"Identity là khỉ gì?" or "What the monkey is identity?"

I was just talking to my friends Hetty and Chi and they said that my blog could put them to sleep. So in that spirit, I'm going to write a really long, boring, non-visual text-heavy post just to prove them right.

According to TheFreeDictionary, identity is:

The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known; The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.
But what does that mean in English? Well, I have my own theory as I'm sure everyone else does, but I don't like theory because it's too abstract. If I had to articulate it, I suppose it would go something like this: Identity is who and what you construct yourself to be (whether or not that is consistent with who and what you truly are) and how you choose to represent yourself. I'm not completely convinced about the search to "find myself," which I've seen go around in circles and end up closer to where you began than anywhere else, but I think that the real life journey is to forget trying to solidify our own "identity" and refocus on how we fit into the fabric of humanity. By positioning ourselves between our God and our fellow beings, we attain much greater depths of self worth and identity than by trying to reach inward all by our lonesome. But that's off my topic.

I started thinking about identity when my wife dropped this concept on me today in the car: ethnicity is negotiable. I love this topic, but it was kind of startling to hear it randomly uttered while on the way to pick up a new union membership card so I can buy movie tickets for $6.50 instead of $10. But it was the spontaneity that thrust my mind back into the internal debate I haven't entertained since my good ol' Asian American Studies classes. It all started like this:

I was sitting in a Vietnamese American Experience class and a grad student came in with a stack of papers and announced that she was doing her dissertation on Asian American identity. Part of her research included a survey to be taken by college-aged young adults. She then said these exact words: "I will pass the surveys around, please take one if you self-identify as an Asian American."  I didn't even really hear her say that, I was thinking about something else at the time, but I just remember realizing that as the stack of papers was passed to my hands, I almost took one before passing it on. I hesitated for a moment, then just handed it to the next student without taking one. It was only a small thing, but my mind began racing around and around trying to figure out why I tried to take one when I knew they were only for "Asian American" students.

For a long time, I had hoped that I could "pass" as Asian. I thought that maybe if somehow if I could claim a tiny bit of Asian America, I would then speak better Vietnamese, understand more deeply the culture, enjoy the food more completely. But it's not magic like that. The more I tried, the stupider I felt - I felt like a desperate man chasing his dream woman. I finally gave up and just focused on life, trying to live as best as I could. I just came to terms with the fact that I would never be Asian and therefore never be... well... never be Asian. Several months went by before I had that experience in class. After pondering the experience, I finally concluded that since I had stopped "trying" to be Asian, my life had unintentionally molded more thoroughly to the environment around me, which was mostly Vietnamese. My mind subconsciously affirmed that fact, to the point that when she mentioned self-identifying Asian American, my subconscious automatically categorized myself in that group. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was difficult for me to separate the parts of me that were uniquely Asian and uniquely non-Asian. I came home and pondered on the implications - I had always, always, always categorized myself as white, Anglo-Saxon, whatever it's called now. I had grown up white, and though I have some Asian blood in my veins, my life was practically culturally and socially and emotionally void of anything Asian. Is it possible to just change one's identity? Just like that? One question in a class and boom, I'm now converted from white to Asian? And that's when the epiphany gently floated down from the sky to my head (I'm sitting on my porch next to my ash tree and I kid you not, immediately as I wrote that last sentence, a leaf fell and about hit me in the head). No, it doesn't happen in a moment. That change has been working on me for a long time and now finally I realize that I'm as deeply Asian as all my classmates who took the survey.

I don't go around flaunting my new-found Asianness (maybe that's why God made me wait) because I'd like to keep it quiet, like a secret between me and myself. I don't lull myself to bed at night thinking, "I'm finally Asian, I'm finally Asian." In fact, I don't even think about it anymore, until something reminds me that at some point in the past, I had a change come over me. I don't feel Asian, but when I was white I didn't feel white either (I just looked it). I don't try to do Asian things (like eat everything with chopsticks - come on, cơm tấm and chè were not made for chopsticks!), but I just do what I do and I guess it's now a mixture of white and Asian because I can't tell anymore what's what. That's my identity - mixed. Not mixed blood, but mixed life.

James Allen claimed that a person is in control of their thoughts as well as environment. Well, we're in control of the environments toward which we gravitate, but those environments have a stronger pull on our identity and subconscious that many of us realize.

And what the khỉ is identity? I don't know. I was hoping that typing this would sort things out in my mind. It didn't.


Amy said...

I loved yours so much that now I'm offically a blogger http://amyaquabat.blogspot.com/

Linh said...

Ben ơi,I think your last entries are good.I'm so lazy to read sth too long like this one.Anyway,I love your blog so much!^^

travel log
  • 02.13.08 - to the temple with Luan and his mom, good to be back
  • 02.14.08 - Mẫu's alive! and staying for the weekend
  • 02.15.08 - floor hockey and Thái food makes for some strange dreams
  • 02.17.08 - frisbee and swamp monster at the park: fun but I'm pooped!
  • 02.19.08 - just read Triết's response to my last post - game on!
  • 02.20.08 - raining and expected to continue through Sunday - thank goodness!
  • 02.21.08 - 3-hour nap is a bad idea right before bed
  • 02.23.08 - to the beach to watch kites, a baptism @ 5pm, and homemade bulgogi - what a day!
  • 02.25.08 - just gave myself a haircut - woo, cold head!
  • 02.26.08 - 75° and spring cleaning - couldn't feel better
  • 02.27.08 - fed the elders bún đậu tonight - think it's their first time
  • 03.01.08 - working on new background...
  • 03.02.08 - finalized javascript to change background without muffing up my other scripts
  • 03.03.08 - fhe: "In his strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:12)
  • 03.07.08 - some decisions are harder than others, but some are downright excruciating
  • 03.08.08 - there is life after work... i almost forgot
  • 03.11.08 - the distance between good and bad is much shorter than between better and best
  • 03.12.08 - conversion is sometimes a gradual process, so much so that we don't even notice
  • 03.14.08 - for some reason everything was a little harder today, looking forward for bed!
  • 03.15.08 - last night after blog reading, I missed OnlyBlue, today I find she's back
  • 03.16.08 - best day of my life!
  • 03.19.08 - "Pray for the answer that they've been looking for"
release notes v1.0 - FINALLY DONE!
  • 12.07 - first thought of starting a new blog
  • 01.08 - busy with election stuff but blog design still on back burner
  • 01.13.08 - first idea to imitate jk rowling with the "desk" theme
  • 01.28.08 - start sketching current design, breaking down development into phases
  • 02.02.08 - election only days away but still drafting final plans
  • 02.04.08 - v0.6 LAUNCH
    • main components (blog body, sidebar, header, etc) designed and implemented
    • styling for font, links, drop caps, etc. finished
  • 02.07.08 - v0.8 LAUNCH
    • image style to imitate polariod
    • moveability - post-it notes and static clings can be repositioned by drag and drop
    • release notes styled and written
  • 02.16.08 - travel log (beta) added in hopes of catching the mundane
  • 02.22.08 - lightbox 2.03 reinstalled and working fine (hopefully - let me know otherwise)
  • 02.26.08 - v0.9 LAUNCH
    • travel log seems to be working, so I'll keep it
    • lightbox also seems to have passed the test, so it's a keeper
    • some credits/info added to bottom (will expand)
    • keeping old Viet terms in archive for future viewing
  • 03.18.08 - v1.0 LAUNCH
    • installation and testing of time-sensitive background completed (for now)