Monday, May 7, 2012

The Foreigner Identity Complex

When I would go to a friend's house when I was younger, my mother would always tell me: "Be on your best behavior." And of course (as mother's always are) she was right. There is a certain way we should act in the presence of strangers. So what do you do when you leave behind all that is comfortable and take up a new life in a land filled with strangers? Do as your mother told you. Be on your best behavior.
Being a foreigner in another country is often like being an ambassador for your country. You alone my be the only representative of your country that someone ever meets. A child I teach may never make it to America. Is what I do or the things I say the way in which I want the US to be portrayed?
A more difficult questions comes when I wonder: If I represent the whole of the American people, should I act as I see America? Probably not. Don't worry mother I am on my best behavior. I hardly feel I am fit to represent America, a country I often do not think too highly of as of late. But I know I can represent the welcoming, compassionate human being, and perhaps give light to the idea of a well-read and overly friendly westerner.
In the end really, I can represent no one other than myself. Whether I am seen in the eyes of others as something more than that is truly out of my control. I understand I am bound to be connected to the country I have traveled here from. As I begin to explore more and more of this beautiful country and encounter so many of its unique and wonderful inhabitants, I cannot help but to begin to really explore myself. Who I am in he eyes of others is hardly important. Who I am in my own thoughts is another thing entirely. But to be honest, that is why I do all of this. Why travel? It's very simple. Travelling exposes you to many things, but it also exposes you to one thing. Humans. We are all here, and when you travel you start to see that we are really all the same. Embrace our sameness. Discover what it truly means to be human.
The language I speak may make me of value to this country's education system. My skin color might make me an attraction to garner the attention of those around me (Trust me, having children want to take a picture with you just because you are white is very strange). But all of it is relative. Maybe in all my searching and questioning I will know who I am. Perhaps it is something I will never know, or never should know. Perhaps there is no answer to the riddle at all. But the question will always be worth posing. A koan to ponder on dark quiet nights. But in the meantime I will just do as my mother told me.
Be on your best behavior.


Lin & Lu said...

Funny thing...I wasn't expecting you to be thought of as an American or representative of America. I guess to me you are just a mis-placed Canadian.

Jeff Powers said...

A kind thought, but really I feel I can only really claim citizenship to the planet Earth. A partially confusing and at the same time quite liberating notion. I belong everywhere and no where at once.

Meg said...

Well said.

Mom said...

You always do. Your proud Mom!

Post a Comment