American novelist Walter Mosley has written a wonderful essay on identity as the US is in the midst of completing the 2010 Census. With its history of immigration, identity in the US seems much more complicated than anywhere else in the world. One of the first things you notice when you move here is that everyone is American but also “part-something” – which can be -European, -African ,-Asian or a host of other possibilities.
Who am I? I am an American from the soles of my feet to the hair that once adorned my bald head. An American whose black-skinned ancestors were stolen from their lives and cultures and piled in the holds of ships like so many sacks of skin.
Identity is something I have been thinking about because of my personal history but also because of recent events amongst my family and friends.
I visited some friends who had a baby boy in Manhattan a few weeks ago so he is getting an American passport. Thanks to his mum and dad he can also get Irish and New Zealand passports, so he will truly be a citizen of the world.
My grandparents lived in the British Empire and during their lifetimes they went on to live in an independent India before they became East Pakistanis and then Bangladeshis. My parents emigrated to England where I was born and lived most of my life before coming to the US, where ironically I feel more English.
My nieces and nephews are/or will be a mixture of Bangladeshi, English and Spanish. I don’t know how their lives will turn out but even in the next generation the possibility of further nationalities being added to the mix is really strong.
Some people try to scare us through a fear the unknown but I think the new generation is incredibly lucky in combining so many gene pools. They may not turn out to be presidents of the free world but the combination will give them new talents and abilities that we cannot even imagine.
I agree with Mosley who ends his essay with great hope:
Through my veins run 10,000 years of history that touches every continent, deity, and crime known to humanity. This history is not composed of the false accounts of the past; it is the blood and the beat and the light that passes through my mind, and yours. I am your sibling whether you know it or not, whether you accept me or not.
We, known and unknown to each other, form an identity that I can express but still not know, not completely. And for this state of being I am infinitely grateful because it means that I can be part of something greater than the individual, while still I am at home in my heart.