post by Elisa Waingort, 2018-19 Associate of The Educator Collaborative
Identity–the Long Story or the Short Story?
Identity has always been a highly contested term.
Even though who you are and where you come from is self-determined,
people will try to pigeonhole you by asking the proverbial question:
So, where are you (really) from?
As if you’re trying to hide behind a curtain of smoke.
So, I’ve come to the conclusion that people have a hard time dealing with ambiguities.
(Or is it just me?) Because I have a hard time accepting, celebrating and acknowledging all of who I am. Sometimes I wish I could just say I’m this and not that because it’s just so much easier to face the world that way. If I could only annihilate, cross out, and/or rewrite those parts of me that I don’t feel comfortable affirming, my life would be simpler–because I want to be accepted, but it seems that the world can only focus on one thing at a time. So much for multitasking. Yes, this would simplify things a lot.
The truth is, everyone must come to terms with their identities, sooner or later.
Whether they want to or not.
It seems kids have an easier time of this than adults.
When I asked my grade 5 students what place they identified with as part of our study of Canada, many named places other than Calgary or even Alberta.
Why did I think this was odd? I even chuckled at their level of understanding. I realize now I was wrong to second guess them. That’s the reaction I get when I say I’m Cuban and the response is: But you don’t have a Spanish surname. (Long story or short story?)
The truth is, we all have a multiplicity of identities.
Here are mine:
Ancestors: Eastern Europe, Turkey.
Religion: Jewish by birth and nothing more.
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual.
Language: Spanish and English.
Place of birth: Cuba, mi Cubita linda.
Current home: Canada.
Previous homes: U.S., Ecuador.
Roles I play: Wife. Mother. Sister. Daughter. Teacher. Reader. Writer.
Oh, I almost forgot.
Now, I am a person with cancer.
I am all of these at once, even if they’re not visible all at once.
Who’s to say which one is the most important of all?
Even if some are more visible than others.
All of them are the sum of who I am or who I am becoming.
Because identity should be a verb and not just a noun.
We are never just who we are at any given moment.
We are always who we are as we make our way to becoming better than we were before.
So, I struggle. Nothing new.
I struggle to publicly acknowledge all those parts of my identity that make me who I am.
Because I’m never sure what others will see (also nothing new). Long story or short story?
And why should I care?
I struggle to accept who I am in all of my iterations.
I struggle to insert my voice into current conversations around racism.
I used to think of myself as not racist. (Oh, no! Not that!)
Now, I understand that what I am is anti-racist because because I grew up under racist systems, families, and communities.
I struggle because I am realizing the ways I have been complicit in racism.
Or simply unaware.
White privilege. My daughters and son have been instrumental in how I am seeing myself with new eyes.
I (continue) to understand my role within my racially complex and beautiful family – I’m the only white one here.
This is not a blog post asking for sympathy. Or is it?
It is just me trying to put my thoughts in a public forum so that they can be critiqued and pulled apart. Gently, I hope. (White fragility?)
No sympathy needed or wanted here. No pity may apply.
I am trying to find my voice so that I can uplift the voices of others.
So that I can listen better.
Be more vigilant.
Call out subtle and not-so-subtle racism when I see it.
My name doesn’t tell the full story of who I am.
When people meet me they see a white woman.
No Spanish surname.
No visible Latinx features.
So, where are you really from?
The long story or the short story?