Thursday, May 13, 2010

Brainstorming Identity

This topic is something that has been bouncing around in my mind for some time now. And I'm not really sure how to put my thoughts to paper - so I apologize if this blog entry seems scattered, disconnected or down right random.

I have been trying to do some research into being a 20-something and embracing your identity...finding yourself culturally. After all there is a difference between "country-you-live-in" identity and "country-of-ancestry" identity.

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"Identity is what distinguishes heritage from history...we cannot avoid our heritage. It is, after all, what makes us what we are."  - Embracing Identity: Dawn Editorial
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"What are you?" has never really been a question I was asked. I have "white" (rosy-olive toned) skin, light brown eyes and...well I've been coloring my hair for so long I don't know what color it is anymore.

Words/phrases like "dawg" and "my homie" just sound foreign and silly coming out of my mouth. In college I had friends who would think of slang-words for me to say just to get a laugh -- I'd indulge them occasionally.

Recently though I have had an influx of questions and assumptions about my "identity".

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" the United States, people just weren't satisfied until
they'd put their mental stamp on you." - Emma Flack Martin
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The woman at the nail salon (and no, not the one who asked if my sister was my daughter but her co-worker) mid-conversation looked at me and bluntly asked, "What are you?". I was taken aback, having never been asked this as far as I can remember. When I didn't answer right away she asked me what my nationality was - apparently assuming I didn't understand her first question. I explained I was English and German on one side and Italian on the other.

She didn't say anything. No nod of acknowledgment. No look of acceptance or confusion. She just put her head down and went back to doing my nails.

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"Most of us primarily think of ourselves in terms of one or two identities; yet those self-perceptions do not take away the complexity of who we are."
- Embracing Identity: Dawn Editorial
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Then there is a guy on the bus who, whenever he says good morning or tries to engage me in conversation, will only speak Spanish. He looks to be of Pacific Islander or Asian decent and have heard him speak English to others on the it's not that he himself only speaks Spanish. Since I have no desire to "make friends" on the bus when he greets me "Buenos Dias", I smile politely say "Good Morning" and put my head phones on.

I never thought I looked Hispanic...but who knows? My Aunt has been mistaken as Mexican before while living in San Diego. Though she has much darker complexion than I do.

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"I've finally learned that no matter one's race or culture, part of society will always have a problem accepting anything that varies from the norm.
What remains important is that I embrace my whole self." - Emma Flack Martin
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I do embrace who I am. I love and appreciate all that my family has given to me. The stories of mothers and fathers before me have become part of me. There is still something more I'm looking for...a connection to traditions, to ritual, to know who those faces are in the old photographs I stumble upon, to know names and their feel more connected.


  1. LMAO: the lady doing your nails. I can see how that "mental stamp" quote applies! Reminds me a lot of tables I wait on, who are just totally non-responsive. But this lady was providing you with a service...I guess professionalism can't be expected everywhere! ;)

    A random thing that happens to me a lot is that customers ask me where I'm from, b/c, to them, I have an accent. They think I'm from as far as one of the Dakotas, to Minnesota or Wisconsin, or that I sound like Sarah Palin, and I've lived in same suburb of Chicago for almost all my life. None of my family is from up north, either. and I WORK in that SAME suburb! People sometimes!

    I also think people connect with their heritage nationality more when their family came to USA recently, like their own parents. Chicago and its suburbs really seems to have people who are really into their country-origin and have a lot of pride, and most of the people they are close with are of that same background. For example, I know some people who are really into being Italian--think "Jersey Shore", and ones who are really into being Greek, or Russian, or Polish, or into being Mexican, and then identifying more closely with those who are from the same region of that country. There are definitely other European groups, too. But I'm sure there are many others!

    Where I live, it seems like certain Asians have their own churches: so there's both a heritage AND a religious component. Then there's Eastern Orthodox Christians, which I know a girl who is Greek who is that, and a middle eastern girl. And I can't NOT mention the culture-religion of the Jewish people. There is a pretty high percentage of Jews around the Chicago area than in some other parts of the country. One of my close friends is Jewish, and his family observes certain holidays and there's even different kinds of food to go with them! I guess the Chicago area is chock-full of people from different country-origin backgrounds: I'd say it's more of a "mixed salad" than a "melting pot."

  2. i really like that one. i have never really questioned myself on identity, of course i am about as pale as one can get. so white/caucasion generally describes me. i have irish, german & scandinavian in me. a nice mix of viking blood that comes with a very rarely seen temper (but look out when it pops out). plus green eyes, reddish hair & freckles.

    the ancestry that makes up who we are is interesting the way it combines with other cultures that we are exposed to but don't have technically in our veins. yet it all makes up who we are individually. we are truly all unique.

  3. I have friends that have known me for a while randomly say things like, "You're half Mexican, right?" I'm not and I think it's so strange that my friends assume that I am. I wonder why we find it necessary to catalog people here. There's so much mixture in everyone, I like to just know people as people. Does that make sense?