Last summer, I had the opportunity to write an opinion piece for IrishCentral discussing the difficulties of self-identification that many Irish-Americans face. The post generated a significant discussion in the comments, with people coming from a number of different positions on the subject.
There are those that believe that being born in America makes you an American, regardless of your ethnic background. There were also those who said that the ties of blood should mean more in shaping identity than the soil you land on. Between these viewpoints there were also those who felt that it is okay and acceptable to identify as both, that the hyphenation between identities is something that holds merit.
In that post, I ultimately sided in this middle ground, stating that I am both Irish and American. This position came under fire in several comments, as people on either side felt that it was either presumptuous or too indecisive. I haven’t changed my opinion about my own identity, but I have done a lot of thinking about the nature of identity a lot in the past year.
Something that seems to be unique about America is every citizen’s quest for identification. There are those who are staunchly “American,” in that their ancestors arrived on the Mayflower or sometime around then. These people may have had family members in every war America has been engaged in. On another side, there are those who emigrate from their home countries to seek a new life in America, and elect to identify as an American as soon as they are granted citizenship. Of course, there are also people who immigrate and choose to remain tied to their homelands, identifying as such. Additionally, there are those who are born in America who choose to reject their American identity and then immigrate somewhere else in pursuit of a place that better suits their chosen identity.
Regardless of where you were born, or who you were raised by, or even where you were raised, identity is very much a personal decision. Your identity cannot be dictated to you by anyone but yourself. Certainly, people will try to tell you who or what you are, and there will always be those who disagree with your self-identification for some reason or another, but that should never deter you. If you were raised by Irish immigrant parents and choose to identify as American, so be it. If you were raised by these parents and you self-identify as Irish, that’s okay as well. People will try to shout you down no matter what you choose, so it is important that you choose for yourself.
Identity doesn’t even need to be one solid representation, either. There is so much involved in the makeup of every person’s individual identity. Your identity includes your race, your culture, your nationality, your sexuality, your gender, your level of education, your interests, your dreams, and so much more. There are people who will identify themselves by their accomplishments or their job titles. There will be those who refuse to identify as anything in particular. Part of the human condition is to come to terms with your own identity in whichever way makes you most comfortable.
Identity is fluid, and it can change on a day-to-day basis. Your self-identification may even change based on the context of your surroundings. Some facets of your identity will be more relevant in some situations than others. The important part is that it is the elements of yourself that you choose to put forward, that you pick to be representative of your character. You can be so many things, you are already so many things. It is a personal decision to determine what things are most important.
For me personally, yes I identify as Irish-American. But I also identify as a writer, a Say Anything fan, a movie buff, a boyfriend, a son, a brother, a college student, a fraternity member, a man, a dog lover, and an international man of mystery. I don’t identify this way to impress anyone or to make anyone happy or mad, I do it because this are the elements that make up who I am, and they are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
To anyone who struggles with identity issues, I can only offer that you know yourself better than anyone else, so why let anyone else dictate to you? A famous man named Theodore Geisel put it best: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” Geigel is more commonly recognized as Dr. Seuss – a prime example of someone whose self-identification was not informed by the opinions of those who disagreed.