Several times throughout my academic career, my class was asked to write words that we identified with, whether it was adult, tall, American, blue-eyed, Muslim, etc. Unfortunately, it is these “identities” that could get me in trouble as I meet new people from other cultures. And to complicate matters further, these identities are far from self-imposed. Instead, I have no choice but to wear them in plain site as I travel. I can’t hide speaking english with an american accent and having curly hair with a jewish nose. I also have little doubt that Americans and more specifically Jewish Americans might not be loved everywhere they travel. People may disagree with our politics, philosophies, and general cultural norms. It is for this reason, that if given the chance, I want extend that identity.
I am a brother. I am a son. I am a new uncle. I am a grandson. I am a friend. This is easy to say and hard to prove. I can foresee a situation where I am sitting next to someone on a train or bus and they look at me and immediately fill with preconceptions of who I am. This scenario soon devolves into a lecture about why Americans are failing in some aspect or another, and there is little pause to see if I agree with the philosophies and politics of my American people, but that doesn’t matter. I am not an individual here. I am an American. I might as well be riding a Harley Davidson wearing an American flag bandana blasting Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA through the heartland of Vietnam. I might have to wait for this anti-American lecture to start to fizzle, and then I will reach into my backpack and grab a couple photos that I’ve been traveling with. These photos start to show that I am not just an American.
I hope these photos will show that my identity starts with family. Whatever happens, I know my family will be there. Whatever I do, I know my family will support me. And whatever I blunder, I know my family will forgive me. These values I feel transcend any one culture and will hopefully allow me to connect with that lecturer sitting next to me on a much more personal and individual level. I will introduce him to my 5 month old niece. I will tell him what my sisters do and who my parents are. The stories we then begin to swap are more about who we are as individuals and less about what our politics are.
These two photos I will carry with me as I begin to travel.