While I should be asleep, I’m having an emotionally hard day.
I’ve spent the day thinking about identity and race… and also a whole lot of things that go along with those two topics. Some of the sickening things in the news would be enough to keep anyone from sleeping soundly.
With enough time my mind has, of course, strayed to my own identity.
Identity is something which is really important to most of us (as far as I can tell), for me it is as well, but it is also a frustrating topic.
Partially because I have experienced depersonalization issues, going years not being able to recognize myself in the mirror as “me”. I had to memorize my face, and I’d still sometimes forget, or have distortions in my memory.
Partly because I don’t look like the part of my heritage I want to associate with.
I will forever feel like a fraud when I say I’m 1/4 first nations. I am metis. But my roots are lost, and without roots what am I? A person who has been called a squa as a child, who only knew that it was something terrible to ‘be’, because of the tone it was said in. (the first time, I went home crying and asked my dad about it. I think he thought I’d never go through that because of how I look)
But also a person who does not have to face that kind of abuse in the general public, because if nobody knows, then I would never be called slurs based on race.
What do I do with that experience?
With any of the experiences of racism I did have?
Which although they were ‘mine’ in that I experienced them, they aren’t really mine, in that if I say nothing I do not have to bear them every day into the future… They are not entirely mine in that I have such a small weight of them in my lifetime, and so many other people face the possibility of experiencing that everyday, everywhere.
Still that doesn’t erase my experience of them, but maybe means my having experienced those things doesn’t matter… Maybe I should pack them away in a little box in the back of my head and use them exclusively as ‘learning material’ for sympathizing with others.
The fact remains, I do not look metis, and that pains me.
It will always pain me, while it disconnects me from the cultural identity I was raised to believe I have.
We don’t choose the way we look, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it, and I don’t like it.
There are parts of my identity which are easy, because they are bits I live.
Like that I am bisexual (I’m a grey-ace, but in those rare instances where I have felt sexual-attraction). I am attracted to both genders, even though having chosen a monogamous spouse means I have eschewed acting on any attractions I have. (for anyone else of any gender)
Another easy one is that I am an evidentialist. Because I live that, looking for evidence as I decide how much stock I put into something.
These are the easy parts of my identity. Parts I like too.
It is much more difficult part of my identity for me to say I am metis, because I don’t live it, and I wish I did. I wish there were a way I could, in more than just the broken bits passed on from my family.
Even though my aunt tried to teach me the medicine wheel, and my father did his best to pass on the values he learned from his father. (and I do my best to live up to most of those)
My schools also had programs for native kids to try and teach my generation a bit of their history and culture. A mishmash that couldn’t go in depth.
Of course the reason they had these programs is the sad reality: no matter how much native blood someone has, it does not mean they would be learning anything about their own historical culture at home. What with the history of residential schools, and the number of broken families.
Kids in foster care with even less knowledge of their roots than I have.
There are reasons too why I lack knowledge of my roots on the native side.
My native blood is on my fathers side, and both of my fathers parents died young. (both cancer)
Both had been disowned by their families for having had a divorce, because good Catholics would never divorce. That they were Catholic should tell you that they weren’t as connected to their own native roots as they could be to begin with.
In my grandfathers case, his mom had lost all contact with her family when she had chosen to marry a white frenchman. I don’t know if this is because of his family of hers, but I do know that she was Iroquois (or that is what she told her son, who in turn told his children that proudly.)
I don’t know for sure what my grandmothers roots were, because she was so secretive.
(Part Dutch anyway, and as to her other half she might have been Cree)
Where does this leave me? I don’t know.
Because no matter what they were, my appearance erases visible ties to them.
It means I feel lost no matter how I try to think of myself.
I have spent my life looking for native people on TV and in books to identify with, feeling isolated in a sea of people who supposedly look “like me”, and that is a very hard thing to explain to others.
I have spent my life being keenly aware of how under-represented native people are in media.
And I have spent my life noticing how people treated me differently knowing that I am metis… and feeling like a fraud for ever saying it.
My father telling me that is what I am my whole life, it is how I think of myself.
So it is that the part of my heritage people identify me with (my mothers), I could freely associate myself with, but I don’t; and if it were a choice, then I’d rather not. A privilege to have any roots I suppose.
(Not that I don’t love them, but my relationship with them has been strained throughout my life. It is my Dad’s half of the family who have been close, like their father taught them.)
I wish my grandparents had actually had ties to their culture, and had passed them on to my father.
I wish I had been born looking more like my great grandmother, and also that maybe my experience hadn’t be so lopsided.
It doesn’t have to matter to anyone else, but it makes me want to cry.