What Is This Identity You Speak Of?

March 8, 2009 at 1:46 pm (Life) (, )

I grew up moving around a lot; the Army will do that. The longest I ever spent in one place was four years, and this only because my mother did a fantastic job at said location and managed to garner an extension of her duty there. Otherwise, I moved every two years. I was not terribly good at keeping in contact with friends I made along the way – being something of a modern day gypsy will leave you with a feeling of superiority over those who are bound to one place. I was more mature than any friends I made who had never moved around much.

On the other hand, I lack a sense of self these people do have. I find most people in similar situations drift between two extremes: one group goes at great lengths to find their roots and then cling to them for dear life. The other suffer a life-long feeling of restlessness, can never pin down how and why they feel something in their life lacks. I would never call myself a balanced individual because I grew up in high-level stress situations when children need stability.

Through it all, I had family. My mother was away very often and my father did not have a stable, decent job-situation until a few years ago. I had my younger siblings and my dog. That was all I needed. As the internet revolutionized modern culture, I had friends in many different locations I could reach out to. But no one else ever really understood.

“Isn’t it weird, you know, moving around so often?” Why would it be? It is all I know. “Don’t you want a home?” I am a rolling stone, whever I lay my head is home; my family is home. “You grew up in a really fucked up environment.” My parents were never abusive, never treated me as anything less than a human being. The only abuse I ever suffered was from outsiders. The ones who didn’t understand. “So, wait. What ARE you exactly?”

That is the one question I can’t answer. What am I?

First and foremost, I am a human being. I have eyes, legs, a mouth, a nose, ears. In the words of Kate Nash, “I use mouthwash.” I am not so different. I am a young woman. I am a child of rambling parents. I am a Jew, I suppose. I am more or less white, though not entirely of “traditional” WASP heritage. All of these are superficial things people can, to a certain degree, comprehend. But then come the other questions:

“Are you German?”

No.

“Are you American?”

Well. Not exactly.

I am not exclusively one or the other. How could I be? I did not grow up with the knowledge I would be “returning home” after my mother had served her time in Europe. Home wasn’t a location, it was a feeling. However, I find myself leaning towards identifying with being American more than anything else. The USA is a country composed of as many ethnicities and cultures as there are stars in the sky. I imagine American society to look somewhat like the pages in a symphony; all these parts somehow weave together to form an entity that has left an incredible mark on the world as it is.

Being American is, much like “home,” a feeling rather than a criterium composed of ethnic or cultural heritage. The Old World carries its antiquated name for a reason. In some ways, they are far more progressive than the US society which is in many ways still in its infancy. In others, their notions of propriety are anachronisms. Their model of society is not as perfect as they would like to believe. Being German, for example, is very much a matter of religion, culture, ethnic heritage and language. They can act extremely hostile towards things they feel collide with their values, even if these need to be updated. Whenever someone asks me what I am, where I am from, I get confused. My answers differ. I grapple with semantics many people don’t see – I am American, but I come from Germany. Whenever I try this approach, which makes sense in my head, this look of utter confusion settles on the face of whoever asked. Sometimes I don’t even try to explain because I am not brave; in voicing my own confusion as to what I am, I am baring myself in a way I don’t feel comfortable doing.

Maybe someday I can muster up the courage to just say: I am me. I am neither here nor there, I am neither this nor that. I am not bound to one thing or another because I change. But I am human – and most importantly, I am here.

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