I study and write about literature by U.S. writers of color, especially Latinos and Filipinos. When I started graduate school, and began to narrow my focus to women of color writers in the U.S., I noticed the resistance to the discussion of “identity politics.” Professors and colleagues studying other fields would imply with their questions or tell me directly that such discussions were not important, or at least not as relevant to literary studies as discussions about aesthetics and language, narrative or lyrical structure, etc . (Don’t get me wrong. Those are important issues to discuss, as well, and I think we can talk about those things in U.S. “minority” literatures, but not to the exclusion of other topics.) I initially disagreed with them viscerally, although I may not have been able to intellectualize or verbalize my reasons. The texts I was reading were speaking to me personally. They were beginning to answer important questions about who I am and why, about the choices I can make about how I understand myself, given both my family history and the larger historical contexts of colonization, imperialism, and diaspora that have affected generations of people of color.
Later, scholars in my own field began to voice their frustration with the repetitive nature of the discussions on identity politics in much U.S. literature. And slowly, without even realizing it was happening, I began to agree. I, too, wanted to talk about something else, wanted to move on. So, it isn’t surprising that when a young girl came on NPR to talk about her experience as a mixed race woman in the United States, I thought: Really? Are we talking about this again? I’ve heard this story soooo many times!
And then it occurred to me. Of course I’ve heard this story a million times. Of course we’re still talking about issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and how that affects us as communities and individuals. Of course we are. It’s inevitable. The white ideal is still being privileged. People of color are still being profiled. Women are held to different standards than men (and men have norms they’re expected to maintain, as well). We don’t all have the same rights and privileges, whatever our K-12 history books might lead us to believe. So, until we do, we will continue to hear about “identity politics.” We will continue to hear about the unfairness of our economic, educational, and other social policies. We will continue to hear from young women and men on NPR, who feel disenfranchised IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY. We will continue to see young Mexican Americans having to step up and explain why they are just as American as everyone else. And, yes, they’re Mexican, too.
We keep hearing these stories and having these discussions because the problems have not been solved, the questions have not been answered. And I, for one, don’t want to “move on” or “get over it,” as I’ve been told by many that I should, until the issues at hand have been fully addressed, even if that means another discussion about identity politics.