Our Multiple Identities

By Laurel Kamada. Laurel lives in Hirosaki, Japan, but is from Seattle in the USA. She is a retired Lecturer-Professor, having previously worked at Tohoku Univeristy in Japan. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

We humans possess multiple and changing identities. Our identities are only temporarily fixed within certain contexts; if we should take up one identity it may remain dominant for a certain length of time. But our identities are fluid and constantly shifting as we interact with other people and environments throughout our lives.

I see these changing, fluid identities as a form of personal growth where during our lives we continue to develop into better human beings than the identity of who or what we were when we started out. These changes help to improve us as individuals during our short life times, but they also help to advance the human race as a whole over time, I feel.

I would hope to develop and change as I go through life. I simultaneously possess various identities of which some are more dominant than others, depending on the certain contexts and environments in which I interact. I want to allow my several identities to be variously fore-grounded or back-grounded, depending on the different contexts in which I interact with others. In some contexts, I feel myself being controlled and disempowered, but at other times and in other contexts, I feel much more empowered and in control of the situation. Of course, I much prefer being in a position of empowerment. Thus, I will shift my identities to try to achieve more and more positions of empowerment as I go through life meeting challenge after challenge.

My personal identity is not fixed and immutable, but fluid and changing depending on my environments and the people with whom I come in to contact. I agree with Michael Foucault’s statement – I do hope to move on from the identity that I began with and grow and change into someone better than who I was when I started, as I go through life. The identity, mindset or worldview that I held to begin with—the person who I am—is of less importance and interest than the identity that I grow into becoming though my life and my work. Thus, it is not so essential to know who or what I am at any particular moment, as my identity constantly grows and changes. Like Michael Foucault, I want myself to be transformed as I go through life and work, undertaking education and learning and engaging in relationships with others.

If we do not allow ourselves to grow and change, but remain fixed and stagnant in the form that we assumed we were in an earlier time, we would miss out on the chance to experience learning and growth in our life and work.

Many people do remain in the same old mindset that they have always kept, refusing to take on other new worldviews or identities as they go through life. However, we cannot deny change and the fluidity of our lives. We must allow for a multitude of ideas and styles to sometimes exist simultaneously.

I present my own life as an example of this idea, as I have lived for long periods of time in two different cultures, one in the West and the other in the far East.

I was born, raised and educated in the US, but then as a young adult, since my mid- twenties, have successfully lived, worked, became bilingual, joined into an inter-racial, intercultural marriage, and raised our mixed-ethnic, biracial child in Japan where our family continues to reside. I have taken up many new views of life through this experience over most of my adult life, an ocean apart from my home birth place where I am taken as a (white western, English-speaking) foreigner outsider. While I cannot and do not wish to change my race, skin colour, nor my gender and sex, I can change my worldview.

I am abundantly enriched by my life’s experiences living far from home, happily and peacefully residing in Japan for several decades. Nevertheless, I could never abandon my American identity, worldview or nationality. I dearly hold on to my precious American identity, while at the same time I also take up my other identities as well.

I have raised our dual–ethnic, bi-racial, bilingual son in Japan who has had his own identity issues to work out for himself which differ considerably from either of his parents’.

Furthermore, in recent years, I have also become severely physically disabled due to a massive haemorrhagic stroke which occurred six years ago. It has since caused me to require the aid of wheelchairs, leg braces and canes, hand-railings and other walking tools. This experience has taught me innumerable life lessons, even though it was a terrible unfortunate happening. I am still struggling to make any kind of significant rehabilitation, although it is difficult and progress is extremely slow. This condition is also chronically physically painful.

I have had to struggle as a gaijin (a Japanese slang and somewhat racist word referring to an outsider; a non-Japanese foreigner) in Japan and I have had to learn how to negotiate my constantly changing positions in my various contexts. Not only have I had to take on multiple identities, but this has come to be taken for granted. In this expedient, globalized, media-driven world where we reside today, the chameleon ability to assume different and competing identities, and to appreciate our own personal growth and change, is our strength and our survival.

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