Thoughts on Identity

I saw Mira Nair’s film adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake on Saturday night and I thought it was a fantastic film. The story, centering on this Bengali family that moves to America, and the trials and tribulations of the search and struggle for identity–from the Bengali parents looking to fit into American society, and from the first-generation Indian-American children looking to find where exactly they belong–was powerful in its realistic simplicity and extremely resonant with me, even though I am not Indian. Any immigrant, or child of an immigrant, can empathize with the Gangulis, for their struggle is our own.

Yesterday, Mother’s Day, I woke up in a pensive mood. I missed my mom, as she is in Puerto Rico, but more than that, the film had left me thinking about identity, my identity, and there were heavy toughts coursing through the back of my mind, unseen if I had wanted to share them with others, but certainly present in the weight they cast over my mood that morning. I stopped reading The Incredible Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon, bumping it down to #2, and started to read The Namesake, at my wife’s behest (she did read the novel before seeing the film, so though in her opinion it was indeed a great adaptation, inevitably the novel offers a lot more nuance and depth that makes the story so much more enjoyable, as I am already finding out). The topic has been ignited in my mind, and there is no other recourse for me but to explore it and follow it to its conclusion; I just know myself.

This isn’t new for me. I have discussed issues of identity before, though perhaps not as well as I should have. My entire life has been defined by a battle between clashing identities: I am Puerto Rican, I am American, and I am Jewish as well, but I am a convert, so that brings in a whole other host of issues. To that add being 33, already too old for being “a kid,” but not exactly middle aged either (at least not chronologically speaking, as I hope to live to 120!). In short, I am an identity mess.

I have no idea what I’m gonna do with all this information, all these thoughts and self-reflections, except that lately I have had the yearning to go back to writing stories, something I haven’t done in years at this point. I’ve had some ideas of short vignettes I could write to explore various aspects of what I have been thinking about, so perhaps that’s where I’ll start. I don’t know if they solve my mess or at least be publishable, but perhaps simply the act of writing will help me sort some things out in my head.

Meanwhile I keep reading The Namesake, and greatly enjoying Jhumpa Lahiri’s subdued writing style.

What about you? Even white-bred Americans came from somewhere. Where are you caught? What sides are pulling at you?