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  • A.E. Filabi

Dual Cultures?

Exploring the paradox of choice when it comes to multiple identities.

When people learn that I'm conflicted about my identity, having been born in Mashhad, Iran and immigrating to the U.S. at the age of five with my family, they often suggest that I'm lucky because I get the benefit of both cultures.  "You have a dual identity," they offer. Like dual citizenship. "You're both."

"I'm neither," I say in response.

Having two national identities means that neither one really "sticks." It's like getting two cheeseburgers when all you really want is a salad.  Too much of a good thing.  Or, it's like walking into a CVS drugstore for toothpaste and being overwhelmed by choice -- do you want the one for sensitive teeth, for whitening, with or without flavor? How about baking soda?  Should toothpaste cost $10 or $6?  You simply want clean teeth.

Choice can be a burden.  Actively choosing who you are, or who you want to be, moment by moment can overwhelm your sense of belonging, which, in my opinion, should feel natural.  One sentiment often heard by dual (or multi) nationals is the they feel Iranian among non-Iranians, and they feel American when they are among a group of Iranians, particularly those of an earlier generation.  

“Choice can be a burden. Actively choosing who you are, or who you want to be, moment by moment can overwhelm your sense of belonging...”

This too is how I feel.  When I'm with people of my parent's generation, I realize that I'm so American (or, just other). I don't find their jokes funny.  I don't feel like dancing in the living room right after I eat. And I've generally O.D.'d on eating butter-soaked rice and black tea.  Among non-Iranians, it's the opposite. I'm the ambassador for all things Iranian culture, taking friends to Persian restaurants, or explaining the history of the Islamic revolution.

There is a bright side: By not fitting in anywhere, perhaps you can fit in everywhere. Like a chameleon, shedding your skin to be one among many.

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