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The Foundation of the Identity

People are birthed into a mold, commonly known as expectations. As they age, their greatness is typically measured by their dedication to these expectations and their resulting accomplishments. There are people raised in a community of similar ideals and economic backgrounds. They pickup what others put down for them, digesting only what is given. They project themselves onto others and the tangible world around them to feel like they belong. This sense of belonging can be achieved, but at what cost? One must lose their identity. Eventually, the discontentment from the path they’re forced into results in the abandonment of their true self, straying away from the life curated for them by others.

There’s no definite method of resolving a coming of age event or a mid-life crisis. In truth, a person’s identity can’t be sought out; instead, it is a reflection of their development through their exposure to the world. Andrew X. Pham, author of Catfish and Mandala, lost himself in a sea of labels. Immigrating from Vietnam to America, he was unsure of his identity. Furthermore, his Asian parents imposed their idea of the “American Dream” onto him for a promising future that they couldn’t experience for themselves. Upon realizing that Pham’s life isn’t what his parents planned for him, he makes a difficult, but powerful decision, “I have to go. Make my pilgrimage” (pg. 26). Pham’s use of “pilgrimage” isn’t in the context of a religious mission, but it has a similar function, to expand their view on life. He will realize that the answers that would bring him peace doesn’t lie in Vietnam, but within himself. His homeland acts as a place to relive his memories, giving him a chance to reflect, and consequently, accept his life, so he can live it presently.

The closed eye represents the person looking within to reflect on their past decisions. Photo by me.

Certain upbringings, such as being part of an immigrant family, forces people to adapt the mindset of the new community and leave the familiar one behind. Part of finding one’s identity doesn’t necessarily mean knowing one’s ancestral background, instead, they examine themselves and consider how their current and past situations have influenced their identity. Aurora Levins Morales, author of Child of the Americas, acknowledges “Europe lives in me, but I have no home there. I am new” (pg. 355). Her ancestors settled in Europe, but without the personal experience of residing there, she has no attachment to that area. So, she focuses on the present time by creating a life of her own without having to preserve her history.

As a first generation Asian-American, my upbringing and mindset differs from my relatives in the Philippines. My parents ingrained the “American Dream” into my life: the vision of moving to the United States to obtain a better quality of life than they could in their home country. They largely acted within our best interests, determined to pave the way for opportunities that will allow me to fulfill their dream. This, however, comes with sacrifices. Consumed by planning for the future and ensuring that I attend a “good” college results in losing time for myself. I’m aware that I’m developing tunnel vision, focused on living my life in line with my family’s expectations for me, rather than living the life within me — a life that I feel would be much more satisfying. Similar to Pham’s situation, my parents entwined their vision of a successful American Dream with my future identity, instead of allowing me to reflect and come to a conclusion of my own. With this mindset, I’ve learned to make my own decisions and pick an fulfilling path that’ll lead me to new experiences.

The open eye represents that one cannot see past their end goal due to “Tunnel Vision”. Photo by me.

With the complexity of our lives, how do we know these events will lead us to our realization of our true self? The world affects people in different ways, depending on the decisions in response to what is given to them. People typically label the situations attributed onto them as good or bad. For example, some foreigners are denied a green card upon entering a new country or they’re not qualified for citizenship. In these situations, some people would label it as bad, or even unfortunate. But, they’re neither good nor bad because it’s only our perception. Certain events are pulled forward or back due to one reason. As Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth, states, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness” (pg. 41). Everything that happens to us becomes the foundation of our identity because we can learn from what we’ve experienced.