Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Katelin Takemura
English 225
Writing 3
March 2008

Masks We Hide Behind 

After reading Bronx Masquerade, I began thinking about the connection between each of the studentís stories.  On the surface the kids in Mr. Wardís classroom from Bronx Masquerade seem to be from very different worlds.  The only thing they have in common is that they are in the same class and complete the same projects.  Through their English class, and poetry, the children learn that they are not as different as they once thought.  At the beginning of the school year the class had ideas about the character qualities of their classmates based on the way a person looked or how they acted.  By the end of the year, the class felt a special bond.  Each of the students begins to see a different side of other students that is more real or genuine than the person they originally thought they knew.  The students see that there is more to their classmates than what is on the surface. 

The characters in Bronx Masquerade seem to be able to grow in their life experiences as they develop their English skills.  The students begin to learn about themselves and their classmates as they write their poetry.  Before long, some of the characters start to realize that each one of them had hidden behind a mask at some point in their lives.  As they grow to be more comfortable with poetry, they become more comfortable with revealing their true selves to the class; the person behind the facade.  

As I read about this fictional class, the question that continued to come to my mind was, why do we feel the need to hide behind masks?  I have done it countless times.  I have hidden behind a costume, all the while pretending the costume was the real me.  Devon Hope tried to live his life the way that he thought everyone else thought he should live his life.  Rather than being proud of loving jazz and books, Devon hid behind his tall, basketball player body.  In the same way I hide behind my shyness at every family reunion.  I have always been a quiet person.  When I was younger I was especially quiet around large groups of people even if they were my family.  Since I was a kid, I have become a little more outgoing and I have learned to be a leader in different situations.  I am able to be outgoing anywhere if I need to be.  Anywhere, that is, except family reunions.  Whenever I am with my extended family I fall back into a role that I feel my extended family thinks I should be in.  I have lived so long in the shy and quiet role that it is hard for me to initiate conversation and be the kind of person that I have been becoming over the past few years, the kind of person who can step into a leadership sort of role.  I hide behind a quiet mask because that is what I know. It is safe.

Why do we feel like we need to hide behind masks?  Judianne Alexander lived her life creating her own clothes, hiding behind what she hoped would seem beautiful to others, while longing to be beautiful with out all of the flashy clothes.  So Judianne hid her low self-esteem of her image behind her ability to create an image.  I may not be bold, but I can dress in ways that may make me seem more confident and bold.  Similarly to Judianne I find myself with a low self-esteem when it comes to my dancing abilities.  I have had half the amount of training that many dancers my age have had.  As a result of my limited training, I have a hard time getting my body to move in ways that I want it to.  I have the hardest time in ballet.  Hoping to get into a dance program next year, I have a difficult time seeing my strengths and tend only to notice my faults.  In classes I try to hide behind my talents like balancing well, or having good arm form, but in reality I quake in my ballet slippers when the instructor walks around for a closer look.  Sometimes I rely on my skirt to hide the lines that arenít quite perfect.  Or, sometimes I will use the excuse that I have not had very much training to disguise my abilities and myself.  In reality, like Judianne, all I really want is to be able to look beautiful without all of the layers hiding my true form.  Hiding behind the mask of inability is easier. It is safe.

Why do we hide behind masks?  It seems to me that there could be any number of reasons that people might hide behind a mask.  When I think about my dance abilities I think that maybe it is easier to hind behind self pity than to put forth the effort, discipline, and tenacity it takes to get to where ever I want to go.  This may not always be the case, but when it comes to my dancing, I think that might be the mask I wear.  Or maybe we choose to hide behind a mask because it is safe.  Stepping outside of the ďbox,Ē our normal way of living can be scary.  Perhaps we tend to wear masks we are given, or perceive that we have been given, as a way to stay safe and comfortable. 

It seems to me that we are often in the same boat.  Most people are concerned about how others view them in one way or another.  So, why do we worry so much when almost everyone else feels the same about themselves?  I think Nikki Grimes stated something encouraging when she penned the poem News At Five.  Three of the boys in the class stood up to make up a poem on the spot.  When one person said that black people are given a bad rep. another shared his views.  He said,

I have seen the News at Five and here is what I find:
There ainít nothing good on teens, donít matter where you look.
Black or white, screen time is strictly for the teenage crook.
Hear them tell it, drugs and violence is our only song.
For myself, I think itís time that we all prove them wrong. (Grimes 131)

I wonder if we just need to prove ďthemĒ wrong.  Maybe we need the courage to stand for who we are.  Maybe some of us need to discover who we are.  I suppose I need to reveal the person behind the mask to others as well as to myself.  I feel that if I have the courage and the strength, perhaps I can remove my masks to reveal who I am on the inside, and be proud of that person I have become. 

 

Works Cited

Grimes, Nikki.  Bronx Masquerade.  New York: Speak/Penguin, 2002.

 

   

Copyright 2008
Katelin Takemura

 

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015