Summary and personal response to “Two ways to belong in America by Bharati Mukherjee”

American cultures
  1. Introduction

Bharati Mukherjee was born in 1940 in Calcutta, India. She later immigrated to United States of America (USA) where he studied literature. She has written several novels and is a teacher of literature and fiction at the University of California. One of her articles is “Two ways to belong in America.” In this article, Mukhejee addresses a congress movement to restrict resident aliens from accessing government benefits. In the article, she also addresses other issues that affect immigrants in USA. She uses her own life and the life of another immigrant into USA from India, Mira, to present her ideas and address the issues that she considers to be important. Bharati explains her life as an American citizen and the life of Mira as an Indian Citizen living in USA in order to present her idea that there are two ways to belong in America. This essay will summarize Bharati’s article and give a response to it. I will give my own opinion regarding the ideas given in the article and critique the article in general.

  1. Summary of the article

This article suggests that there are always more than one ways in which one may belong in a culture. Bharati Mukherjee argues that Mira chose to live in America as an expatriate Indian while she lived in America as an American immigrant. She suggests that Mira and she lived in United States for 35 years. Bharati lived in Iowa City with her Canada-born American, working as literature writer, while Mira lived in Detroit city and works in Southfield Mich., school system (Mukherjee, nd). She married an American while Mira married an Indian immigrant in USA. Bharati has taken American citizenship while Mira has maintained her Indian citizenship. Bharati writes that Mira is her only blood relative in USA and they spend some time communicating by phone. They usually discuss a lot of issues and they differ in the fact that Bharati supports the idea of changing citizenship to belong in America while Mira supports the idea of belonging in America just as an expatriate.

Both Mira and Bharati are not happy with how aliens and immigrants are treated in USA, especially immigrants from South Asia. They oppose the change of midstream rules which have disallowed immigrants to enjoy benefits of social welfare. Mira is angered by the fact that although she has served America by investing her creativity in improvement of the country’s pre-school system, the country still curtails her benefits as a legal immigrant. She suggests that the two new rules should only apply to people who immigrated to USA after those rules had been set. Due to the anti-immigration bills passed in the congress, many immigrants including Bharati have decided to become Americans by citizenship and not just as expatriates. Bharati decides to become a citizen of USA forever, but Mira says she can only become an American citizen for now in order to avoid the ant-immigrant rules but later change to become an Indian because she does not plan to remain an American citizen forever. Bharati describes her situation and that of her cousin sister as one with great divergence. While she chooses the American way, marrying an American, abandoning her Indian culture, and living a new life altogether in United States of America, Mira retains her culture and her Indian identity, and chooses not to live the American life. She is sticking to one job, one city, ancestral culture and one cuisine all through her entire life (Mukherjee, nd). Mira’s attitude and feelings at the current period reminds Bharati of her experience in Canada, her husband’s homeland 20 years ago when she was not allowed to belong to the society of Canada. Then she had felt the government turned its back on immigrants through unfavorable rules that seemed to discriminate against immigrants.

  1. Response to the article

From the article, it is clear that there is no correct identity that one should have; there is only one that can make yourself you. In other words, there is more than one way to belong in a culture. Although one may be identified to a given culture, in the end what matters is not how he/she identifies to the culture; but what he/she believes in. The story of Mira and Bharati depicts that one may belong to a culture in different ways but there is only one way that someone can become him/herself. Mira and Bharati became American citizens in two different ways, but they both remained close sisters. Despite their different views on how to deal with the legislations that curtailed benefits for immigrants, they both opposed the rules strongly. They tried to solve the same problem in different ways. Both of them believed that the only way to avoid the problem of being excluded from benefits is to become an American citizen. However, they have different ways of doing so. Mira wants to become an American citizen just for some period of time and later change the citizenship, but Bharati wants to become an American citizen forever.

Culture does not change, we ourselves change. Although I believe that Mira and Bharati differ in terms of how they view their culture, they still belong to the same culture. At the time when the article was written, Mira still adored her Indian culture, while Bharati abandoned it. However, they had both belonged to America. No matter how they both view their Indian culture, they now live like Americans because they are in America. The only difference is that Mira wants to maintain her culture and go back to it someday. Bharati wants to forget about it completely. Bharati believes that Mira has a narrow perspective and misses out on good things for being uninvolved with the pop culture of American society (Mukherjee, nd). On the other hand, Mira thinks that Bharati has lacked structure in life and erased her Indian culture. This shows that the American culture and Indian culture have remained the same, but Bharati and Mira have changed. Mira wants to blend with American ways so that she can only be able to live in America for a while and later go back to her own culture, but Bharati has completely adopted the American culture. The Emerican culture and Indian culture have remained the same overtime, but the individuals have changed in order to fit to the society.

According to me, I think this divergence in terms of how someone views a culture has been brought about by individual beliefs and perspectives as well as the environment within which someone operates. Furthermore, one’s situation can influence his/her level of thinking. It may be argued that the choice of Bharati to belong in America through citizenship may be due to her marriage to an American. She knows that her husband lives in America, and she has to acquire her American citizenship and adopt American culture in order be in good relationship with her husband and live in America forever. On the other hand, Mira has chosen to marry an Indian. This may have prompted her to choose to go back to India someday. Because she has an Indian husband she believes that they will both be able to go back to India, unlike Bharati whose husband does not have any attachment to India and is highly unlikely to go there. Perhaps if Bharati would have married an Indian she could also desire to go back to her culture. After all, several years ago she felt the same way that Mira feels now when she visited her husband’s homeland, Canada. In Canada, she had been discontented with how Indians were treated in Canada. This shows that she is still proud to be an Indian, but the current situation has forced her to change. Mira at least has something to still hold on as an Indian – her Indian husband, but Bharati has lost all Indian attachments and has now chosen a different path. Both cultures are still the same, but Mira and Bharati have changed.

  1. Effect of the American and Canadian rules in Midstream and immigration

The government has also influenced the way immigrants view their cultures and citizenship. The main reason why Mira and Bharati have changed their perspectives on Indian culture and citizenship is because of the rules made by America through the congress. The rules required that the benefits of immigrants should be curtailed (Fox, 2012). This rule was intentionally made to make immigrants to become citizens of their countries. Mira and Bharat have decided to become American citizens on different terms – Mira choosing to become an American citizen temporarily while Bharati chooses to become an American citizen permanently. In either case, the main intention of changing citizenship was to ensure that they are not locked out of the benefit schemes of the government. Therefore, I think that the government is able to influence the views of someone, but it cannot change culture.

There is also a second way of viewing the role of government in this issue. It may be argued that the government has caused a distance or differences between immigrants and American citizens by setting such rules. This is because American citizens are treated better than immigrants by being allowed to enjoy certain benefits which are not enjoyed by immigrants (Garfinkel et al, 2010). This makes immigrants to feel that they are not treated well, and may make American citizens to feel that they are more superior. This draws a line between immigrants and American citizens. There will be inequalities in the way different cultures are treated in USA. As a result, American culture is promoted while the culture of immigrants is destroyed in the lives of the immigrants. When Mira talked to Bharati through phone, she said that she had felt wasted by the American government. This is because American government seemed to have turned against immigrants who had come to USA to stay and work.

  1. Conclusion

From this analysis of the article “Two ways to belong in America”, it is clear that there is more than one way of belonging in a culture. Mira and Bharati belonged in America in two different ways. Mira chose to remain an expatriate in USA while Bharati chose to become an American citizen. Mira married an Indian and she is planning to go back to her country and practice her culture someday. On the other hand, Bharati married an American and has decided to live with him in America as a citizen in that country. It is also clear from the article that culture does not change; people do. American and Indian cultures still remain the same, but Mira and Bharati have decided to change. Both of them have decided to become Americans due to the American laws that don’t favor immigrants. However, Mira still believes that one day she will go back to India and continue with her culture. Therefore, the culture will still remain as people change to adapt to the environment within which they live. The government also has a role to play in influencing people’s culture through rules and regulations that make people to belong in different cultures.


References list

Fox, C. (2012). Three Worlds of Relief: Race, immigration and the American welfare state from the progressive era to the New Deal. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University press.

Garfinkel, I., Rainwater, L., & Smeeding, T. M. (2010). Wealth and welfare states: Is America a laggard or leader? Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Mukherjee, B. (n.d.) Two ways to belong in America.


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B. Economics & Finance, B/ED, Writer, Educator with experience of 12 years in research and writing.

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