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By Marah Bukai
Exclusive for Al Waref

Is it possible for a society that is built upon pluralism of races, ethnicity, and cultures to have a unifying identity independent of its distinct racial, ethnic and cultural components? Is it unrealistic to believe in a unilateral cultural identity? Put another way, is E Pluribus Unum a viable national credo in today's world?

The United States is perhaps the only country in the world to profess linguistic and cultural pluralism, and to harmoniously accept the distinguished "others"—the millions of immigrants who have landed on its shores, bringing with them diverse colors, traditions, languages, and memories. These have melted together into one unified collective awareness that, despite the mellowing effects of time, still savors the uniqueness of the individual, his heritage and his beliefs.

The creative language found in the work of writers and intellectuals represents a sophisticated dialogue, one that emphasizes and values communication between cultures. Even though English is America s first language, it has never been used to suppress the languages that immigrants brought to the country.

Child of the Border

Sergio Troncoso, a resident of El Paso, Texas, a small city along the Mexican border, is a pure example of this duality of cultural identity.

Troncoso grew up there, the son of parents of Mexican origins who worked hard to support him and his younger brother. They didn t have electricity, and they had to fetch water from adjacent public tanks and bring it to the house.

Since his early childhood, Troncoso tended to be reclusive and enjoyed reading. He used to borrow books from the school library every Friday, and spend his entire weekend totally engrossed in the adventures and fiction he so much adored.

In high school, he wrote for the school newspaper, submitted extremely critical articles and in time became the editor-in-chief.

As Troncoso says, "My writings were based on my belonging to dual memories. The first had its origins in my Mexican ancestry and the other was shaped by the culture of the United States."

Troncoso received a scholarship to Harvard University, arguably the most prestigious university in the United States. There, this village boy, radiant with simplicity and intelligence, realized he would sit side-by-side with the sons of the elite, at a university which had graduated men like President John F. Kennedy.

"I won a scholarship that enabled me to pursue my studies in political science, but I always yearned to learn about Mexican culture in its native tongue," Troncoso says. "When I received a Fulbright International Scholarship, I headed to Mexico City, where I began to study literature and philosophy in Spanish, which complemented what I had already learned about that culture in the English language."

Thus, linguistic pluralism for Troncoso was not a mere immersion into a cultural heritage or a diversion into newly acquired knowledge. Rather, it was a model for the merging of two languages into one voice - a voice that carried the imprint of communication and dialogue between human civilizations, where the relationship with identity simultaneously becomes one of absorption and an understanding of inherited shocks.

"When I sat with Caroline, the daughter of President Kennedy, at Harvard University, I realized the depth of dialogue between the races and their cultures, in terms of opportunities and duties, here in the United States," Troncoso says. "This pluralism has created a unique political and social tie that has brought Americans of various origins together in one homeland that is available to all and open to many possibilities."

The Last Tortilla

Troncoso s latest novel, "The Last Tortilla," was published in 1999. Author and academic Rodolfo Anaya said of the work, "It is a grouping of characters and events that inflame the rhythm of the heart. Transco [is] one of the most capable contemporary writers."

Troncoso says, "Most of my characters descend from Mexican-American origins and have also a mixed psychological makeup, for they bring from their mother country passion and high values, [while] they live with materialism and the rushed pace of a productive society that does not forgive those who are slow."

The tendency to "accept the other" is not merely acknowledging its presence and celebrating its diversity; it is at the heart of the democratic tradition of American society. Therein lies the plot of the novel: the clash between the two cultures, with their variant references and ideological, social, and political absolutes. The United States that was built up by immigrants has also managed to adopt laws and mores that have enabled the preservation of the particulars of each culture in a way that feeds into a common national heritage. The English language is a common unifier, but freedom of expression, writing and creativity, and even the media are available to all communities regardless of what language they wish to speak.

American society has dealt with its national identity by harmonizing the spices of international cultures. For the "other" in the American tradition is the "incoming," who is equal in rights and duties, but is at the same time different in particulars and references.

Troncoso says, "I translate the dream that carries the identity of my forefathers culture. [It comes] from the land of the Aztec and the Mayas, and is colored by my mother s spicy stories about Mexico. I put it into the language that I was born into and which mental formulas I have mastered: the English language."

Peace of Cultures

"Child of the Border," in his creative dimension, is a contemporary image of the citizen in an equal, open, and productive society. Transco s adoption of romanticism, entrenched in his knowledge of Spanish language and literature, did not nullify the skillful expression of his creative thoughts in English. Troncoso has also proven that a child of the border raised in the 1960s is today a son of the world, successfully absorbing cultures and bringing them to maturity in his homeland.

This would not have been possible if he hadn’t had a dialogue with the "other." It depended on rejecting intellectual dogmatism and chauvinism, and accepting a cross-pollination of inherited and non-native traditions, and adopting pluralism as a way of life rather than a mere slogan.

In this manner, everyone blossoms, allowing cultural discourse to become a declaration of world peace, which is achieved through the cultural coexistence among the peoples of the world.

 

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