Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Identity


There have been a lot of interesting blog discussions this week about race and politics, and identity. Intersecting with this is a friend of mine whose dad died when she was 18 months old. She never knew much about him because his family basically dropped off the map after he died.

Every couple of years, one of his brothers (her uncle B-) pops up out of the blue, promising to send pictures and memorabilia and information about her dad. He never delivers.

He made a surprise visit to her neck of the woods this week and made the usual offer - and as usual, didn't bring anything he promised (except his pain-in-the-ass wife, who always promises to be a real bitch. SHE didn't fail to deliver.)

This got me thinking because I've always sort of wondered about my own family's identity. And hence, my own. My family is a mixture of Apache, European and Irish ancestry. We have been kicked out or we have fled from nearly everywhere! Protestants in Ireland, Jews in Switzerland. Somewhere along the lines my relatives converted to become Lutherans, probably to prevent their own deaths - or maybe because they loved horridly boring church services. (I once had a Catholic boss who said being Lutheran was "being Catholic in denial." Aside from the more progressive stance on women clergy and birth control, I am inclined to agree.)

I've been insulted by people because they thought I was white and insulted by people because they thought I was Native, and I happen to be both.

I've been called "too Jewish" by hardcore Christians and "not a real Jew" by Jewish friends. Or those I thought were my friends.

I have lived in seven different states and Mexico, so I pause when people ask where I am "from." I have moved more than 20 times in my life.

I come from a long line of interesting relatives. I had a great-grandfather who organized the Milwaukee railroad and arrested Baby-Face Nelson (who was hiding under a bale of hay in an Iowa barn.) There have been arsonists, suicides, alcoholics, and even a great-grandmother who literally ran away to join the circus.

Sometimes I wonder, who the fuck am I?

I've tried to figure out where I'm "from," who I am, where I'm going.

Then again, I think, perhaps it doesn't matter, except for the last part.

Who are you? How do you define yourself?

That's the million dollar question, isn't it?

15 comments:

Darth Weasel said...

Sometimes I think people are so lost in trying to figure out who they are that they never do anything. You, I am proud to say, have done many good things regardless of whether you figure out where you are "from" or not.

Which reminds me of a great, loosely related joke; lets pick on Mormons for this one.

"You know the best thing to come out of Utah, right?"
"Yeah, Interstate 84."

Fireblossom said...

You are from a place long long ago and far far away.

You are our Riot Kitty and we love you more than chocolate.

You are going straight to hell in a handbasket. Duh. ;-)

I hope that this clears up those pesky questions for you.

I asked my father to tell me about his sode of the family. Being the retired newspaperman that he was, he typed it all up and sent it to me. A couple of years later, he started having mini strokes and could not have done it, so I am so glad I asked when I did. I learned all sorts of stuff! The French-Canadian branch of the family where the men all died young from heart conditions, including one who actually died at the dinner table with his face in his soup. There was my great (not sure how many greats) grandfather, who made three fortunes in his life and blew the first two by talking off with floozies and spending it all. He was in the process of blowing the third fortune when he died aboard ship. His widow set herself on fire while cooking and died in flames in the front yard. My grandfather, who had divorced my grandmother when my father was 5 (in 1917!) remarried a Native American woman who bore him twins, but went mad immediately after and had to be institutionalized. My grandmother was apparently a celebrated beauty in her day.

The Peach Tart said...

I contemplate that every day. Fucked up is all I can say right now but in a good way.

Mike_D said...

If I may wax philosophically for a moment....


It's not where you're from, it's where you're going. Who your family is or was doesn't define who you are now...

There. Waxing done (and not too painfully I might add). My family name only goes back 3 generations, on account of my great-grandfather being an white orphan found in an Indian camp.

How come I don't have any floozies?

LL Cool Joe said...

I answered your question on my owm post. I hope that was ok?

pheromone girl said...

Hi. I'm Rachel, recently under construction. I'll get back to you when I figure out who I am :-)

Scarlet said...

It seems the older I get, the more questions I have.

I believe I'm growing, evolving and trying to do it all while the sun is still shining. I want to leave the world a better place...or at least my hometown. ;)

G said...

"Who am I?"

Interesting question.

To answer like Popeye: "I am what I am and that's all what I am."

I define myself more by what I experienced and what I observed, than by any kind of background or ethnicity (bald fat white guy).

I am a private person in a public forum. I have a wicked sense of humor that has been formed from seeing the duller/hum drum side of life. I am also somewhat jaded, having experienced the best of the internet and the worst of the internet.

I am...me.

themom said...

My past was so vivid and painful - I avoid looking back at all costs. Just waking up each morning and staring a new day in the face is good for me. I've reached an age where I'm really not going anywhere from this stage. I just want to be here to watch the kids and grandchildren as they plod forward.

Riot Kitty said...

Thoughtful and interesting comments, thanks!

Joey: Thanks for the link :)

Sidhe said...

Yeah, I don't know...

JLee said...

It really doesn't matter. Who we are is inside and we all ultimately come from the same ancestors(in my opinion)I am German/French/English/Dutch/Native American ;)

Claire said...

I'm just me. A mishmash of all sorts. And a little crazy, too. :-)

Cxx

vivavavoom said...

I am a mutt! great question though. and this week has been an interesting week hasn't it. full of people not even thinking a President was even born in the US who actually was. crazy is as crazy does. And no way do I sound like Forrest Gump.

Pouty Lips said...

I have no fucking idea who I am. I just know I belong in jail.