Friday, December 19, 2014

The Changing Face of Identity

Recently my younger sister sent me the photo above of a cave in Wisconsin where allegedly my great grandmother's parents (my great grandmother's name was Jane Day) lived. My great grandmother's mother was allegedly Navajo, her husband was European, American a  generation or so back at least. My sister was told this by my father's only surviving brother.


What this means, if it is true, my grandmother (above), her name was Blanche Bolden, was one quarter Navajo,enough to be considered a member of the Navajo Nation. She was born in 1897, died a few months after I was born, 3 March 1964.

I knew about a past ancestor on my father's side who lived in a cave. I even wrote a poem about it, My Ancestress, which was published on this blog and also in an anthology in UK.  (Please excuse the not quite correct science behind that poem. No mitochondrial DNA from my cave ancestor since she was from my father's side, put it down to literary license).

I've been thinking about this a lot. Wondering how this new information comes together with what I knew about myself and what I am now, how all of this merges to create my identity. Who am I? It is such a fluid thing for all of us. One day we are this, tomorrow something else. Is it genetics that play the biggest role? Is it our life experiences? Our mindset? Is it our surface or the many layers underneath?

In this great interview, Chimamanda Adichie speaks about how her identity is often defined by where she is. Is that it?  Is place paramount? I think it plays a role.

I've been accused before of cutting off my past, taking a scissors and trimming off what I didn't want. I have, more than once, solved problems I couldn't find my way out of by running away and running away often requires the trimming off of the past if you're to make the escape a successful one. I make no excuses, I'm finding my way like everyone else. So far I'm keeping it going without too much collateral damage.

But can we really trim away what we don't want? Aren't we still who we inherently are? I think that's so. Yes, my life choices have changed me, as they should. Yes, living in Botswana I've become a different person than the one I might have been had I stayed in the country of my birth. But still there is that starting spot that's made of all who came before me, from which all else grew. As much as my scissors like to cut, I also like to know that solid centre is there. I like to think I've passed it on to my children and they will pass it on to theirs; that years and years from now bits of my Navajo great great grandmother will assert itself in a young woman walking a different place on this earth. I think, as I said at the end of my poem, it keeps me tethered, something I might have fought against another time, I now find comfort in.

...Over generations and time, over distances.
And for the first moment, I am connected
No longer floating untethered.



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