I have come to the conclusion that society is a labyrinth of conglomerates, a collage of overlapping niches, offering fluidity in associations across some social classifications, yet scorning the commingling of others. Despite our continuing emphasis on individuality, the search for distinction amidst a sea of hoi polloi, the need to conform to an archetype precedes our desire for originality.
Indeed, a woman can simultaneously subsume the identities of daughter, Democrat, teacher, and taxpayer, and readily does so in pursuit of social identity. These objective taxonomies are seldom contested because they are impersonal and obvious labels created by civilization. In other words, these groups classify people based on surface level identities, as easily as a grocer sorts apples from oranges. For example, the lines differentiating professions are generally well defined; that is, a doctor saves lives, a teacher educates minds, and a politician sells lies.
However, in a world of expanding cosmopolitanism, society has been confronted with an unprecedented identity crisis: that which deals with personal and existential belonging. Specifically, I reference the challenge of categorizing ethnicity and culture. For me, as a trilingual, dual-citizen, Latina, Asian, and American woman, the reconciliation of my mosaic of ethnicities has been a convoluted and socially refuted journey. In a world compartmentalized by identification, imagine being that one individual, treading the borders of many cultures but embraced by none… It is a daunting reality. It is my reality. But it needn’t be.
The sooner we welcome cultural fluidity, the sooner we can burst our stagnant bubbles of conformity and prevent not only future stereotyping, but also disassemble existing ethnic misperceptions.
It is not the fault of those who have been raised against a relatively homogeneous cultural backdrop to perceive ethnicity as merely another set of rules for distinction. To these individuals, culture is explicit and computable, with “mutually exclusive categories” setting norms for behavior and value criteria in an ethnic community. For instance, several of my peers have been reared by immigrant parents from India, whose ancestors have lived in the conservative nation and have followed the typical path of arranged marriage…