“What do you really feel you are?” This question made me smile for a long time…When I am asked who I am “deep inside of myself,” it means there is, deep inside each one of us, one “belonging” that matters, our profound truth, in a way, our “essence” that is determined once and for all at our birth and never changes. As for the rest, all of the rest — the path of a free man, the beliefs he acquires, his preferences, his own sensitivity, his affinities, his life — all these things do not count. And when we push our contemporaries to state their identity, which we do very often these days, we are asking them to search deep inside of themselves for this so-called fundamental belonging, that is often religious, nationalistic, racial or ethnic and to boast it, even to a point of provocation.
-Amin Maalouf, Dangerous Identities
“What do you really feel you are?” Reading this line in Dangerous Identities in which Amin Maalouf explores complex identities and the struggles associated with having to show a single label to the world, I knew that Maalouf and I share similar experiences when it comes to having a complex identity. For him, he struggles with his Lebanese-French identity whereas for me, I am tasked to understand my American-but-Colombian identity. It is important to keep in mind that the issue does not come from the identity itself; but rather, it arises from the societal belief that we can only choose a single label to describe ourselves––we are forced to limit our identities to a single identifier. This belief is dangerous as it is capable of dehumanizing people when their identity is reduced to a single label.
On several instances, I have asked myself: “Do I feel more Colombian, because my family is Colombian and I was raised in a Spanish-speaking, culturally-Colombian household, or do I feel more American because I was born and raised in the United States and speak English?” Although this question may seem as if I am trying to understand my identity, it actually shows that I have started to develop the dangerous mentality of categorizing and reducing identities. However, I know for a fact that I am not one identity or the other; I am a blend of both and all of my experiences. As poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in Ulysses: “I am a part of all that I have met.”
Although I think about this topic often, I rarely think about what it means to be a bridge between cultures or why I struggle with identity, another topic Maalouf writes about in Dangerous Identities. I talked to my roommate––a Colombian international student––to understand identity, and what it means to have a complex identity in an academic setting. During the conversation, we looked back to the summer of 2018 when we were filling out the roommate surveys. On the survey, I requested to have a roommate with a Colombian/Latinx background because I wanted to connect with someone with a similar identity as mine. He did the same. Looking at our preferences, we learned that we both wanted to share an identity with someone who loved Colombian culture. Through our love for our culture, coupled with a Colombian flag on our wall and speaking Spanish or English depending on how we feel, we managed to create a diasporic community in our room.
Maalouf is answering one of the questions we have discussed in class, “What makes us Human?” To Maalouf, it is our finer distinctions and differences blended together, composing our individual, intersectional identities.