On the second day of class, we will watch clips from two documentaries that explore the personal and historical identities of the filmmakers. The first film, Family Name, was created by Macky Alston, as he explores the history of his white family in the south, as former slave owners.
The second movie, Yo Soy Boricua: Pa’que to lo sepas! (I’m Boricua just so you know), is created by Rosie Perez, as she explores her Puerto Rican heritage, both looking at her personal story as well as the history of the land.
After viewing these two examples, please think about your own family history.
Include the following: Your full name, major, year, extra-curricular activities. Have an opening into your story and a sociological theme about your family identity that you follow. Talk about demographics (gender, race, religion, ethnicity, location, class, etc.), institutions (education, government, military, economy, medical, etc.), and social power dynamics (how is power exercised in your family and how do you learn about it), as it relates to your story. List as many as you can, in detail. How does the stories in the documentaries resonate with your own? What is sociologically significant about your family? Mention some statistics related to your family, in order to contextualize it. (Include links, pictures, and videos).
For example, I could open with a story about my parents as they relate to the social institutions of the government and education. My mother entered the United States as a foreign student from Hong Kong; thus, interacting directly with governments (for visas) as well as the educational institution, as she found colleges to attend, in both England and then the United States. Strict governmental rules established that while she may be a on a student visa and attending school in a particular country, she was not allowed to work. Thus, the power of the governmental institution was controlling her options, and impacting her financially (institution of the economy) and exerting a force of power over her life. She later met and married my father, interring into yet another institution, that of marriage, which resulted in another interaction with the government (applying for her immigration papers, now that she was the wife of a U.S. citizen). They were a heterosexually marrying couple; thus, did not face the limitations that gay couples face when dealing with similar immigration issues. That is an example of the demographic category of “sexuality,” in which social power is exerted over our choices depending upon which sexual orientation category we fall into. My mother is Chinese, from Hong Kong, and my father is White, a descendent of farmers in Nebraska. My father was born in 1926, and thus, his childhood was spent during the Great Depression, while he was living on the farms of his grandparents, being impressed with the social issues of farmers losing their farms in large numbers. For example, here is a website entitled Living History Farm, which describes what it was like to be a farmer in Nebraska during this difficult time period. This situation, caused by the economic institution, shaped my father’s personality, behaviors and ideologies for the rest of his life. How has the economic situation of your childhood shaped your personality? Is it as dramatic as it was for my father? My mother was also shaped by ideology (a social structure: belief systems and their transmission): she, like many immigrants, came to the United States and hoped to achieve the American dream. Did you know that the phrase, “the American dream,” originated in the novel The Epic of America, by James Truslow Adams, published in 1931. That demonstrates that a cultural product from popular culture, can influence the ideology of a nation. Demographically, my parents are very different, and this differences stems from social identities often ranked hierarchically in terms of social power. My father is a White, heterosexual, man, older, financially stable as he was in the later stages of his career, and an American citizen. These are his demographic markers. On the other hand, my mother’s demographic markers place her in a socio-political economic position lower on the hierarchy than my father. She is an immigrant, lesser educated than my father (with his Ph.D.; though she has a BA degree, which places her in the ~30% of the population that holds such a degree), Chinese, younger (20 years younger than my father), holding jobs far more unstable and financially lucrative than my father’s, heterosexual, female, with a background in Hong Kong of coming from a wealthy family, along with six other siblings. Because of the hierarchical differences between my parents demographics, especially age, gender, and heterosexuality, it formed their daily behaviors in the house, such as my mother being responsible for the childcare, cooking, and cleaning, and my father not changing diapers, but paying all of the bills, and allowing my mother to keep her own money. Therefore, while I was growing up, I was placed in a context in which it was assumed that there were appropriate divisions of labor based on gender. This is another example of a social ideology being transmitted to us, and then we internalize such ideas into our own behaviors. It seems almost natural. I noticed racial hierarchies acted out in daily life as well, which taught me the lesson as a child that it is better to be White and speak English, over being Chinese and speaking Cantonese. I internalized this message early on, by the age of two I was running around the house saying, “I’m an American, I speak English,” in response to my mother’s half hearted attempts to teach me her first language, Cantonese. Where did I learn these ideas by the age of two? The social demographics, and my parents’ interactions and relationships with various social institutions, shapes the family environment in which I was raised, and established the ideologies I would learn and internalize, as well as the material life that I was provided with, which would contribute to my future possibilities. I am a person shaped by social institutions, how my family has interacted with them, demographic information, and the impact of social power (immigration, gender roles, etc.). This is how sociology teaches me another perspective in understanding how my family history influences the possibilities of my own life, and who I am as a person, and how I identify.
This has been an example of the ways in which you can approach thinking sociologically about your own family histories and how these social factors have made you the person you are today. (846 words).
Please post your own history stories and links in the comment section below.