Mich., school
TWO WAYS TO BELONG IN AMERICA 273
system, and has become nationally recognized for her contribu-
tions in the fields of pre-school education and parent-teacher
relationships. After 36 years as a legal immigrant in this country,
she clings passionately to her Indian citizenship and hopes to go
home to India when she retires.
In Iowa City in 1963, I married a fellow student, an American 5
of Canadian parentage. Because of the accident of his North
Dakota birth, I bypassed labor-certification requirements and the
race-related “quota” system that favored the applicant’s country
of origin over his or her merit. I was prepared for (and even wel-
comed) the emotional strain that came with marrying outside my
ethnic community. In 33 years of marriage, we have lived in every
part of North America. By choosing a husband who was not my
father’s selection, I was opting for fluidity, self-invention, blue
jeans, and T-shirts, and renouncing 3,000 years (at least) of caste-
observant, “pure culture” marriage in the Mukherjee family. My
books have often been read as unapologetic (and in some quar-
ters overenthusiastic) texts for cultural and psychological “mon-
grelization.” It’s a word I celebrate.
Mira and I have stayed sisterly close by phone. In our regular
Sunday morning conversations, we are unguardedly affectionate.
I am her only blood relative on this continent. We expect to see
each other through the looming crises of aging and ill health
without being asked. Long before Vice President Gore’s “Citizen-
ship U.S.A.” drive, we’d had our polite arguments over the ethics
of retaining an overseas citizenship while expecting the perma-
nent protection and economic benefits that come with living and
working in America.
Like well-raised sisters, we never said what was really on our
minds, but we probably pitied one another. She, for the lack of
shucture in my life, the erasure of Indianness, the absence of an
unvarying daily core. I, for the narrowness of her perspective, her
uninvolvement with the mythic depths or the superficial pop cul-
ture of this society. But, now, with the scapegoatings of “aliens”
(documented or illegal) on the increase, and the targeting of long-
term legal immigrants like Mira for new scrutiny and new self-
consciousness, she and I find ourselves unable to maintain the
same polite discretion. We were always unacknowledged adver-
saries, and we are now, more than ever, sisters.
“I feel used,” Mira raged on the phone the other night. “I feel
274 BHARATI MUKHERJEE
manipulated and discarded. This is such an unfair way to treat a
person who was invited to stay and work here because of her tal-
ent. My employer went to the LN.S. and petitioned for the labor
certification. For over 30 years, I’ve invested my creativity and
professional skills into the improvement of this country’s pre-
school system. I’ve obeyed all the rules, I’ve paid my taxes, I love
my work, I love my students, I love the friends I’ve made. How
dare America now change its rules in midstream? If America
wants to make new rules curtailing benefits of legal immigrants,
they should apply only to immigrants who arrive after those rules
are already in place.”
To my ears, it sounded like the description of a long-enduring,
comfortable yet loveless marriage, without risk or recklessness.
Have we the right to demand, and to expect, that we be loved?
(That, to me, is the subtext of the arguments by immigration
advocates.) My sister is an expatriate, professionally generous
and creative, socially courteous and gracious, and that’s as far as
her Americanization can go. She is here to maintain an identity,
not to transform it.
I asked her if she would follow the example of others who have 10
decided to become citizens because of the anti-immigration bills
in Congress. And here, she surprised me. “If America wants to
play the manipulative game, I’ll play it, too,” she snapped. “I’ll
become a U.S. citizen for now, then change back to India when
I’m ready to go home. I feel some kind of irrational attachment to
India that I don’t to America. Until all this hysteria against legal
immigrants, I was totally happy. Having my green card meant I
could visit any place in the world I wanted to and then come back
to a job that’s satisfying and that I do very well.”
In one family, from two sisters alike as peas in a pod, there
could not be a wider divergence of immigrant experience. Amer-
ica spoke to me-I married it-I embraced the demotion from
expatriate aristocrat to immigrant nobody, surrendering those
thousands of years of “pure culture,” the saris, the delightfully
accented English. She retained them all. Which of us is the freak?
Mira’s voice, I realize, is the voice not just of the immigrant
South Asian community but of an immigrant community of the
millions who have stayed rooted in one job, one city, one house,
one ancestral culture, one cuisine, for the entirety of their pro-
ductive years. She speaks for greater numbers than I possibly
can. Only the fluency of her English and the anger, rather than
TWO WAYS TO BELONG TN AMERICA 275
fear, born of confidence from her education, differentiate her
from the seamstresses, the domestics, the technicians, the shop
owners, the millions of hard-working but effectively silenced
documented immigrants as well as their less fortunate “illegal”
brothers and sisters.
Nearly 20 years ago, when I was living in my husband’s ances-
tral homeland of Canada, I was always well-employed but never
allowed to feel part of the local Quebec or larger Canadian soci-
ety. Then, through a Green Paper that invited a national referen-
dum on the unwanted side effects of “nontraditional” immigra-
tion, the government officially turned against its immigrant
communities, particularly those from South Asia.
I felt then the same sense of betrayal that Mira feels now. I will
never forget the pain of that sudden turning, and the casual racist
outbursts the Green Paper elicited. That sense of betrayal had its
desired effect and drove me, and thousands like me, from the
Mira and I differ, however, in the ways in which we hope to IS
interact with the country that we have chosen to live in. She is
happier to live in America as expatriate Indian than as an immi-
grant American. I need to feel like a part of the community I have
adopted (as I tried to feel in Canada as well). I need to put roots
down, to vote and make the difference that I can. The price that
the immigrant willingly pays, and that the exile avoids, is the
trauma of self-transformation.
For Discussion and Writing
1. Make a list of specific qualities, behaviors, and beliefs for each of the
two sisters. What similarities and differences are evident?
2. Mukherjee spends much of this essay comparing herself to her sister.
What larger comparison does this analysis support?
3. Mukherjee’s essay contains a lot of background information (about
politics and history), which she skillfully weaves into the story she
tells about herself and her sister. Compare the way she incorporates
information to the method used by Stephen Jay Gould in “Women’s
Brains” (p. 130).
4. Think of a sibling or mend with whom you disagree vehemently over
some issue or idea. Describe your arguments about it. Are they
“polite,” as Mukherjee says hers are with her sister?
Essay 3: Culture and Identity
Percentage of Final Grade: 15% or 150 points
The purpose of the assignment is to show that you know how to identify and discuss
basic structural and/or technical elements and rhetorical strategies of various literary
works and how those elements contribute to the overall effect of the work.
For Essay 3, you will conduct a formal literary analysis of one of the assigned readings
in Unit 3: Conformity and Rebellion (listed below). You should focus on literary
elements, such as setting, imagery, tone, and symbolism. Before beginning to write,
you will want to review “Reading Literature” (pp. 2–35) and “Writing About Literature
(pp. 36-75) in your textbook. Pay particular attention to the section titled, “The
Research Paper.” I also have posted a variety of helpful resources regarding literary
analysis under Content in D2L. Please come to me with any questions or concerns. I am
happy to help!
Be sure to include quoted passages from the reading(s) to illustrate your points. For
this essay, you will be required to cite two secondary sources. All quotes must be
properly documented within the text and on a Works Cited page using correct MLA
documentation style. Scholarly articles from online journals through the library
databases are preferable, but I will accept other sources as long as they are reputable.
However, you are not permitted to use Wikipedia, blogs, personal webpages, or other
informal and/or unreliable sources. If you are in doubt, please ask me.
• Charlotte Perkins Gilman – “The Yellow Wallpaper”
• James Baldwin – “Sonny’s Blues”
• Alice Walker – “Everyday Use”
• Ha Jin – “The Bridegroom”
• Paul Laurence Dunbar – “We Wear the Mask”
• T.S. Eliot – “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
• Kevin Young – “Negative”
• Terrance Hayes – “Root”
• Patricia Smith – “What It’s Like to Be a Black Girl (For Those of You Who Aren’t)”
• Danez Smith – “The Bullet Was a Girl”
• Naomi Shihab Nye – “To Jamyla Bolden of Ferguson, Missouri”
• Tishani Doshi – “Lament —I”
• Blas Manuel De Luna – “Bent to the Earth”
• Jamaica Kincaid – “Girl”
• E.E. Cummings – “The Cambridge Ladies Who Live in Furnished Souls”
• Tess Gallagher – “I Stop Writing the Poem”
• Julia Alvarez – “Woman’s Work”
• Deborah Garrison – “Sestina for the Working Mother”
• Naomi Shihab Nye – “This Is Not Who We Are: Arab-Americans in a Post 9/11
• Bharati Mukherjee – “Two Ways to Belong in America”
• August Wilson – Fences
I encourage you to choose any one of the assigned readings. I would suggest choosing
the one that you best understand and about which you have the most to say.
You are not limited to the topics below. Be creative! I welcome your ideas. The topics
literally are endless. However, I do want to provide a few example topics to help you
• Choose any reading from this unit in which objects or actions seem to function
as symbols. Write an essay exploring the possible meanings of these symbols.
For example, in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” both the wallpaper and the window
function as symbols. Similarly, the fence in Fences is symbolic of a variety of
racial, class, and economic barriers.
• Write an essay in which you explore how a literary element – such as tone,
setting, irony, or imagery – contributes to the overall effect and meaning of a
• Write an essay in which you discuss the effect of the literary effect of figurative
language – such as simile, metaphor, personification, or allusion – contributes to
the overall effect and meaning of a particular poem.
• Write an essay in which you explore how a recurring word or phrase contributes
to the effect and meaning of a particular reading.
• Write an essay in which you analyze the thesis, structure, style, tone, or
rhetorical strategies used in one of the nonfiction readings from this unit.
• Narration plays a key role in virtually all literary works. Write an essay in which
you examine the narrative voice in the selected reading. Pay close attention to
passages in which the narrator relates the voice, vision, thoughts, or perspective
of a focal character. How does the narrative voice contribute to tone, irony, or
other effects of the story? Does the narrator speak in the first, second or third
person? Is the story narrated in the past or present tense? Does the narrator use
a distinctive vocabulary, style, and tone, or is the language more standard and
neutral? Is the narrator identified as a character, and if so, how much does he or
she participate in the action? Does the narrator ever seem to speak directly to
the reader (addressing “you”) or explicitly state opinions or values? Do you know
what the character is thinking? Does the narrative voice or focus shift during the
story or remain consistent? Do the narrator, the characters, and the reader all
perceive matters in the same way, or are there differences in levels of
1. Length: 1,000-1,200 words
2. Include direct quotes from the readings to support your assertions.
3. Properly introduce, present, and cite all direct quotes.
4. Include a Works Cited page in which you cite the readings that you chose for this
5. You must adhere to the formatting guidelines set forth in The MLA Handbook, 8th
edition. Be sure that all margins measure 1 inch and that you use Times New
Roman 12-point font. You also should follow MLA formatting guidelines regarding
the page heading, running header, page numbering, etc.
• Include an original and thought-provoking title.
• Include a clear, focused thesis statement.
• Present and support your points with observations, details, and examples.
• Properly organize the paper.
• Provide clear transitions.
• Use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Avoid slang, clichés, and second
• Use a variety of sentence structures and sentence beginnings.
• Do not simply restate your thesis and main points in the conclusion. Your conclusion
should be a fresh take on that thesis, and you should work to leave your readers
with something thought-provoking.
• Is the writer’s purpose/position clear?
• Is the essay effectively organized?
• Are the paragraphs adequately developed?
• Is the tone appropriate to the essay’s purpose?
• Is there evidence of attention to language, of a conscious attempt to employ
rhetorical strategies to achieve a certain effect?
• Does the essay contain errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and/or mechanics?
• Does the writer smoothly incorporate source material, using signal phrases and
• Does the writer accurately cite all sources both in the text of the essay and on the
Works Cited page?
Reflect on the possible meaning(s) of the title: _________________________________
Author: ________________________________________________________________ Genre: _________________________________________________________________
Setting (both time and place): ______________________________________________
Historical/social context: ___________________________________________________
Narration/point of view? ___________________________________________________
Author’s purpose: ________________________________________________________
Main idea: ______________________________________________________________
· Protagonist(s): _____________________________________________________
· Antagonist(s): _____________________________________________________
· Static characters: ___________________________________________________
· Dynamic characters: ________________________________________________
· Symbolism: ________________________________________________________
· Foreshadowing: ____________________________________________________
· Suspense: _________________________________________________________
· Flashback: ________________________________________________________
· Imagery: _________________________________________________________
· Irony: ____________________________________________________________
· Humor/satire: ______________________________________________________
· Allusion: __________________________________________________________
· Personification: ____________________________________________________
· Metaphor: ________________________________________________________
· Simile: ___________________________________________________________
· Other literary devices: _______________________________________________
Conflict (internal and/or external): ___________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
· Exposition: ________________________________________________________
· Rising action: ______________________________________________________
· Climax: ___________________________________________________________
· Falling action: ______________________________________________________
· Resolution: ________________________________________________________