Mapping my identity was an act of engaging in a complex process of self-determination. It was a process that empowered me through self-perception. Visually mapping out the diverse social identities and situating myself within this delineation made me think of the relation between my personal connections, family traditions, external conditions, social situations and prejudice, and shared cultural values. It was a virtual experience of exploring and recovering my personal spaces and see how they relate to the community, public space, and real life.
As I was reflecting on the various aspects that affect my identity, I was constantly asking myself if I was omitting anything that influenced who I am today. The more I became aware of the complex elements that were taking place on the map, the more I experienced a sense of self-awareness. During the first phrase of mapping, I visually identified the explicit or sometimes implicit signifiers that wield control over life and minoritize difference and also recognizing the targets of oppression that are affected by them, using the four questions as my guideline. I placed these social identities inside rectangular boxes and spread them out on the map. During the second phrase, I placed my personal identities in a circle and placed them between other social identities that I identified in the first phrase. Finally through the connecting process, I was able to elucidate how the complex interconnected relationships of the different identities affect each other and how my identities were in play under this effect. I used the purple lines to reveal the places where I am privileged, red lines to show where I am oppressed, and orange lines to display the general power relations between certain components on the map. The connecting process made me become aware of not only the categories of identities but also of the means in which they developed.
While I was finding to locate my own position in the identity map, I remembered the moments when I became aware of or became confused of my identity. For instance, I remembered the moments when the sense of “inclusion” changed to “exclusion.” Spending my childhood in the U.S., I had some sort of pride in being the only Asian in the entire school at that time. During that time, I enjoyed being on the spotlight whenever the class was learning about different countries and different cultures. I even had a chance to introduce the customs of Korea in front of the class with my mother, both wearing our traditional costume, Hanbok. I was a minority then, but my experience of alienation started when my parents abruptly decided to go back to Korea. My Korean language skills improved as the time passing, but my classmates gave me a hard time by treating me as a foreigner in my own country. Things got better as I grew older but I remember that the sudden change brought to my life at that time caused confusion and a disorder for a certain time in my childhood. Then coming back to the U.S. after getting married, I once again experienced how being an ethnic minority forced me to face prejudice through media and everyday life. I was struggling to maintain the “pride” for being an ethnic minority that I held so tight as a child, afraid that it would become substituted by a sense of alienation.
Taking this certain experience of mine as an example, I contemplated on how my vision of self was affected by others. To what extent? Do I rely on that too much? How did the experiences formed the way I am? How did it become an integral part of my personality? How different is the image I view myself from the image others think of me? The identities spread out on the map look like montages but they are contingent upon each other. Similarly, my own experiences are not an isolated series of events. Each of them connects my past and present, and makes me ponder what it means to experience a certain time, place, society, beliefs, and attitudes that affect the process of constructing my identity as a whole. In the map, I was being present and was trying to figure out how I navigate the external social space and see what blocks me in my movement.
As I was trying to figure out what I see as the affects, however, I also began to wonder if this “process of seeing” was in fact blocking my sight at the same time. I was able to see from the map that the position where I’m oppressed and privileged is relational. I wanted to find out if my inner vision was distracting my eyesight that affects what I see in the present moment. What am I missing? What are the other complex elements that I fail to see? What are the signs that I see but not their meanings? What am I making things present and making other things absent? What are the multiple other rectangles and circles that should come into play on the map? How should I negotiate the territory in between the rectangles and circles that are already visible on the map? Am I making appropriate interpretations of the identities and am I being conscious of the inappropriate ones that I have made in the past? I was asking myself if the identity of the “we,” as the category where I confine myself, is a “false identity, based on an agreement and a sameness that do not in fact exist” (Weir, 2008, p. 128). Since everything is relational, it is impossible to maintain a stable sense of self due to my position in the dizzying sociocultural context and to my relationships with each other.
The map delivers a visual message to me that my identity is not constructed from a fixed context. It is a product derived from a fluid territory based on relationships in flux. It’s about how the external world comes to inform and construct my own and others’ identities and how we cannot be separated from outside influences. Accordingly, I consider my sense of self not as a result of an internal process but as a reflection as an external understanding. As Greene (2000) points out that “we are more likely to uncover or be able to interpret what we are experiencing if we can at times recapture some our lost spontaneity and some awareness of our own backgrounds” (p. 52), it is important to acknowledge what my self-reflexive self is reflecting about and to pinpoint where my self is positioned at the external location.
Being self-reflective is the first step towards diversity awareness, because only after this process we can “go beyond the limitations that come from one's location in a particular place at a particular moment in history and the experience derived from this” (Weedon, 2002, p. 3). As it is visible in the map, I view myself as a product of academic discourse. My education comes from an institutional structure, enabled by the privilege of having the economic means to gain access to education, which is also grounded on the system of capitalism. Through my education, however, I think of ways to extend the discourses only available to the privileged and to encompass everyone in the conversation so that they could inhabit their own interpretations of the discourse. I want my self-reflexivity not to be centered on me and not to be confined to the text, but to be placed in the center of an intersection of shared dialogs. Standing on the intersection where multiple crossings of ideas occur, I will be able to examine everyone’s front, back, and both sides and negotiate the meaning of things, whereas standing on a two-way zone will only allow me to see someone from the front and cause us to collide.
Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Weedon, C. (2002). Key issues in postcolonial feminism: A Western perspective. Gender Forum: An International Journal for Gender Studies.
Weir, A. (2008). Global feminism and transformative identity politics. Hypatia, 23(4), 110-133.