For our second conversation circle, held on Thursday, we chose to explore the theme of identity.
We were a mixed group: Sarah is Syrian/Canadian, with a Muslim father and a Christian mother, and said she’s “a bit of both.” David is one quarter Vietnamese and has lived half his life in South America and the other in North America. He said that his answer to the question “Where are you from?” changes, depending on where he is and sometimes how he’s feeling. David speaks four languages.
Mariem was born in Montreal, has lived in Central Africa, France and Quebec and is French, Arab and Black. She says that there are parts of her that identify with the different countries and cultures she is a part of, at different times. Carolina grew up in Venezuela and is Venezuelan/Italian/Lebanese. She has lived in Montreal for many years now, but has a difficult time with the idea of “belonging” to one place.
Yasmine grew up in Morocco and has lived most of her life in Paris. She’s fascinated by the issue of identity and all its complexity. Coco was born and raised in New York to French parents. She said that she has at times felt more at home here in Montreal, with the mix of French and English, than she has in either New York or France. I am born and raised in Canada and am Scottish/Irish/Filipina and Saulteaux Cree-Métis. I have always thought of my mixed identity as more of a blessing than a curse.
After introducing ourselves, it was obvious that we had something in common- we all knew what it was like to come from many worlds and to be able to walk between different spaces of belonging, while also having felt the sting of not being fully ‘from’ any place specifically.
“Usually the word complicated has a negative connotation. I don’t think my identity is complicated, because the fact that it’s diverse is not a bad thing. I would rather say that it’s complex,” said David.
We discussed how complex the idea of identity really was. “Is it our ethnicity, our culture, our country or something else that defines us?” asked Sarah. Many of our identities are socially constructed and sometimes these constructions can be harmful or don’t do our stories justice.
We discussed how our layered identities made us more sensitive towards the diversity of individuals, in a way we valued. People are often discriminated against because of difference and a lack of understanding and experience.
We often are given part-truths about people or stories, with little understanding of the broader context. With these half-truths, people create ideas about “the other,” in ways that limit, hurt and prevent unity. We can exotify one another, compare ourselves and construct conclusions that restrict fluidity.
Our discussion led us to agree that erasing difference was not the answer. The solution cannot be one culture, one language, or one way of living in the world. Just as our biodiversity flourishes in its multiplicity, the potential of the human spirit can be expressed in limitless ways.
After exploring deeper points of tension, such as the ways in which Islamophobia creates everyday hate-crimes and violence and the ways in which many Trump supporters are often working class people fed up with the 1%, we turned the spotlight to ourselves.
We realized that we have a lot of ideas about what’s wrong and what could be right in the world, but it necessarily comes back to an internal struggle.
How can we learn to see our own prejudices of others? How can we learn to love ourselves, so that we can be patient enough to understand and love others, free from small judgement and fear?
Our conversation ended with an enlightening discussion of the work we face individually, in order to make our words a reality.