Identity is often fluid and alters according to the situation. The responses from these interviewees during these particular instances could differ by day, setting, or situation.
I conducted three brief interviews by a park near Flatbush, Brooklyn. In these interviews I asked children of Caribbean immigrants to make a decision about their cultural identities. The second generation immigrants were presented with the triangle on page 3.
Their job was to decide whether they felt more “American”, “Caribbean”, or “New Yorker” and place the pushpin anywhere on the triangle according to their decision. For example, if the interviewee felt mostly “American”, somewhat “Caribbean”, and barely felt “New Yorker” they would place the pushpin far from “New Yorker” and closer to “American” than “Caribbean”.
Of three interviewees, all were high-school age females. The first interviewee was the child of one immigrant parent, and one native-born parent:
Interviewee #1: I chose ‘New Yorker’ because I mostly grew up from here, but my parents are just from there, that’s why I’d say I’m Caribbean, and I grew up here since I was little and I went back…
JR: Why didn’t you place it more towards the Caribbean?
Interviewee #1: I don’t really know much about the Caribbean, but all I know is that one of my parents is from there.
Although she first stated that both her parents were from the Caribbean, she corrected herself when she later mentioned that only one of her parents came from the Caribbean. Interviewee #1 decided on “New Yorker” with little hesitation. She briefly mentioned that she “went back” to the Caribbean. The phrase “went back” as opposed to “traveled to” might indicate that she recognizes the Caribbean as part of her ancestry, but does not know enough about the Caribbean to identify with it.
Her response was one in which she identified under the “American identity” umbrella. One possible reason she chose “New Yorker” instead of “American” may be because she mostly grew up in New York, and it may have been easier to identify with the multiculturalism of New York as opposed to that of the entire United States.
It is important to note that this response is merely speculation and not a conclusion. It would be almost impossible to draw concrete conclusions from the brief interviews I conducted with any of the three interviewees.
The second interviewee was a child of two Caribbean immigrants. When I presented the triangle, she asked me “Wouldn’t you say ‘American” and ‘New Yorker’ almost the same thing?” I responded that it was up to her to interpret their meaning. While she was contemplating her decision, she mentioned to one of her friends that she was going to choose “Caribbean”. He argued that she was born in New York, not the Caribbean. Although she said it did not matter because both of her parents were Caribbean, she did rethink her answer and placed the push pin between “Caribbean” and “New Yorker”.
JR: So why did you put it there?
Interviewee #2: I was born in New York, but both of my parents are Caribbean, and I feel like I’m half. Like I was born in New York, so I feel like I know more of New York, but since my parents are Caribbean I have…
Before she finished that last sentence, my camera ran out of memory. However, I believe that Interviewee #2 portrayed how it feels to be in between two cultures. It appears as though she identifies with the roots laid by her parents, as well as with the place of her birth. It is interesting that she originally chose just “Caribbean”, but was swayed by her friend, further conveying the fluidity of identity as well as the influence of outside opinions on our identity.
The last interviewee was a recent immigrant and a member of the 1.5 generation. She placed the push pin directly on the “Caribbean” point of the triangle without hesitation:
JR: Where are your parents from?
Interviewee #3: Trinidad.
JR: And where were you born?
Interviewee #3: I was born in Trinidad.
JR: And how long did you live in Trinidad?
Interviewee #3: Twelve Years.
JR: So why did you place your tack closer to “Caribbean” than “New Yorker” or“American”?
Interviewee #3: Basically because I’m only 15, and because I was raised there for 12 years, the Americans, they don’t really influence me that much, because I’m living with my parents who are also from Trinidad, so I don’t let it influence me.
Interviewee #3’s explanation resembled an immigrant identity very closely. She was raised for 12 years in Trinidad, so she has established a strong Caribbean identity. Furthermore, she refers to “the Americans” as an influence that does not affect her. It is also a group that she is separate from and does not identify with. Also, each of the interviewees referred to at least one parent as her connection to the Caribbean. Parents are often the most immediate connection to the homeland for a second generation immigrant.