Tradition, peer, family pressure – these are all part of a culture that shapes our personality. Culture shapes our being and identity, our development as a person, but not our destiny. It may only affect what we will become someday, probably in our thinking of what we want to become, as in an ambition to be a doctor or a nurse, or lawyer or ordinary employee of a corporation.
I always wanted to be a nurse, to touch and care for the sick, the developmentally disadvantaged, and the aged. And this longing has been motivated more by many experiences along the way. There is a more burning desire on my part, added with some economic reasons along the way. As time goes by, my environment and the genes that compose my physical being slowly and carefully develop my identity.
I was brought up in a way that I am to strive for something that I would like to attain. This is something that involves my development as a child. I love to study and put a lot of effort into it. As I reflect on my personal life, I try to see what lies ahead of my student life. I think we all do that – reflect on the future. What really lies ahead? And what was yesterday?
We are now living in a different world, different from what it used to be some years ago. It has been coined by media – the global village – a world of effective and fast communication, computers and the internet, means of transportation faster than the speed of sound. And this is how live now. Everything has changed dramatically from medical breakthroughs to art and entertainment. Is there still such a life as the one mentioned in the No Name Woman? I think there is.
Before I expound on my identity, I would like to share a few thoughts on No Name Woman. For me, this is a metaphor for some of the real stories of society in this present age of computers and the internet. Where discrimination and chauvinist thinking and policies come, there is the no-name-woman in the dark, in the small corner of the room, somebody who has no voice and does not have the strength to fight, and like the woman in the pigsty, yes, she is reduced to the lowest animal left for dead.
While the story tells of the culture that cannot be changed, in the village, in the hinterland, far from civilization, it can happen in the city. There are thousands out there who may have the same misfortune of the no-name-woman who have left their families and homes to find their fortunes in the jungles in the city; there are many from poor countries in Asia who have gone to the Middle East, or to the United States, to accept jobs that have reduced them to the lowest serf. This new generation of migrants does not have a voice and they suffer the same fate as the woman in the story, literally or figuratively. Many of them are working in sweatshops in the United States. And many of them are women. Haven’t we heard in the news of the fate of these Asians who’ve been oppressed by their male masters; some were murdered, some have committed suicides? The metaphor goes on and on, and thank God for Maxine Hong Kingston for giving us this story, a wake-up call for all of us.
No Name Woman, a first-person narrative, tells of the great influence of culture, no matter how primitive, and this ran for generations that it seems it cannot be erased; it runs innate in the psyche of the village and has become so immoral and unhealthy. The introduction of another culture, like the American way of life, cannot heal the “sickness” just automatically.
The people have regarding the way of life they were accustomed to as part of life or a law that should not be broken, and cannot anymore be erased from their lives until the end. If you break tradition, you commit the gravest sin ever, and you’re out – execution probably, or maybe worse than execution. In this case, this is even worse than execution what with all the accusations and actions of the village people, as if the aunt committed a crime worse than murder.
How does the culture or tradition in the story-essay regard sin? Sin is not just a transgression of the law, but a violation of the normal norms of the village or the community. Sin is committing something that shames the family. The sin here is breaking tradition or committing something not the ordinary, like when the aunt, the “no name woman”, gets pregnant for no apparent reason, meaning her husband has been in far-away land for many years now, and suddenly she has a “protruding melon of a stomach.”
All societies have particular cultures. We experience different cultures, ways of life that are distinct from each other, with “dos and don’ts”, tradition, taboos, and mores of society, aside from the written legal codes, laws, and statues that we have to follow. In this sense, while we have the responsibility to observe these taboos and traditions, we also have the obligation to modify them according to the present standards, present beliefs, and education that we have attained. We don’t have the obligation to follow them to the letter. Education is very important. While these shape our identity, we have the right and the privilege later on to modify them.
The culture and the way of life mentioned in No Name Woman can be true, but it can be fictional. We can believe it, but it does not necessarily mean everything in the story is true. Some could be based on facts, but stories are stories. What is important is how we react to the story-essay of Maxine Hong Kingston. I call it a story-essay because it looks like a story, a valid story of a village people whose beliefs may date back to the years of the dynasties and ancient Chinese families. Yet, to call this an essay can reflect something, i.e. it has some soundproof as to its validity and truth.
Some old traditions and cultures can have the extravagance of exaggeration. True! Because in olden times, when there was not yet the technology and the industrial revolution, people just stuck to their beliefs. There was nothing else to do. And when the industrial revolution came, then with the advent of technology, computers, the internet, there were some who lagged behind especially in the remotest countryside. This is the countryside mentioned in the No Name Woman. This is the culture that is centuries-old, untouched by technology, untouched by money. People just depended on the “money sent” from abroad. Poverty is ingrained, common in the psyche of the village people. They were apt to look at each others’ mistakes as if nobody could commit mistakes; or that everybody has to look after one another, including not committing shameful acts.
Culture and the way we were brought up at home can influence our identity and personality. Our families, the community, and the environment collectively influence our being. Identity and personality are two related things. Culture may influence our thinking, our ambition, our way of life, and the way we want our life to be, but not our destiny. Truly we shape our own destiny. ‘I am the captain of my soul, the master of my faith.’ This is not merely culture; this is developed as a human being.
Now, what about destiny? To me, my destiny is not what I have been. What we were and how we have been – our environment, our family, our community, etc. – are a part of us and our past that affect our future. But I believe in what Rick Warren said, in The Purpose Driven Life, “We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.” (Warren 28).
Although Warren was referring to the spiritual life, it can also refer to culture, a sinful culture. Sin and wrongful acts in the story of No Name Woman are part of the culture of the people. And we can see what happens when what is not right is a part of the culture. If chastising the aunt, placing her in a pigsty along with her newly-born, and literally leaving her alone to die, is part of a glorious past called culture, then the hell with culture. It’s not only immoral; it’s murder. And I don’t want to be a part of it.
The story Salvation, tells of the reality going on in churches nowadays. People just want to play make-believe with their religion. For me, this is not how religion should be or how it should influence our lives. Religion is a matter of a personal relationship with the Lord, and you cannot have this relationship in an instance where at a snap of a finger, the Holy Spirit just comes into you, and you are saved. Salvation comes as we struggle through life, as we learn the lessons of home and we apply them to our daily life.
There is a common characteristic in both stories of No Name Woman and Salvation, and that is wrong belief enforced on the young. It is a misconception that since you have been living with these beliefs, you have to follow them to the letter, and they should not be defied. Brainwashing the young for a false belief is also present in both stories. In Salvation, the story seems funny; yes, comedic enough to know that salvation can be attained through the command of the pastor and the people.
To correlate my personal life with the two stories, I think I’m lucky enough to be a stranger to both cultures, although my personal life has been influenced by tradition and religion. Like any other traditional religious belief, Catholicism molded my mind and spirit into what is good and moral. I was introduced from the beginning into the ways of a personal relationship with the Lord and my fellow man, the way it was centuries ago. And this I embrace wholeheartedly because I find it the only way that can bring me to eternal life. It shaped my personality and my attitude and behavior in dealing with others. I have not embraced it because it was forced on me. This tradition and religion were wholeheartedly given and also wholeheartedly accepted by me.
I was brought up in the Catholic faith, by a single, loving mom of Polish ancestry. I embraced the faith – until now – not because it has become a part of me and that I have no choice, but because I found it fulfilling, true, and can bring me to a happy and successful life. It’s different when you say you have to accept and embrace it because that’s how it’s going to be and that’s how it has been. There’s more to culture than what is just being used to doing it. Cultures are to be broken if they are against what is moral. Cultures are not always right as the ones in the story.
If something, some event, some happening in my life that can give me strengths and overcome my weaknesses, that can give me the passion to reach my goals in life, and I can have the will to sacrifice for the betterment of my family and other people, then that is the culture that should be copied and should last a lifetime. That, I’m proud to say, is making me and my future.
I think this is how I have been brought up. People have observed that I am quiet, honest, empathetic, friendly, sensitive – and I like it. That is how I grew up, that’s how my hardworking mom brought me up; and that is what I want to be years from now when I will be touching and caring for the lives of people in hospitals and homes. And the more I will be happy if I am given a chance to care for my folks with their gray hair, especially my mom who has devoted her life and strength to look after me, to help me achieve my ambition, and to see me in my white uniform.
I was brought up with the realization that religion is a way of life, and that salvation should be worked out. It does not come like lightning and then you are washed of your sins. It is a process borne out from the ways we live with our fellow human beings. When my mom brought me out of poverty and raised me to become the person that I am, that is salvation. When we care for the unfortunate, like the developmentally disabled children, take care of their needs, touch their lives so that they’ll be able to praise and thank God, that is also a part of our salvation. And lastly, salvation is a matter of choice. That is what God wanted it from the beginning when He gave man the free choice – to be in hell or to be with Him in eternal life. It has never been written that salvation comes to you instantly through singing and dancing. This is my destiny that I have embraced, shaped by my environment.
Huges, Langston. Salvation Kingston, Maxine Hong. No Name Woman.
Warren, R. (2002). The Purpose Driven Life. Metro-Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature.