Yeah so I am done with the job posts… and back on language, identity and culture….
I had two experiences that made me go back to the topic…
Last Saturday or Sunday I went to the post office to mail a letter. The office was closed but you can still slip your mail through slots. I went inside and there was a Latino gentleman there. He came up to and tried to ask me a question in broken English. Noting his accent I told him in Spanish that I speak Spanish.
And he let out a sigh of relief. His question was simple one, he wanted to mail a letter to Texas, but could not tell which box was the right one. I pointed him in the right direction. Afterwards, he apologized for not assuming that I didn’t know Spanish (he was then assuming that I am Latina…ha ha). He then asked me what country I am from…. um, I am from here! I replied…
But I studied Spanish in college and lived in Spain…
He was really kind and even apologized for not being able to shake my hand since it had motor oil or something on it…
This experience was interesting for a number of reasons. First, I hardly get to communicate with native Spanish speakers in Spanish anymore (yeah I know the DC area is full of them, but I have no real reason to do so, no real pretext that is, more world revolves around family life and the MENA region so there it goes… ha ha).
Second, he thought I was Latina! (after hearing me speak, of course) What a difference an accent makes. Language is a beautiful thing…
My job involves quite a bit of going to a particular embassy… and Alhamdullilah, I am relatively well liked there. (Actually they pretty much hate everyone else at my organization…ha ha… so I get the honor of going there whenever something has to be done… which I don’t mind, as I get to speak Arabic… including Moroccan dialect).
And this week I went there and was actually invited to the inner sanctum… they let me into the part where people are not usually allowed so that I could wait while they processed some paperwork for me. The conversation was light, nothing special, but I did realize that at least one of them had no idea that I’m not Arab…. Ha ha… where have I heard that before?
As I get closer to my departure date, and my thinking about language goes from the hypothetical and the realities of being an American and dealing with US paradigms…. I am wondering more and more about how I will be viewed… and how I will choose to identify.
My work will involve being in an international situation, and so I will have to take things slow. I mean, being abroad as a student is worlds different from being abroad as an ex-pat. Gazelle is an adult now… an adult!
I’m sure my mind will not turn off the academic in me… I will continually think about the intersection of gender, race and identity. But so many choices lay before me.
Do I want to make it point of duty to let people know that I am American?
Or will it be more fun to let them assume I am Egyptian/Sudanese (which at this point I am 90% sure they will) and let the chips fall where they may? Yup, it’s time to start re-reading my old posts, reconnecting with old feelings and figuring this stuff out now.
I’m sure initially at least, I will be too jet-lagged to do any real thinking about this stuff.
But the realities of daily life will set in especially the realities of meeting (or at least actively trying met Mr. Right/Mr. Good Enough for me….(… which I have not here… alas…ha ha… those should be some funny posts… dating in a country where dating is…..haraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmmm…. well, let’s see if we get to that stage… sigh)….
I guess I know I am going to be boxed in a category and would rather not be in any at all. However it’ s a part of life and I will have to deal with it at some point. At the same time, I feel uneasy with people who would rather not identify as things that they clearly are….
Does that make sense? I am not merely a citizen of the world: I am (African) American, a woman and happen to have had extended exposure to other cultures, particular Arab and Spanish (not- Latin America, Spain)….
To me, acknowledging my roots is part and parcel of who I am. But aknowledging all the facets of my identity should not mean them dissolving into one another. I guess this works if I were racially ambiguous like Zoey Saldana (whose stance on race and identity is too simple and a bit too privileged for my blood— read more about that here) or something… but I’m only racially ambiguous on a technicality… So, to me, it just seems weird to not acknowledge my ethnic identity when it’s clearly what I look like.