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Entries in identity (11)

Saturday
Jun232012

On Going Home. But Not Being 'At Home'

The Bloggess, or Jenny Lawson, the woman who once brushed up against me while we were getting on a bus and said, Oh, I know who you are, you're a great writer right after I stalkerishly introduced myself, happens to have a hilarious memoir called Let's Pretend This Never Happened. In it, there's a chapter about visiting her hometown after having moved to another city.

It was a well crafted chapter full of wisdom. It possessed a sad beauty and sense of longing that I found slightly boring in the most blaspehmous of ways. I guess, it's just that I couldn't relate. Having lived within the same forty five minute radius my entire life until recently, I never knew what it was like to go really away, make somewhere else your home and then come back to what used to be your home.

I'm not an idiot, I'm aware that this moving away and then coming back thing happens often. Like the way I know people wear crocs or buy tofu. You know these things happen, but unless you have to do it -- it's hard to wrap your mind around.

I Do Love Florida. But. Wait. There's More.

At this very minute, I'm at the home that used to be my home before I got married.

Surprisingly, I'm not very "at home" right now. I look around at the place I've always known and I see things I never really noticed before. Like, wow, Florida has a lot of palm trees. There's a serious love affair going on here between the citizenry and flip flops, too. Also, lizards. And palmetto bugs.

Plus, um, who do my parents think they are, having a whole life full of activities and people that have absolutely nothing to do with me or my brother?!

Florida, whether in the detailed or general sense, is kick ass. Powdery beaches. T-shirts that are considered "dressy clothes". Many of my deepest connections to the human species reside here whether through blood or love. No doubt, this state and the sandy town where I grew up is like a perfectly worn pair of jeans that have stretched in the right places but are also tight around other places which bypasses the torture of having to squeeze into Spanx that became too small for me one child ago.

Yet these jeans are sitting a little too high on my waist for me to feel completely presentable.

::Initiating dream sequence::

And what... the... are they... stone washed and tapered?

Um. Who put this braided leather belt from the Gap circa 1991in the belt loops?

Was it the same insane person that "pegged" the cuffs of these jeans, folded them over, put scrunchy socks and a pair of white keds on my feet? And then wrapped a flannel shirt around my waist? This is Florida, why do we even HAVE flannel here?!

Suddenly, these jeans don't feel so comfortable.

I feel the pressing need to get them off of me. I do need comfortable jeans, though. But these just aren't the right ones any more.

Is there another pair around here, just as comfortable... just as worn and fitted in the right places?

::End dream sequence::

Never to be Duplicated

When my parents talked about their lives in Pakistan and India when I was a small child, it was no different than fairy tales for me. The fantastical nature of these conversations was less about seemingly exotic places and more rooted in the idea that my parents were once very small just like me.

In my teenaged years, the stories became repetitive and my adolescent brain interpreted them as being rife with self righteousness. Maybe it was an attempt to transmit cultural memory on their part, but something about their stories in those years echoed Polonious' "To thine own self be true" rant to his son. Which, by the way, everyone who quotes that line should know that I'm 99% sure Shakespeare was trying to illustrate that Polonius was sort of stupid and not very wise. So. You know. Consider not quoting it any more.

Anyway, into my twenties, I heard those stories in a new way. I dissected them for clues from the past that explained who my parents were and why they did what they did now. With the wonder of my childhood and the defenses of my adolescence stripped away, I developed a compassion for my parents' carefully concealed emotional frailty, and, best of all, the humanity embedded within the tales and the people who told them. 

Now, I'm in my dear-God-seriously(?!) late 30s still listening to the stories and feeling sympathetic for people who are unable to let go of the then and embrace the now. The stories began as entertainment in my mind and then evolved into near manic efforts to remind me of "where I cam from." Thankfully, they became successful attempts at connecting with me on an emotionally mature level.

But they now seem like crutches for people who find the past far more interesting and satisfying than the moments (and people) that currently present themselves, and I'm not going to lie -- that hurts my feelings a little.

My nature is to cast the past off gently with a light kiss so it can be on its way. But here moments in the past can sing siren songs about a time of highly individualistic freedom, careless words and hours in front of the mirror perfecting various "eye make up concepts". But the songs of the past are tricks aimed at lulling the disquiet that accompanies addressing the reality around at us at this moment. The company I kept so long ago has gone on its way, the air has changed, the sky is different and... seriously, there are way more palmetto bugs.

I fully embraced and lived those moments and the idea of somehow trying to recreate those feelings or that person feels all wrong -- not in the ethical sense like ketchup on prime rib, but more so in the mayonnaise with French fries sense.

I'm learning to breathe the new air in this old place and to look up at the new sky in this hometown and quietly say, "Hi, we used to know each other really well a long time ago... what you were will always be important to me, but I'm ready for us to know each other for who we are."

It's been awkward, so that's why I've been quiet as I tend to not share thoughts until I know exactly what I'm feeling. Headed for home on Saturday. Looking forward to the resuming the 'now.'

What is it like for you when you go home? Do you just pick up where you left off or is it awkward?


photo credit: kevin dooley via photo pin cc

Monday
May212012

Undefined: Working Outside of the Box with Parental Identities

Faiqa's Notes: Often I blog about identity on here as it relates to race or religion. Today, in this guest post, we'll learn about liminal identities that exist outside the boundaries to which we're accustomed. Thanks for taking the time to read and thank you, Rachel Reynolds, for the openness and compassion with which you share your experience.

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 Our identity is the way in which we meet the world.  We present ourselves to the public in ways that are obvious and unchangeable (our gender and race) as well as in ways that require slightly more preamble. Sometimes we give outward hints to our identity through our clothing (an executive power suit, mom jeans), our leisure activities (fishing enthusiast, crafty crafter, football fan), our behavior, and our relationships (divorced, married, "just friends").

Sometimes those outward signs of an identity may mask a true reality. How many Lifetime movies are built around the premise of the woman who shows the world she has it "all together" but hides her destructive behavior/addiction/illegal act/mental illness from the outside world until it all comes crashing down?  These movies may be fiction but chances are good that someone in your neighborhood is living that life right now.

In the last two years, I have struggled with my identity.  While I am reasonably sure I know who I am, I am challenged by how I now present myself to the world.  

In January 2010, I faced the death of my only child.  

People who knew me before that date would probably tell you that my identity is fairly clear and relatively unchanged.  I am, among other things, mom to Charlotte Jennie. When I make new acquaintances, though, the line gets kind of blurry.  

A conversational topic seems banal until it strikes a nerve.  It's amazing how often the subject of your children (or lack thereof) will come up in casual conversation.  In college, the go-to personal questions were, "Where are you from?” or "What's your major?"  As adults, our small-talk shifts to "What do you do for a living?" "Are you married" and "Do you have children?"

How do I answer that last question?  In the past, the answer was the same no matter who was making the query.  Now the answer I give is dependent on multiple factors.  How well do I know this person?  How much will I interact with them after this conversation?  How do I think they may react to my answer?  Is this a business situation, a social situation, or just a casual conversation?  How vulnerable am I feeling today?  Answers to those questions usually determine how I respond.

Option 1
Question: "Do you have children?"
Answer: "No."
Pros: It's easy and deflects the conversation immediately away from a difficult subject. 
Cons: It's not really true.  I'm a mom and always will be.  

Option 2
Question: "Do you have children?"
Answer: "Not right now."
Pros: A more honest answer and relatively deflectable.  If someone's not paying attention, they usually don't catch the subtlety of my answer and move on.
Cons: If they are paying attention, follow up questions usually ensue.  

This leads us to...

Option 3
Question: "Do you have children?"
Answer: "I had a daughter and she died two years ago."
Pros: The most honest answer I can give.
Cons: The conversation gets awkward.  

A frequent reaction is, "I'm so sorry."  This is totally appropriate.  Sometimes people will ask follow up questions (“What happened?”).  Usually this is ok because I love talking about my daughter and I don't mind sharing our story.  Sometimes people are clearly unsure of how to respond and I look for ways to change the subject in an effort to deflect further awkwardness.  I have relative degrees of success with this.  More interesting reactions include immediate change of subject (as if I never said anything at all) or reactions like, "That's just terrible.  That's the worst thing I've ever heard."  I'm not sure if someone thinks they are being comforting when they say that, but they're not.  I think I know just how terrible it is.  I don't need reassurance or confirmation.    

Follow up questions are ok and usually lead to conversations around our foundation, treatment of brain tumors or other cancers, or questions about Charlotte herself.  I don't usually feel people have crossed the line until they ask the inevitable and most awkward question possible, "Will you ever have more children?"  

I don't have an easy answer to this question and it's rather painful to discuss so let's just say this is where I look to end the conversation as quickly as possible.  

I wish there was a word for who I am right now.  A widow is a woman whose spouse has died. The word is most immediately derived from the Sanskrit word widnewa, meaning "to be empty" or "to be separated".  An orphan is a child who has lost both parents, derived from the Greek word orbhmeaning "to change allegiance or status".  There is no word for a parent who has lost a child.  I think I need a word.  

When a lexical gap like this one occurs, sometimes society fills the void with new vocabulary.  The English language is composed of many words that have their derivation in Greek, Latin, or Germanic/Slavic languages. Words that have been in our vocabulary for centuries are often synergistic creations formed from the roots of these langaugesarthritis: joint inflammation, kindergarten: child's garden.  Frequent use makes it a "real" and recognized word.  

Likewise, most modern novel vocabulary seems to be made of word "mashupsSpork, frenemy, ringtone, brunch...these are all words that have filled lexical gaps as the need evolves.    

I have thought of a few options.  Childless doesn't seem right as that implies that parentage was never established to begin with.  We could create words like apedia, literally meaning "child loss" in Latin, or kindertodwhich translates as "child death" but these are more descriptions of what happened, not a description of the grieving person's identity.  Clearly, I'm not the first grieving parent to address this challenge but my research hasn't yielded any success in this endeavor.  

At the very least, it is an interesting statement on our society that this lexical gap even exists.  Losing a child is wrong, unnatural, and unfair. I continue to grieve.  I continue to heal.  I continue to allow my identity to evolve.  

 

Rachel Reynolds is a special educator and freelance writer. She writes for a variety of online publications, including her personal blog,See What You MemeShe is also the co-founder and executive director of CJ's Thumbs Up Foundation (CJSTUF)Rachel lives in Ashland, Virginia with her husband and two incredibly annoying (but completely adorable) cats. In her spare time, she obsesses over Don Draper, dark chocolate, and public radio personalities (not necessarily in that order). Four Seasons for Charlotte is her first book. 

 

If you would like to win an autographed copy of Rachel's new book, Four Seasons for Charlotte: A Parent’s Year With Pediatric Cancer, you can enter the giveaway on her author page on FacebookThe giveaway will be open until June 1st.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit

Monday
Apr162012

Rewriting the Headlines: The Murder of Shaima AlAwadi 

An uncharacteristic apathy washed over me when I heard the news of an American Muslim woman murdered in El Cajon, California last month. Thirty two year old Shaima AlAwadi was found bludgeoned to death in her home as a note calling her a terrorist lay next to her. Recently discovered court documents indicating that AlAwadi was filing for divorce are now leading the media to suggest that her assailant may have been a family member thus rendering her another casualty in a phenomenon that is on the rise in North America called "honor killings" that supposedly emanates from the higher numbers of immigrant Muslim communities into the continent.


I'm not an apathetic person. To the contrary, I often find myself in the embarrassing situation of explaining why I've suddenly become passionate, angry, or upset about issues that affect "other" communities besides my own. Shaima AlAwadi was an immigrant from a Muslim nation, and my parents immigrated from a Muslim Republic. I'm a wife and mother living in America in my thirties, and Alawadi was also a thirty something mother and wife living in America. AlAwadi was a woman who because of her head scarf was visibly Muslim, and I, too, am visibly Muslim in the same way.

Despite our many intersections, however, I find myself in new territory, engaged in an awkward, guilt ridden internal struggle that of which the major undercurrent suggests that I'm not angry or upset enough about this event. Fundamentally, my guilt lies in rejecting an  idea that most people seem to take for granted: I should be very, very upset because AlAwadi was a Muslim woman and somehow this death should matter more to me because of that. It does not. In fact, the continuous focus on her Muslim status detracts from the broader, more universal context of her murder. It also seems to confuse people when they try to extract actionable meaning from the tragedy.

In an age where news stories are broken in seconds not minutes, it's easy to fall into the trap of having the wrong conversations about important events. Opinions and scholarship are no longer methodically laid out for careful consideration but are quickly packaged and produced for immediate consumption by an audience that's time constrained and seems more concerned with quantity of information rather than quality. The rhetoric surrounding Al Awadi's murder is no exception.

At the peril of being misinterpreted as being opposed to hate crime legislation, I will express that I find the hate crime paradigm of understanding AlAwadi's murder both divisive and distracting. Hate crime legislation exists to protect those that would be victimized by violence that is rooted in a political or social cause. The problem with this terminology seeping into public discourse is that it automatically pits communities unfamiliar with the nuance of defining hate crimes against one another. Conversation then ultimately moves away from the central issue, that of one individual being murdered by another individual mercilessly, and then becomes a conversation about whether bias is real, whether the minority in question is being oversensitive or not and most unfortunately whether or not the victim's inability to be perceived as a member of the broader society at large is not at the heart of their demise.

Calling AlAwadi's murder a potential "honor killing" proves even more distracting. I spoke with Dr. Nancy Stockdale, a Middle Eastern Studies profesor at University of North Texas and author of Colonial Encounters Among English and Palestinian Women, 1800-1948 (2007), about this terminology and its impact on discussions about Shaima AlAwadi. Dr. Stockdale brought up the idea that honor is not an ideology that is exclusive to the Muslim world. "If someone cheats on their spouse here, don't they feel disrespected in front of their community?" The professor also mentioned a point I had not considered previously, that nearly one third of women murdered in the United States die at the hands of someone with whom they're intimate. Is it a huge leap to assume that many of those murders could have been committed by partners who felt betrayed, undermined, disrespected and, yes, even dishonored?

Just a few days ago, Kevin Allen fatally shot his wife, Katherina, and his daughter in an Ohio Cracker Barrel restaurant after his wife told him she was leaving him. Is it ridiculous to guess that Kevin Allen may have been motivated by a sense of honor or shame? What is the criteria that holds him exempt from having participated in an honor killing? Katherina Allen was shot and killed because her husband was mentally unstable, but Shaima AlAwadi may have been murdered by her husband because she's foreign and a Muslim? What religion was Katherina Allen? Was she born in this country or not? Why is it important to know those details about the late Mrs. AlAwadi but not about the late Mrs. Allen?

As an American Muslim, this untenable distinction between the two women cuts deeply in my psyche and lays at the core of my shutting down when it comes to discussions about AlAwadi's death. I cannot discuss her on the terms that both the general population and the media want to discuss her. The nomenclature used crowds out the sense of connection I have with women who are non-Muslims. It makes me feel othered and misunderstood. I imagine for many non-Muslim American women in the United States, it also causes them to view this crime as something that happens to "those people" from "over there" and thus offers a safe, yet intellectually questionable degree of distance from this type of violence.

The overemphasis on ethnic and religious identifiers obfuscates more important and central issues. While it would be remiss of anyone considering the merits of the case to dismiss entirely that she was an immigrant, a Muslim, or leaving her husband, I believe we can do better in terms of how we as women and a community of informed citizenry frame the discussion. As I researched this story, almost all of the headlines included terms such as "hijab", "honor killing", and "hate crime", and I can't help but feeling that these buzz words detracted from conversations we should be having about violence in general as it applies to women or anyone, for that matter.

I'm struggling with how to frame this death and the discussions about it so that each of us are moved by it in a way that we consider how to pull a more productive and meaningful course of action from it other than making it yet another line of distinction between us. A woman in El Cajo, California was beaten to death in her home. First, investigators thought it may have been someone who didn't like the way she dressed or looked, but now they think it might have been her husband.

Does the absence of AlAwadi's faith and ethnicity change how you would frame this discussion?

What would be your headline?

Photo Credit
Thursday
Jan262012

7 Ways to Trot the Globe without Actually Globetrotting

Emma ... Not in East India... but East Memphis.

Traveling abroad offers opportunities to expand our understanding of different cultures, people and subsequently different perspectives. To me, a useful education has less to do with the levels of academia that have been traversed and more to do with successfully processing the existence of ideas outside of the paradigm of one's own thinking.

All that said, it's entirely possible to live a multicultural life without ever getting a passport.

The Internet, coupled with the rise of immigrant and first generation communities and populations throughout the world, presents most people an opportunity to sample the cuisine, clothing, food and some aspects of specific cultures without ever really leaving their homes.

1. Food. My fellow Americans, there are nations whose food is served within our borders that are not Mexico, China, Thailand or Italy.  Next time you go out to eat, don't let the "mood for Mexican" stand in the way of your expanding horizons.  Cuban, Argentine, Ethiopian...  The worst that could happen is that you don't like Ethiopian food which I think is better than not knowing what Ethiopians eat. Or thinking that they don't eat at all.  WHICH.IS.SO.ANNOYING.  It was a freaking region, not the entire country, the famine lasted two years, and it happened twenty five years ago, people.  Let it go.

2. Festivals. Ethnic communities put on a lot of "festivals." It's a way, I think, for us to feel connected to one another, but also an attempt to reach out to other communities and teach them something about us.  Just go. Bonus: there will be cheap, delicious food there. Food is a totally educational thing.  Just ask Anthony Bourdain.

3. Forging friendships. You're looking around for a someone to start a conversation with? Pick someone who looks like they're from somewhere other than where you're from. Is that politically incorrect?  Probably. I just think it makes for more interesting conversation and, you know, it could initiate world peace if people did it more often. Just.  Um.  Be cool, okay?

4. Books. Most public libraries have collections of international authors.  Book clubs are excellent sources. Not going to lie, Oprah's Book Club is my go to -- it offers a diverse range of authors in terms of national origin and race. You can search key words like "author" and "<a nation you'd like to visit">, too. A book isn't a substitute, but it is, again, better than knowing nothing.

5. Fashion. I'm not talking tunics from Target.  Nations like India, Japan, Malaysia, Kenya and yes, even Pakistan have thriving industries devoted to the haute couture that are directed at their own nationalities.  Scanning the international versions of Vogue that are available online offer insight into a culture's values concerning beauty, fabrics, industry and, of course, the feminine ideal.

6. Film.  Netflix is rocking it with the foreign films. Bollywood selections alone will take you on a veritable tour of the entire subcontinent.  Be warned, though, if you do ever go to India, few women look like Aishwarya Rai and pretty much nobody is dancing (well) in the streets.  If you're on a budget or don't have Netflix, did you know libraries lend movies!? For free?!  True story.

7. Avoid caricatures and remember that a micro-experience isn't a substitute for the real thing. Disclaimer: Keep in mind that experiencing a culture outside of its national origin is experiencing a representation of that culture. As Americans, what's our national food?  Our national dress?  Our national culture? My response to that is, it depends and yours may be more specific.  While we may have an unusually high diversity factor in the U.S., it's a mistake to assume that other nations are homogeneous in their ideals and culture.

These things aren't specific substitutes for travel, but often we set aside our dreams because there isn't time or money to do and see all the things what we want to.  Truth is, though, you can do a little bit now while working towards making what you really to want happen, too.

Have you traveled the world recently without really leaving home?  How?
P.S. Oh. Yeah. Happy Birthday, Adam.
Wednesday
Jan252012

Perspectives: Color by @MsMegan

One Thousand Words (Or More) is a collection of  subtle, yet breathtaking photographs published on the web by my dear and trusted friend Megan. Brief snippets of wisdom accompany each of her posts and the style of the blog reinforces that I'm blessed to have her in my feed reader. Products inspired by the blog can also be found online at the One Thousand Words (Or More) shop and you can find her on Twitter at @MsMegan

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It's the color that makes life interesting.