It’s more than a hyphen

Several weeks ago, I stumbled across a blog posting that discussed the author’s discomfort with all of the hyphenated identities that are present and becoming more common in our modern, globalized, and shrinking world.  The article caused me to think, again, about the salient characteristics of the self and our awareness of that self within us and how we deal with naming it…how we identify it…ourselves.  Why does it matter what or how we call ourselves?  Why does it matter how people “know” us?  What is in “our” name that is sacred or worthy of remaining so?  Our identity…we are and identify ourselves as a combination of things, a coming together of diverse origins, and a hybrid of things gone and now.  We’re Irish-American, African-American, Mexican-American, Bosnian-American, Iranian-American, Rwandan-American, German-American…and many other mixings of American…and we’re proud of those other parts while still being proud of our American self.  No matter how much we celebrate our American heritage, we do so from a core that speaks with a different accent, one that has a different birth-place and history.  Yes, we are proud, we want to be here, we want to relish in all that being American means…while still being from somewhere else, while having primal roots that dig deeper and hold longer truths than our infancy of citizenship in our new country.  We can’t divorce ourselves from our earlier histories and the nation of our nativity…we simply can’t.  We are what we are and our blood is fluent in the tale of its ancestry and we cannot remove it from our beings.  The hyphen in our identified ethnicities joins our past and our future and creates a bed in which our children will be born and live and know from whence they came and understand the price of sacrifice that was paid to inform their lives and make them what they are and will be in the many tomorrows of their future.

Being a White male with a western European lineage, a few remaining drops of North American indigenous blood, and a family history of having existed on this continent for documented hundreds of years, I don’t have a need, personally, to identify myself as belonging to a particular culture or country of origin.  At times, I have wished to be anything other than a White male because of the history associated with being such…on this continent and in this particular country.  But my identity doesn’t revolve around the color of my skin, gender, or ethnicity.  I think this might be an unspoken luxury of being born into the country’s majority.  If I had been born into any other status and worked hard to remove certain stigmas or economic situations that have been common to my “kind,” I might feel differently…and I might feel differently very strongly, especially if I were still witness to others of my “kind” being discriminated against simply for having been born with a different color of skin, or on the proverbial other side of the tracks…or river.

Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, or Cesar Chavez Day, or Martin Luther King Day?  Why do we have Black History Month, or Chicano History Month…or Gay-Pride Day…or for that matter, or any matter in this discussion, why do we have Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day, or Grandparent’s Day, or Secretary’s Day…or Valentine’s Day…aren’t we simply celebrating some part of ourselves or honoring a part or role that someone else plays in our lives in their given or chosen identity…doesn’t it all come down to that…identity…who we call ourselves?  Maybe….

Keeping the name or identity of our and our forbears’ nationality is somewhat akin to when we take the name of our new spouse or partner and keep our own family’s name; we’re proud of both.  We’re keeping the label or tag that informed our earlier existence and life, we’re honoring our history…and we’re keeping a substantial part of ourselves; we’re not forsaking all for the mate or partner that we’ve chosen…our identity remains intact, not sacrificed on the altar of tradition.

When we get adopted, we hope to keep at least a part of our name so that we have something of our primary identity, the person we were first…even if we didn’t know it or weren’t yet aware of it, but it was still who we were, and now we might have a new last name or some kind of, or part of a new name, a promise, almost, that we can be or will be someone different, that our potential has changed and we’re going to be something that we probably couldn’t or wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t been adopted and had our name changed…and become part of a new family, become a new person…or at least a person with a newer part of themselves…and after all the legal mumbo-jumbo or mumble-jumble, we’re still able to say, “I know my name is….”

And lastly, what about when we finish school after those long and many and tiring and trying years…and decide to put that B.S., or M.A., or PhD after our names?  Aren’t we further identifying ourselves, telling people who we are, what we accomplished…and hope that they might see us as a person who accomplished something…maybe…we set out to complete a task, to succeed in reaching a goal…we endured somehow…we were driven to learn or know…and now we know how little we know…and how much more there is to learn…about life, ourselves, and who we are…and others and then.

While our identities are often fluid, transforming in kind and character within moments or seconds in response to some stimuli, environmental or societal factor, or the presence of some other person or personality, they are often as solid as bedrock in the core of what they represent in our souls…the deepest reaches of our inner-most being.  Sometimes those hyphenated names speak to the completeness of what it means to be us, you and me, as only you and I can be.

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10 responses

  1. Kaleeb

    is your argument that one should identify themselves with a hyphen? does that not open the door to possibly offending the national roots or family heritage that you don’t include in your hyphen? german-american…but aren’t you irish too? Smith-jones….but isn’t your mom’s family name clark? where does one draw the line? Nice thought provoking topic 🙂

    April 17, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    • My argument is only that people should be allowed to identify themselves as they wish, not as others want them to be identified. Draw your own lines…. Thank you, Kaleeb.

      April 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm

  2. Renae

    I especially like this part:

    Keeping the name or identity of our and our forbears’ nationality is somewhat akin to when we take the name of our new spouse or partner and keep our own family’s name; we’re proud of both. We’re keeping the label or tag that informed our earlier existence and life, we’re honoring our history…and we’re keeping a substantial part of ourselves; we’re not forsaking all for the mate or partner that we’ve chosen…our identity remains intact, not sacrificed on the altar of tradition.

    I kept my married last name for a reason but couldn’t find the words to explain why. You summed it up perfectly. Thanks

    April 18, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    • You are certainly welcome, Renae…and thank you, too. 🙂

      April 18, 2010 at 7:37 pm

  3. Strange how the animals don’t worry about such things. A zebra doesn’t even know it’s a zebra, but I’ll be damned if I am not identified as Jason Martin, Scottish/English American, PhD. Esq.

    Nice Piece

    April 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    • No, Jason, the other animals don’t appear to care about such things, Noble Sailor. Thank you, Sir.

      April 21, 2010 at 3:13 pm

  4. Excellent and thought-provoking post! I agree … naming is a powerful tool … we expand, limit, define, dictate … we do just about everything after we have found the word to communicate that which lives in our hearts. Does it mean that it doesn’t exist if we can’t name it? No … however, learning how to identify ourselves and how to communicate that identity to those around us is a form of empowerment and self-exploration. Hyphen or no-hyphen, what is really important is how we know ourselves.

    April 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    • Thank you, Miss Questioningsoul…and what a wonderful contribution to the post! Excellent…how we know ourselves…hyphen or not. Thank you.

      April 24, 2010 at 3:21 pm

  5. david

    i think the important thing is who assigns that hypen. i don’t have a problem with self designators but people shouldn’t be shoved into a shorthand “box” that makes it easy to dismiss them as one of “those”.

    May 4, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    • Very good point…I agree. It’s great if it’s a self-designator, the problem comes when it’s the label of “other.” Thank you, Sir David.

      May 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm

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