Sunday, May 23, 2010

On identity (an mostly serious post)

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Yesterday at school, I had the great pleasure (ahem) of having yet another drawn-out discussion about national identity with one of my more hardcore left-wing friends. This dude, whose parents are from Morocco but who’s been raised in Belgium (and who, for the record, is very nice and smart and always brings up interesting points), could not for the life of him fathom the fact that neither my brother or I think that we’ll ever consider ourselves Belgian, let alone feel more Belgian than Venezuelan, even if we end up living here the rest of our lives. Through his discourse, I could sense he was somehow implying that me and my brother are perpetuating what he considers a communitarian attitude (WTF), and that we’re somehow shitting ourselves about our identity because there is no way that living in a country for so long will not make you feel like you’re more from said country than from where you were born.

While I do agree that it’s nearly impossible to live years and years in a certain place without somewhat assimilating the local culture and customs, I believe identity is something within you, something that is determined during your childhood and formative years and cannot be erased or exchanged by simply swapping countries. I think about this a lot when I see fellow Venezuelans moving to Spain, to the US and Germany, to places where national identity is present and strong (unlike Belgium, where national identity is diffuse at best). Some Venezuelans tend to see these cultures as more honorable and becoming than our  turbulent “Third-World” roots, which they don’t hesitate to belittle (“Yeah, I was born in Venezuela and lived there until now, but my grandfather and Dad are Italian so therefore I’m actually European”).  On the other side of the coin, people abroad don’t take your nationality seriously if you’re not wearing a poncho and a straw hat. To my leftist, “socially-conscious” acquaintances, the fact that I like art and fashion and don’t participate in their every rally against whatever social injustice they’re decrying makes me yet another inconsiderate bourgeois sheep. Politically speaking, I’m no extremist: I deplore the backwardness of the right, but I’m also extremely aware of the perils of the far left. It might be weak-spined of me, but I often have a very hard time positioning myself on controversial issues, precisely because I don’t like blindly adhering to whatever point of view that’s . But that’s a tale for another summer.

I see why it’s normal to think that I don’t  consider myself more Venezuelan than anything else: I’ve lived abroad for a substantial part of my youth and probably won’t ever live in Venezuela again, I can’t for the life of me dance salsa or reggaeton, and I probably feel more comfortable expressing myself in English than in Spanish. And yeah, I know living elsewhere has changed me, and that essentially I’m as much of a foreigner back home as I am a foreigner abroad. But I could never define myself as anything other than Venezuelan. My parents have raised me in a Venezuelan home, with Venezuelan food and music and traditions, and whenever I see a fellow Venezuelan I can’t but want to reach out to them (which certainly doesn’t happen with Americans or Belgians). The affinity I feel for my compatriots is undeniable; it’s a bond that spawns from shared experience and love for our beautiful, amazing country, a country that is tragically disintegrating without us being able to do much other that watch and wait for the worst.

In today’s world, I think identity is a subject that’s becoming increasingly irrelevant. But I do hope that, no matter where I end up living, I won’t lose sight of where I’m truly from and of all the experiences that have made me who I am. And that I won’t be beyond teaching my future kiddies their fair share of Venezuelan songs and slang.

Oh, and since I did say this was a mostly serious post: on the subject of culture and identity (heehee) I rediscovered the amazing Face Transformer!

 afrocarib asian2
Afro-Caribbean and West-Asian me!

asian1 dude

East-Asian and dude me! Yikes on that last one!


  1. I had a discussion with a friend of mine who happens to be an indigenous Peruvian, and we were debating the opposite. He claimed that only indigenous people have the right to belong to a place. He claimed that I wasn't Venezuelan and could never be regardless of how long I lived there because I wasn't indigenous. To my question of "If I am not Venezuelan, then where am I from?" he just made an apologetic gesture and let me know that he felt sorry for me.

    In the end it was a very productive talk for both of us (we ended up agreeing on the fact that you are from where you consider yourself to be from, where your roots are)

    Living in this self-proclaimed "melting-pot" (I consider it more to be a salad bowl) I have this sort of conversations almost every day. People won't leave me and my Identity alone. Some try to prove to me that I must start considering myself as an United Statian because I owe it to the country for opening its doors to me.

    But after all these conversations I have finally been able to feel at a stable point with respect to my identity. Seen people have to deal with the fact that they belong to a country that has no fixed identity has made me thankful for having grown up in a place with such a rich culture as Venezuela.