Monday, June 13, 2011

what is identity? (multigenre project)

i decided to write about identity not just because it would be something "easy", which it isn't. i wrote about identity because i feel that not everybody knows what identity is. while wrote these poems and this master/epic paper, i started to discover my own identity. you will hear a lot more about this in my conclusion though. what exactly is identity? who defines identity? why should you care? these were the main questions i had to think about and consider while i wrote all of this. i tried to answer all of the questions i myself had thought of while writing this project; i didn't answer all of them because both i wasn't able too and if i did this project might have bee 300 pages. i hope you enjoy and now i will take you deep into the topic of identity.

Song Lyrics from songs the define me

It starts with one thing, I don’t know why
It doesn’t even matter how hard you try
Show me how to lie, your getting better all the time
And turning all against one, that’s an art that’s hard to teach
Somewhere between happy and total f**king wreck
Feet sometimes on solid ground and sometimes at the edge
Fall, now the dark begins to rise
Save your breath it’s far from over
He wears his heart safety pinned to his backpack,
His backpack is all that he knows
The faster we’re fallin, we’re stoppin and stallin, we’re runnin in circles again.
Just as things were looking up, you said it wasn’t good enough, but still we're trying one more time

Poem collection for my identity
when you ask me to define myself i say that i am
 me, not 
well maybe he, but definatly not
yes, definitely not she
you ask me who do you want to
and i respond 
because if i wasn't 
then who would i 

who, what, when, where, how, is identity
identity is 
shaped like the grand canyon except with things other then identity
who is identity
nobody is without identity
when is identity
identity is forever, when you least expect it and when you most expect it
when it is in dire need and when you can care less
where is identity
identity is everywhere and is shaped by everything
how is identity
identity is, because of you

There used to be a joke in Paris. What is the difference between the Chief Rabbi in France and the Cardinal of Paris? The Cardinal speaks Yiddish!"  In August 2007, the archbishop of France died and they chanted Kaddish at his funeral, which is the Jewish prayer for the dead. They did this because he was actually a Jew. During the holocaust his family had hidden him in Poland with a Christian family, to prevent the holocaust from reaching him. Although this family never converted him, he converted himself. He said “For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the world. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.” I think that the main idea of the article in which I read this, is expressed perfectly in the author’s quote at the end: “Sometimes there are profound inconsistencies in our world.” I just love this last quote; it completely talks to me, because I, as well as many other people, am one of these profound inconsistencies. The archbishop’s story shows me that identity isn’t always what it seems to be.  Not only that, but also that you can have multiple identities and sometimes you can even choose your own identity.

Who defines identity? In shule, when the topic of identity was raised, we had so many different ideas about what defines identity. One of the activities we did was, “What makes somebody Jewish?” We were given cards. On each of these cards was one thing that people may consider a factor in making somebody Jewish. We had to pick five out of these 20 cards that best fit what we though was most important about being Jewish. None of us had five identically matching cards; some of us didn’t even have any in common. After we did this activity I could just tell how controversial the idea of identity would be. Boy was I right.

I used to believe that your identity was exactly what you choose. Then we learned that during the holocaust it didn’t really matter what you considered yourself to be. If you wore a cross every day, went to church every Sunday but your mother was a Jew, then you were a Jew in Hitler’s eyes. If you were a Jew in Hitler’s eyes then you wouldn’t be in his eyes much longer. This is what I learned that stopped me dead in my “your identity is what you choose” tracks. I had never even stopped to consider something like this.

Another example of identity that wasn’t self-chosen is in the land now called Nigeria; originally, there lived several tribes and the three largest were the Ibo, The Hausa and the Yoruba. All of the tribes were different; there were some similarities but for the most part they were very different. They spoke different languages, they had different political views and they had different cultures. The British came to this land and, through diplomacy, bribery and just pure force created the colony they named Nigeria. The new colony included The Ibo, The Hausa and The Yoruba; these tribes were all united as one people, the Nigerians. The people were then faced with a dilemma concerning their identity:  were they Nigerian or were they still Ibo, Hausa or Yoruba? Some people adopted the new name, calling themselves Nigerian and others didn’t. To the rest of the world, everybody was Nigerian, although many still considered themselves first and foremost to be part of their tribe. I interviewed two young women, one Ibo and one Yoruba; here is what they said when asked about identity.

“With Americans, I identify myself as Nigerian. However, among Nigerians, I identify myself as Igbo. Igbo people think that they are better and Yoruba people think otherwise. The two ethnic groups have different ideals and stereotypes about one another. There isn't that much unity between the two. We are in constant conflict with one another and don’t really trust each other. But this is the sequence; I trust an Igbo person more than a Yoruba person, I trust a Nigerian more than any other African and I trust an African more than an American.”

And here are some thoughts from a Yoruba person. “Initially, when people ask me to identify myself, I tell them that I am Nigerian- that's who I am- but then I always specify that I am Yoruba. It’s funny how as Nigerians we clarify what "type" of Nigerian we are, although we are all Nigerians, but every tribe is unique in its own way, each with its own language, customs and culture. I don't consider myself as an American, although I believe that I have been "Americanized." I was raised in a Yoruba home and brought up with my culture, which wasn't tinctured with any form of Americanism.  I identify myself mainly as being Yoruba. There is a wide spectrum of Nigerians, so I like to specify which one I am.”
The Archbishop’s story shows me that sometimes you can choose your identity, while the Jews in the holocaust and the forming of the colony Nigeria show me that sometimes you can’t choose your identity. These quotes show me that sometimes identity is both self-chosen and forced upon and it can be expressed in many different ways.  The one thing all of these stories and quotes show me is that identity is one complicated thing.

Another question I have is how does upbringing affect your identity? How does what you were taught and what your families believe and what they passed on to you affect your own personal identity?  I think about Clara Lemlech, who was a famous union organizer and fighter for workers rights. I believe that she identified herself as a working class, Jewish, immigrant, sweatshop worker. I wonder if she would have had different labor ideas if her dad had owned a sweatshop. This idea is raised in the story, “Solomon” by I. Raboy. The main character is a girl named Rosie. Rosie’s dad, Solomon, is the owner of a sweatshop; he employs many workers for very long hours and very little pay. Rosie, who works in her dad’s office, becomes outraged at how her father is treating his. Workers.  She decides to write a letter to the Yiddish newspaper. This letter states that she feels her dad “has no rightful place in the Jewish community,” even though he “gives money lavishly,” because of how he treats his workers. As she says, “Day in and day out these five hundred girls are grinding out riches for my father. They do not even dare laugh as healthy young girls should.” Then one thing she says in the last paragraph really stuck out to me. “And now allow me to please ask you, is it just that such a man as my father should be honored by you…” This story shows that, even though your identity is shaped by what is around you, you don’t always have to go along with what is trying to be shaped; to put it in simpler terms you still have a say in choosing your identity.

The question I raised about how your upbringing affects your identity is a very important question, especially when I think about myself. I am a very different person from most teenagers. Unlike the typical teenager, I go to a socially conscious camp and shule, and I have also been taught the values of two different religions, Christianity and Judaism. My dad’s side of the family is Christian, my mom’s side of the family is Jewish and I, along with my parents, am an atheist. One thing that I find the most interesting when learning about these religions and their teachings is that they all overlap in certain aspects. For example they both talk about just being a good person. The Talmud says “Let the honor of thy neighbor be as dear to thee as thine own.”  This quote is much less well known in the United States then the quote by Jesus Christ that speaks to this same idea. “ Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than this.” 

Whenever I hear this, I think of the biblical story of Cain and Abel where, after Cain has killed his brother, Abel, and god asks Cain where his brother is, Cain responds “am I my brother’s keeper?” God asks Cain how could he be so cruel and then he marks Cain so that whenever he tries to grow something it won’t grow. And basically he will wander earth homeless. In shule we spent close to three weeks talking about the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I think the question is, am I responsible for my brother, and not just my brothers but all my family, friends and neighbors? 

This story and these quotes show that the two religions overlap in their core beliefs of the importance of just being a good person. I think that this just shows how two religions that have fought wars against each other can have the same principal ideals. I am very happy that even though I identify myself as atheist I can still enjoy the story and understand the values and ethics that are in the story. I think that the point of religion should to teach values needed for life. From all of these, the values we learn, that you should love your neighbors, be good to others and the world. These values tell me that your believes become part of your identity. Being partially Christian and partially Jewish makes me have conflicting thoughts when I identify myself. Sometimes I identify myself as Jewish sometimes Christian and sometimes both but always as an atheist. I don’t identify myself as one thing or another based on whom I am talking to though I just say which ever first comes to mind.

My last question is, to what extent does your identity shape your actions? During the period of slavery in the USA, one of the Jews who fought for emancipation was August Bondi. He said that, because he identified as a Jew, it was his responsibility to help fight against slavery. His mother, urging him on, had told him “as a Yehudah I am obliged to protect institutions that guarantee freedom for all faiths.” Another person whose identity shaped his actions was Emmanuel Ringelblum.   Emmanuel Ringelblum was born in Poland in 1900 and died in 1944 as a victim of the holocaust, murdered by the Nazis. Ringelblum was the historian of the Warsaw Ghetto. What Ringelblum is most known for is the Oneg Shabbat group that he organized to secretly document the daily life and traditions of people in the Ghetto. By documenting all of this information Ringelblum was certain that no matter what happened to him and the other people of the Warsaw Ghetto, the ghetto way of life and Jewish culture would be preserved and safe. I think one of the main things that drove Ringelblum to do this was his identity. I think he identified himself as a Yiddish historian, somebody who lead and organized his culture and community and as someone who wanted to keep prewar Jewish culture alive. I think the mix of these two things and the fact that he seemed to want to help everybody is what led him to start the Oneg Shabbat group and shows his commitment the oneg Shabbat group

I think that being a 13-year-old teenager having had the opportunity to shape my identity at Kindershule has been a special opportunity.  It has gotten me closer to having a completed identity.  I mean you can’t mold clay without knowing what shape the clay is.  And I think the same thing goes for identity. What I mean is that if you don’t know what your identity is at the time then you can’t really hope to change it. I think that everybody unconsciously has an idea of what his or her identity is. In my opinion everybody should know what their identity is on more than just a subconscious level. I feel greatly privileged that I have been able to talk to people at Kindershule and everybody in my class about such deep and important topics as identity. I didn’t change my identity here at shule, but what I did do is discover my identity. Now, after going through Kindershule, I feel I will have a different outlook on my identity, other people’s identity and life as a whole.  I’m not exactly sure where my identity is going to be going from this point onward, but what I do know is that Kinderland and Kindershule have been major factors in shaping what it is today and these two places will continue to shape my identity even after I graduate and move on in life.

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