2.2 Walking through Gardens of Conflict with Alice Walker
When I was young, my world revolved around my grandmother, who helped me explore my roots and explain my own identity. She was the one who told me stories about the family. Consequently, I discovered my own grandfather had been a slave as a child. It was through my grandmother that I deciphered my grandfather, who was a very silent man. The only times I heard his voice was when he recited poems or sang. His mother, Turkish and forced into marrying a Romanian man, left the entire inheritance to her nephews and nieces instead of her own children. Her children, including my grandfather, were forced to work the land while being underfed and hardly wearing any clothes. They would sleep outside and follow their cousins’ orders. My grandfather was a proud and ambitious man, and at a very early age, he ran away from home, never to return or talk to his brothers or mother again. He would even become angry if somebody simply mentioned his family.
Such cultural clashes are typical of, but certainly not limited to, my family. People of different backgrounds, such as my great-grandmother, are pressured into being together for economic reasons. Some cope with these pressures through love. My father’s parents, for instance, are Russian and they wished he had found a Russian wife. He fell for a Romanian woman, my mother, and they eloped, resulting in ongoing misunderstandings and violent arguments.
My post-graduate experience has been likewise marred by outside pressures and ethnic difference. Four years ago, I graduated from American Studies in Constanta, Romania. I then applied for an MA in Anglo-American Studies at the same university and was given by my former professors the opportunity to teach a couple of practical English classes. Consequently, for several years I was torn between my identity as a student and my identity as a teaching assistant. I could not see my professors as colleagues and spent most of the time with the students. I am presently writing my PhD thesis on female identity in Alice Walker’s fiction, but in spite of being at the top of my class, I was not offered a scholarship. What is more, according to one law of education, I am supposed to be paid for less than half of the classes I am teaching. This lack of money has prevented me from doing as much research as I wanted to do and from participating in more conferences.
Nevertheless, as much as it may sound like a cliché, despite all obstacles I like what I am doing. Whenever I get the chance (and money from my tutorials), I order books online and read anything I find related to Alice Walker and African American literature. What is more, I realize my PhD thesis has influenced me tremendously because I also teach a seminar on Postmodern American Literature; I desire cultural diversity to be encouraged in these lectures, demonstrating that the model of a multicultural society is not a phenomenon specific only to the U.S. or U.K. Multiculturalism should be understood and practically applied globally, seeing that discrimination and racism are encountered throughout the world. In Romania, for instance, there are misunderstandings between Romanians with their varied heritages (Russian, Bulgarian, Turkish, Serbian, and many more), as well as Gypsies, Macedo-Romanians, and Hungarians. Unfortunately there is no Gypsy literature or Romanian ethnic studies in general. Often, ethnic groups believe they have the Truth and use that ideology to normalize the judging and mocking of those who are different by using “amusing” or hurtful stereotypes.
Alice Walker helped me through those conflicts, helped me accept them, and move past them. Walker helped me explore not only African American literature and cultural diversity but also myself and the world around me. I had felt uncomfortable in the beginning when I was analyzing her work because I was a white inexperienced girl writing about unfamiliar settings. I tried to create connections with the writer and I started simply with our gardens. The flower gardens of Walker’s mother and my grandmother, although completely different, both demonstrate a love for nature and an escape from the real world for the two women.
Perhaps this is the most I can do at this moment. My experience after my graduate years is spiritual and, I hope, intellectual. I dreamed that at the age of twenty five, I would be independent. I took my parents as an example and assumed that after college I would have my own place and a tolerably-paid job. I thought I would travel and discover the world. But the political system becomes more and more unstable and one can barely differentiate between parties. The system of education suffers as well and becomes unbearably unpredictable. More and more pupils and students prefer studying abroad and never coming back home. There are no longer any educational or work-related perspectives for them here. However, like Alice Walker who returned to the South in order to help make a change despite all the difficulties she had to confront, I want to play my part, as irrelevant as it may be, and contribute to a better future in this country.
Adelina Vartolomei graduated from the American Studies BA Program, Ovidius University, Constanta, Romania in 2008 and from the MA Program in Anglo-American Studies at the same university in 2010. Her MA dissertation, entitled "In with the Old, Out with the New: The Black Woman’s Doppelganger before the Civil War," received the 2010 RAAS Graduate Student Award. She is currently working on her PhD thesis which focuses on constructions of female identity in Alice Walker’s fiction.