Passion plays: defending our identity and a future that looks like us

Passion fuels the lives we envision for ourselves better than discipline or elbow grease alone. However, a little bit of passion’s dark side -- anger -- may be the best defense of our identity, and a future that looks like us.

Dialogue2010 participant Elmira Bayraslı shared at her "Wonderment Woman" blog the anger that keeps her hybrid. Rather than assimilate or choose one social group to belong to, the daughter of Turkish immigrants in New York ferociously defends her hard-won ability to switch to independent American woman -- and back again.

As an expat I know this righteousness-to-be-hybrid. A defense mechanism not only kicks in but is kept in place by a low level anger about external pressures to live and be a certain way. It’s been a cornerstone of my survival, and for many people living between worlds.

I was reminded exactly how homegrown this righteousness is by a Facebook group of one-line jokes about Berkeley upbringings. How counterculture taboos affected childhood is dizzying:

  • boycotts of table grapes and iceberg lettuce make kids anxious when visiting un-PC families,
  • a sneaked McDonald’s meal draws punishment while smoking weed does not,
  • the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are off-limits (pseudo-military!),
  • while the whitebread Brady Bunch and misogynistic Barbie are what’s wrong with the world.

Free Speech protests witnessed from baby strollers make this group a veritable Red Diaper Baby playdate.

Also glimpsed: the realization that  much of what characterized a Berkeley childhood thirty or forty years ago -- that is, the lifestyle and belief system of an alternative community, the anger that separated it from the rest of the nation -- has now become mainstream in America.

So, my righteous sisters and brothers, what are you going to keep being angry about when it comes to who you are?

When & How Political And Nationalistic Issues Become Personal

There’s a few things about living in Turkey that I don’t like; the habit of ‘turkifying’ names being one of them," writes Catherine Yigit at her blog The Skaian Gates. She's one of the expat women writers featured in the Expat Harem anthology, and a contributor to the expat+HAREM blog. "So Catherine is sometimes changed to Kadriye, a completely different name. I don’t understand why anyone would want to change a perfectly good name to another one, isn’t changing countries/cultures/languages enough?" she asks.

My response to her post:

That's poignant, Catherine, and a good example of how political and nationalistic issues become personal.

When my father-in-law Suleyman went to London to work, they insisted on calling him "Sully", which he thought was amusing. Like many immigrant American families, our name was changed at Ellis Island. Names come to us in so many ways -- from the people before us, the land around us, the language on our tongues.

However, the fact of the matter is that what you're called is not inconsequential to who you think you are -- and being designated a new name by a group for their own convenience is often a power play.