self: n. the sense of being separate and distinct from others and the awareness of the constancy of the self
identity: n. the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions of a person or group that make them different from others
I like to think of the ‘self’ as who you are to you and ‘identity’ as what you present to others. Most of us struggle to reconcile these two phenomena, as no one can ever fully understand your sense of ‘self.’ It’s kind of like a ‘node’ in Chemistry. People can approach an understanding, but mathematically they can never reach it. Or maybe it’s more like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle where the more you know about something’s momentum, the less you know about its position. Actually, it’s probably closest to the observer effect, but I am just nerd-digressing at this point…
At home, it’s easier to slide into a comfortable identity, but world travel throws everything to the forefront. When you are thrust into a culture with a different set of beliefs, cultural practices, and even attire, you are instantly presented with a set of decisions to make about your identity and how you should carry yourself. I personally try my best to integrate into a culture, even on short notice, by matching dress, learning appropriate customs, and using as much language as I can. This comes naturally to me as frankly I’ve just been trying to blend into a white world my whole life.
In Paris, this is pretty straightforward. Just buy a scarf and for god’s sake come correct with your shoe game. I cannot stress the second part enough. Wearing some generic white sneakers is like walking around Seattle with an umbrella or maybe a sign that says ‘fuck the environment and GO gentrification!’ It’d just be painfully obvious that you’re not from here. Next, you should at least attempt to use some French as the locals appreciate when you don’t flippantly impose your ‘America is the center of the world’ view by blurting out English at them. Parisians are especially sensitive to this.
When you’re abroad it’s easy to just identify as American, but things are much more complicated at home. When people ask me about my ethnic background I always reflexively say that I’m half-French and half-Filipino. This is part of my surface identity and on paper both parts are true. My biological father was born in the Philippines and supposedly a few generations back my mother’s family came from France by way of French Canada. This abbreviated version is much easier than ‘I was born to a Filipino dude I don’t know anymore and a super white lady with a distantly French-Canadian background.’ The only problem is I speak basically zero Tagalog (kumain ka na ba?) and save a few people, I never see the Filipino half of my family anymore. I also rarely see extended family on the other side and they are about as French as freedom fries.
After 3 trips to Paris I’ve started to observe a bit more about what it means to be French. People here are just always hanging out. On trains they travel in groups, at parks they picnic together, and every outdoor cafe is filled with people sharing a drink. Style is central to every Parisian and nobody ever looks scrubbed out. The national shoe appears to be the green Adidas Stan Smith, easily the cleanest and most stylish shoe ever designed. People are not on their phones as much as they are talking or reading. There is a strong distaste for government and business with both protests and strikes a common occurrence. Good food with fresh ingredients are pivotal to life. Diversity is stressed, however imperfectly, and rationalism and logic color everything. Call me French I guess then, because I love every one of these things.
Society has a way of telling us who we should be and where we belong, often determined by how we look or where we come from. My oldest brother even once called me an Uncle Tom, I guess for turning my back on my Filipino heritage. Thanks Drew, as if mixed-race people didn’t already feel like two-faced racial impostors every day. With time, I have learned to find my own connections to my Filipino heritage just as I have done with my French heritage. I love hip-hop culture, urban style, hosting people for meals, and hospitality in general. I shoot photography and secretly wish I could perform choreographed dance routines on the reg (shout out Ry.) If those aren’t Filipino traits then I have no idea what are. So fu*k Drew. Ask me again…I’m half-French and half-Filipino.
With so many different flows,
This ones for this song,
The next one I’ll switch up,
This one will get bit up,
These fucks too lazy,
To make up shit they crazy,
They don’t…paint pictures,
They just…trace me.
Jay-Z – Say it Again (9th Wonder Remix)