Those that know me happen to know that I have been going through a bit of an identity crisis. It stems from that existential crisis that many Americans face – what am I, exactly, when it comes to culture, ethnicity, and even standpoint on the world scene? A lot of it comes down to what I always perceived myself to be when safely tucked away as a member of my own diverse yet cohesive community, versus what the rest of the world perceives me to be while I move through their territories.
To anyone outside of America, I am an American (unless they mistake me for Canadian, a popular second choice). To my friends and myself, when inside of America I am part of several much smaller cultures that like to put a large divide between themselves and commercial patriotic truck driving America. So, while I am American, I identify more closely with small tribes of Americans (academic types, coastal kids, members of food co-ops and such). It feels somewhat awkward being lumped together with the whole of America because then I feel as if I am being identified with all of the better known parts that people in the rest of the world are aware of – questionable politics, war, McDonalds, gas guzzlers, McMansions, economic inequality, plot-less action flicks, and so on. Those happen to be the exact parts I disassociated myself from even when in the US, preferring to be involved more in the local community – rather than national – culture.
To another often rather large subset of Americans, I could be identified as Irish-American, Italian-American, German-American, Turkish-American, etc. The fact that I, being an American mutt with some Colonial roots, fit into about six or seven of those groups – that is confusing enough on its own. Which one is the primary group? Do I even have a primary group at this juncture?
Add that to the fact that a some-random-percentage Italian-American that has never seen Italy nor spoken Italian is probably not likely to fit in very well if they visit Italy. I’ve already felt like a very non-Italian freak after just an hour spent sitting in their consulate’s visa waiting room. So, this deep since-birth identity of Italian-American, it doesn’t really feel as if it translates to simply Italian. The same goes for the rest of my multitude of ancestral nationalities. All of this becomes glaringly obvious when outside of the American bubble – the only place in the world where my particular identities make much sense at all.
It comes down to incongruity in perception. People see an American when they look at me. What I see in me is not only mostly in opposition to that generalization, but it also includes subsets that your average person outside of the US is not going to be able to accurately identify. On top of that, I have to deal with the fact that I am actually American. I’m accustomed to surviving in a system that is so efficient that it is ruthless, that paints over the bad parts and hides all of the dust bunnies under a bulging carpet that it then steam rolls flat – and I have been molded by that. There are deeply ingrained survival and ethical level aspects of me that will always be American. Just don’t expect me to eat the nation’s chemical laden Lucky Charms and chug them down with a Big Gulp Coca Cola.