In her book Make Your Home Among Strangers, author Jennine Crucet chronicled the fictional journey of an American girl of Cuban descent as she navigated university life and civil rights struggles simultaneously. Her story brought light to the struggles of identity and familial connection the children of immigrants sometimes face. The author highlighted the character’s, Lizet, struggle with identity through her life on campus at college compared to that of her home in Miami. After moving to her university, she became hyper-conscious of how others perceived her. Her struggles with her identity bled into her conflicts with her family as she tried to win their sympathy while pursuing her educational and career goals. She felt herself growing more and more distant from her Miami community as she spent time in New York. This conflict was the result of her family and peer’s fundamental misunderstandings of her needs and desires as well her personal character development. In the end, she found peace with her identity and her family, even though they remained somewhat distant.
Lizet’s family had a strong connection among itself as well as with its local community. They lived in the same area for almost all of Lizet’s life up until she left for college, and they congregated with the same people for years. As a result, their bonds were deep, and each of the family members expected they would stay close together forever. Even when their relationships were clearly painful, as was the case with Lizet’s parents, they stayed together because that was the expectation. However, those expectations were shattered particularly after Lizet announced last minute that she would be leaving for college in New York that year. The rest of her family members felt deeply betrayed, and resented her for her decision. Even after she had been on campus for the greater part of a semester, they acted distant around her, and made comments criticizing her decision to study out of state. Again, when she announced to them that she wanted to take a summer internship in California, her mother and sister understood her decision as her abandoning them. They accused her of being selfish, and implied that she was trying to distance herself from her roots. This further fueled her conflict of identity which started the moment she arrived at her university.
Lizet’s university experience was riddled with her trying to fit into a Cuban or American identity to be the quintessential version of whatever it was others expected her to be. It started with the assembly put together for all of Rawling’s students of color. There, she felt the need to meet the requirements of being Cuban or broadly Latina, comparing her behavior and life experiences to that of another Latina student present. As civil rights movements surrounding the immigration status of a Cuban boy, Ariel, who arrived to the U.S. alone, began to increase in intensity and publicity, Lizet found herself feeling pressured to answer for the events despite not being personally invested in the matter. People expected her to know the details of the situation and have strong feelings about it, and so she began to question her authenticity as a Cuban for having not met the expectations of what a Cuban should be. She even felt her identity come into question when she returned home from college for breaks. Her older sister often accused her of being white for using phrases and habits she picked up from school. Her other family members also treated her distantly and made snarky remarks about how she thought she was better than her community for pursing higher education, accusing her of trying to be a part of the white crowd.
The identity conflict in this story demonstrates a prevalent form of white privilege which the Crucet discussed at Georgia Southern University and was challenged on by other students. Academic vigor and excellence and elevated vocabulary are all associated with whiteness in America, so educational success is the norm for and expected of white students, while the same trait is seen as a sign of pretense and race betrayal in students of color. This implicit bias negatively impacts the ability of students of color to succeed or even feel comfortable in academic spaces. Furthermore, students of color are often pushed into boxes and forced to be the spokespeople of their race just by the fact that there are usually so few of them present on the campus environment. They are expected to meet a certain stereotype and are largely stripped of their individuality, a phenomenon that their white counterparts are not subject to. These are clear examples of white privilege, but the author’s comments on the subject were not received well by her Georgia Southern University audience. The resistance to her message eventually culminated in a book burning on the campus, but I see nothing incorrect about her message.