My Journey to Mixed Race Part 3: Who am I?
Who am I?
Most people figure that out during their adolescence (at least according to behavioral psychologist Erik Erikson). If the question goes unanswered, however, one may experience “a general inability to find a meaningful place in one’s culture,” and ultimately, an identity crisis.
In law school I became friends with another hapa. We were astounded when we discovered that we shared the identical private and deep-seeded fear: being unemployable and homeless. He dropped out of law school after the first semester. I finished law school and practiced ever so briefly before moving onto another career (my third). A “sound ego identity” is a prerequisite to finding a sound and stable adult role (also Erikson).
As if my Filipino mother’s conversion to Judaism wasn’t absurd enough, my father staged my bar mitzvah when I turned 13. Fleetingly, I believed that I was a Jew, but that euphoric sense of belonging was short lived because, no matter how many times my father said “Jewish!” I just didn’t feel Jewish.
I never attended Hebrew school (as did most of my classmates). My bar mitzvah — for which I was technically ineligible because of my lack of schooling — was a sham service followed by a big party. Since I never learned to read Hebrew I could not read from the Torah, which to a practicing Jew made my bar mitzvah a bit like doing shots of Perrier in a distillery: going through the motions won’t earn you a stool at the whisky bar no matter how distended your bladder.We were the only “Jewish” family in our very Jewish community who didn’t belong to one of the many local temples. This had the effect of adding to the dreaded “What are you?” the even more dreaded “Well if you really are Jewish then what temple do you belong to?”
Clearly, we didn’t belong to a temple because we simply didn’t belong.
Like me, Erikson was an ambiguous Jew. He was the product of an extramarital affair and never knew his biological father (or, by extension, his biological identity). His given name was Erik Salomonsen, but he was renamed Erik Homburger after taking the name of his mother’s second husband. He was raised as a Jew, the very Nordic features he inherited from his absentee biological father notwithstanding. After being shunned by his Jewish peers for of being blond, and by his German peers for being Jewish, he converted to Christianity and changed his name to Erikson — a name of his own choosing.
Late in his life, he had forged his answer to “Who am I?” Like Erikson, late in my life I am going to Mixed Remixed 2016 to begin to forge mine.
I recently had the great good fortune of connecting with Heidi Durrow, best-selling author and founder of the Mixed Remixed Festival. This article is third in a series that appeared on the Mixed Remixed Festival blog.