One crisp October morning at the height of the very beginning of 2010s, Tumblr girls, skinny waists and drug habits, our high school psychology teacher dropped a ticking bomb on us by admitting that “I’m jealous of those of you that are of a 100% origin.”
My eyebrows went up in suspicion thinking…is this a prelude for a racy racist morning? Some out-of-pocket comment that’ll be sure to ruffle some feathers? I sat up straighter in my seat. This particular teacher was known for being unpredictable.
He looked around the room because he knew that his cadence and his words were resonating with us. He had our full attention.
“I’m jealous because you have an identity. You’re fairly certain of who you are and where you come from, whereas I had to guess all my life.”
An identity, huh?
That may be true in the broad sense of sovereignty and nationality, knowing well that if I fly back to Europe tomorrow on a whim, my passport will get me through 27 countries, many of which will welcome me with open arms. Knowing that my veins run red and white, that my taste buds are accustomed to sauerkraut, Kielbasa, pickles and the occasional pork chop with mashed potatoes, that my language has words that contain more consonants than vowels, and that it is one of the hardest Slavic languages to learn…that part of my identity is crystal clear.
But…I’m a child of immigrants and thereby an immigrant by default. Some may even refer to me as “first time American” having moved across the ocean and existing in the Anglophone world for the past couple decades. To him, I may have had an identity, but in reality, I hadn't a clue who I was.
The truth is, these pivotal opposites have shaped who I am, my humor, my perception of the world, my mannerisms, my understanding of the world, the way I express myself…so then why did I feel a strong dissonance from both?
Suddenly, I felt like I was too Polish for my American friends and too American for my Polish family members. I loved growing up in both worlds immersed by both cultures. I perceived the US as my adoptive parent and Poland as my biological one and even though nowadays in my late 20s, the dissonance has slowly started to wither away, I still question where that 100% lies…
Then again, does it matter? Is that truly what an identity is made out of or is that just the stem where everything starts to form?
Is identity formed based on circumstance? I could be swayed by that.
My personal archives from 2009, an old diary I’d found at the bottom of a box in a dusty closet, helped me open my eyes to what that 14 year old yearned for. I sat there flipping it page by page and with every entry, date, hint of innocence and the carefree nature of allowing myself to make mistakes, I started to understand that huge chunks of that person are still with me.
Being Polish allows me to have a much broader vocabulary, making me a better writer and a better communicator because that’s the language I constantly think in.
Being American allows me to take all of that prior knowledge and all of that vernacular and share it with a much broader audience.
Both have helped me arrive at what I believed I had been destined to be: a writer.
I still have the same compassion for those who are struggling more than I am…which is what drives my artistic and writing endeavors.
I still have the same work ethic, drive and dream to make certain things a reality. Especially since I’ve encountered diary entries with prophecies of dreams I’d wished for that had since then came true. That was the turning point where I had shed a tear. As tough and tumultuous as life had been for me, I never lost sight of the bigger picture and I made things happen. Tenacity gave me strength. Strength gave me courage. Courage gave me the tools to write these words and share it with all of you.
Thanks to that teenage girl who felt too much of something that had always been an integral part of her identity all along, I’d arrived at the pieces of what shape my identity as me…just a girl having a human experience, a rich bilingual spirit, an artist in the making who one day hopes to make a mark on the world with her fountain pen.