Friday, November 25, 2011

i am not who i say i am and other identity crises~


To me, I am just myself.
Emily.
Bear with me while I get all existential, because really, this post has an important point.

As you can see in Exhibit A to your right, that is my original social security card. I blurred out the number, but on some level, it doesn't really matter because that number means nothing to anybody anymore because that name means nothing to the federal government anymore in combination with that number.
What I am saying is that person no longer exists.
Or do they?
To M, my birthmom, that name means something. It means life and memory, disconnect and loss, too many hopes and worries, and ultimately... rebirth.
To my birthfather, it was a glaring, permanent reminder of a mistake he made that he wanted nothing more than to put behind him.
To me, well, the name on that card is so foreign to me that I don't even know if we're talking about the same person.
Are we?
I cried when I opened the mail with the little note inside saying, Emily, some more pictures for you... and a surprise!
What exactly was I crying for? Because paper always makes things final for me? Ink? Ink on paper?
I think part of it was I was shocked she had given me his last name. After everything she'd been through, after everything and nothing he had done to her and for her, she still wanted me to have his name.
I sat down on the floor to get my bearings. I started to imagine myself with that name. As in, having this complex, gorgeously and heavily authentic ethnic name all these 31 years of my life:
Hi, nice to meet you! My name is Reem. Reem Marie Mussallam.
I tried to picture myself then shaking the other person's hand, making eye contact, taking in most likely their interest or confusion over my name...
I'm not exactly sure what would come after that, but I'd like to think it'd still be pretty close to introducing the rest of the person I consider myself today.
Or would it? Does a name hold that much power?
According to this article, names indeed do hold that much power. Gosh, I wonder if all my self-esteem woes would never even existed if I'd just kept my name! (I don't think so) Maybe I would've been smarter! (I highly doubt it) Surely, I would've felt more unique (and not always in a good way).
Would I have felt more connected to my Saudi heritage? I always felt intrigued. But it'd be difficult to merely be intrigued with a name like that. Because M has admitted to me that she too struggles with Catholicism's er, um, approach...I wonder if I'd been raised by her if I mentioned I was interested in being Muslim if she would've supported that? And I wonder if how much of that interest would've had to do with my name?
I wonder if I would've been treated differently? By teachers, elders, peers, professors? Would people have taken me more seriously? Less seriously? How would I have felt with that name post 9/11?
When I was in the military I was a medic. This was obviously before I searched for my birthmother; before I even knew my birthname. But whenever people I worked with found out I was half Saudi, they always said things like "Oh, how beautiful! How interesting! I always sensed you were something exotic." This was before 9/11.
The day after 9/11 I went into the mess hall to get lunch and a random, concerned person approached me and kindly removed the surgical tape secretly pasted to my back that read in glaring, accusatory black letters the word "ARAB".
And this occurred with my current name. Interesting how people's feelings about you change so fast.

I have to say though, not once in my life have I ever been ashamed of being half middle-eastern.
So I guess all I can say is, yes, I like myself. I like how I turned out. I like knowing that I sit between two stories, two families, two contexts created by two seemingly different groups of people---but that at the end of the day, I'm still me. I can literally picture myself at either family dinner table, thinking about my homework, my bike ride, my late dues on my library card. My hopes that I would someday escape the cycles set forth in front of me. Most importantly, I think I would've still been passionate about the socially marginalized, wanting to travel to learn about cultures and learning other languages; having an incredibly deep love for people and desire to understand others. I think about my two "families"---and how between the two of them, I'm still very different from both and how strangely enough (they may not like to admit this someday)---they're actually more similar than they are different.
So I guess the ultimate question still begs, "where have I come from and where am I going?"
That certainly has yet to be fully seen, but from what I've learned about my 'past' so far, I've been on quite the journey and have many more adventures to come.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post Em. It's interesting as I was just writing that I realized your nickname Em and the identifier for you you birth mother-M are the same. Parallels all around, my friend. :D

    ReplyDelete