I've spent all day attempting to work on an essay about a surgery, but my thoughts keep moving elsewhere. Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the symbolic beginning of the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Recently, as I prepared for an oral report on the literary journal, Agni, I came across two essays written by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough that I have not been able to stop thinking about. Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough grew up in Soviet-controlled Poland and later immigrated to the United States. In one essay she talks about going home and the changes she saw. In the other she discusses ethnic identity and how it has changed for her and her friends over the years. Since the inception of the European Union she says a shift occurred, among some, away from national identity such as German or Polish to a more generic European though she heard it from friends long before. She described the inferiority her and others in the East felt in comparison to their neighbors to in the West. Rather apropos given the impending anniversary of one of the most important dates in modern history. Intrigued, I looked for more of her work and found another essay in which she describes her experiences as an immigrant to a new country in terms of what it has done to her identity and her perception of home and the differences of writing in her native language and English. So much of what she writes about are the very things I have spent time contemplating, albeit on a different level.
This led me to my own life and the people in it. I've talked recently with my first French teacher, herself an immigrant from France. French was not my first foreign language, that was Spanish, but it was the first language and culture I fell in love with (the second would be Polish). I had a French professor who was born in Rwanda and shared her experiences of growing up under colonial rule. Then there is my grandpa. Despite being born in the US, his first language was German. Though the family had been here for a couple generations, their retained much of their culture, including the language. English in public, German at home. He knew both the high and the low German though the low was what his family actually spoke. Because he learned only English in school his fluency in German was only verbal. He could never read or write in German.
It all comes back to identity. Who we are, who we want to be, and how others see us. How important it is and what aspect, ethnic, religious, gender, etc. takes primary significance will vary from person to person. History and current events have shown how strong a motivator identity can be for good and for bad. How do you identify yourself?