Culture can shape any aspect of personal identity because it is an essential part of human upbringing. At least from the time a person is born, and even in utero, culture is a force in people’s lives. As culture shapes a mother’s ideas about behavior during pregnancy, it can affect a baby’s health. As infants, culture includes the immediate environment such as a baby’s clothes or crib. The relationship between culture, or “nurture,” and genetic characteristics, or “nature,” continues to be widely debated. Such debates include important elements of identity such as gender.
Although children have innate characteristics, their sense of identity can change considerably as they develop. Amy Tan’s story “Two Kinds” explores the maturing process as it affects a girl’s attitudes toward music as well as toward her mother’s control. Jing-mei’s mother is Chinese and asserts that her expectation of her daughter’s obedience is based in Chinese cultural values. She fails to see that by encouraging her daughter to strive to excel, she has promoted competition and independence—traits such derides as American. Jing-mei faces the fact that she is not a prodigy. In doing so, she develops a deep, individual appreciation of the role of music in her life, as well as rejecting her mother’s clear division between Chinese and American cultures.