Caitlin BerganEPSY 430Sunday, April 11, 2010 Much focus has been placed on a typical adolescent who would qualify as amember of mainstream American society. While this has uses, many teachers also comefrom that background. Where the learning for teachers needs to occur is in looking atsituations that are not so typical or are not the situations that they experienced as anadolescent. These situations would not be intuitive or solvable by thinking back over theteacher’s past experiences. The value comes in seeing the perspectives of people who youwere not. In the case study of Jean in “Someday my Elders Will be Proud,” we see anadolescent who does not follow many of the patterns outlined for adolescents in America,largely because she is from a minority population with more traditional structures. Hercase study has much to teach, as she comes from one of the most marginalized ethnicitiesin the nation. She is Native American. For Jean, the development of her identity was highly linked with her familyrelationships. She comes from a Native American family who are her base, her root. Sheis held up by them as a chance to be something better. Even though she was abused as achild by an uncle, she still feels highly attached to her family, and highly supported byher mother. All of the ideas she discusses comes back to her family. She does not want tolet down the people supporting her, she wants to be a good example for other kids fromher community and other communities like hers. While all this is on her mind, and while she holds her family so close, herrelationships with her family are still not perfect. In particular, this seems to come up as a
side effect of her conflicts with majority culture. She gets a scholarship to a privateschool filled with privileged white students who have no idea what to make of her. Jeangets tired of being looked down on because of her second hand clothes. She goes so far asto start shoplifting and stealing from kids at school. But rather than blowing up at hermom with outrage about “you can’t understand what I’m going through” after she getscaught, Jean understands why her mom is disappointed in her. She also begins tounderstand how much her mom is going through trying to support her and her brothers.While this situation brought her in conflict with her mother and probably got her insignificant trouble with the school, it is still an experience that ties her to her family in itsresolution, and it is one that she grows from. Even though the discussion with her mother gives her some perspective on whather family is capable of and what she needs as a person, she still tries to fit in with themajority culture, making up lies about her life, and about her family, saying she was partGreek instead of Native American. When someone asks about her “Greek” grandmother,Jean again feels disappointed in herself and that she was letting down her family and herheritage. But in going through this process of trying to be someone else and beingdisappointed about not being who she is, she reaffirms her identity. She tried a identityand found that it was not her. While her life was not like those around her, it still made upwho she was, providing important definition of herself. Even as she knows that her family is important and a defining characteristic of herself, perhaps even because of this, she still struggles in conflict with the elite faction ofthe majority culture she faces at school. She says, “It seemed that we had to learn to beone way at school and another at school . . . ” and “School was easier because it was
shallow. I could handle talking about classes, but I couldn’t do anything to help Mom ornot make us poor.” This continues to be a problem through college as she battles alsowith a drinking problem, not being able to meet the expectations of college, and nothaving her college experience meet her expectations. It is through her job as tutor in aninner-city program for Native Americans that she sees that her experiences are a culturalway of life – abuse, poverty, and alcoholism had become the norm for these kids, andthey could expect nothing better. They did not deserve that lifestyle, just as she had notwhile she was growing up either. It made it all the more real that she could be aninstrument of change, and now as an adult, she dicides to try college again, this time witha purpose. All of her experiences relate back to her family – how she did and did not want tofeel in front of her family. She was most happy there and within her church culture, andshe felt the most fake when forced among the majority culture. She did make friends withher peers, but only a few peer relationships are mentioned, and not with the weight thather family relationships are mentioned. This is unlike the patterns discussed Arnett,where peer relationships become more important than family. While peer relationshipsseem to become more important to her in high school, Jean still focuses most of herenergy on her family relationships and those from her church and powwows. Arnett suggests that more traditional cultures have more of an emphasis on familyand that their expression of difficulties in adolescence can be different than that inmainstream American culture. However, comparing Jean’s story to Tatum’s musings onthe development of African American identity shows that that is not an accuraterepresentation of other minority experiences. Cross’s model of racial identity
development is in particular not helpful, as does not apply to a broad racial experience,but only to the limited scope of African Americans. The Native American culture that Jean describes is rejected on levels far aboveand beyond African American culture. It is far more politically convenient for it thereaction to be severe and for it to stay that way. I will also point out that the NativeAmerican community does not have the national advocacy and leverage to institutechange. All of this means that experiences of Native Americans trying to navigatemainstream culture is very different and much more difficult. Jean and her brothers neverhad a pre-encounter stage. She describes her childhood and school experiences from thebeginning as having to endure bullying and discrimination due to her Native Americanbackground. They were always aware of how they were stigmatized by mainstreamculture. There is no period of integration and understanding. Instead, Jean and her familyhave always been marginalized. By the Cross model, Jean’s whole life has been an encounter phase. The problembecame more acute as she enters the private school, where students were not only white,but from a drastically different socio-economic background. They had no appreciation forher heritage and her ways of life, seeing only that they do not match up to their own.Quite frankly, they were too busy figuring out how they could be misunderstood andoverly pressured by their parents, as the Luthar and Shawn article outlines, for them to besympathetic to Jean’s problems. While much of the analysis done by Tatum does not apply to a different minority,Tatum also advances the idea of racelessness, which might be a useful concept in lookingat Jean’s case. She discusses case where an adolescent will de-emphasize the
characteristics that would firmly align them with the rejected group. Jean does try to dothis by trying to get clothes that would make her fit in more – or stand out less. Also herseries of lies about her life in an attempt to make it sound more like the lives of her peers.These attempts leave her feeling ashamed, though. Rather than embracing thisracelessness as part of her identity, Jean chooses to continue the struggle to fineownership in her identity as part of the Native American community, and moreparticularly as a member of her family. Tatum’s discussion of being an emissary might also apply to Jean’s case after shereturns to college. She is more settled in who she is than in middle school or high school,or even in her first attempt at college. She has a goal – to make life better for childrenwho live in similar circumstances to her own. She goes back into the majority societywith the intention of making life, particularly the school experiences, better for otherNative American kids. She seeks to better the community, in her reception at school andwhat she does with it after. This is similar to the idea of emissary. Tatum also remarks onthe influence that southern Black teachers might have had in being role-models ofacademic achievement and effort to their students; this is exactly the goal that Jean comesback to college with. Jean’s experiences show what it is like to be at the bottom of the bottom and try tomake something of it. Even with a good attitude and the support of her family, she stillstruggles mightily with the social stigma attached to her ethnicity and how thatchallenges the formation of her identity. However, the more her identity was challenged,the more she had to think about who she was, and the stronger it was when it didcrystallize. The process was vastly different from what many mainstream youths face,
being based more on her family and her links to her traditional culture. But it is thesedifferences that make reading about her experiences all the more valuable for teacherswho could have someone as marginalized, as tortured and confused, as Jean in theirclassroom.