Skip to main content

An Intergenerational Lens on Identity

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Othering and Belonging 2019 conference in Oakland, CA.  The event, organized by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, was 3 full days of stirring, thoughtful, complex, and often emotional presentations and discussions around a wide spectrum of topics related to othering and belonging.  By the end of the conference, I was left drained emotionally and full of new questions, but also overflowing with gratitude for having the opportunity to experience it.


One speaker in particular resonated with me.  Dawn-Lyen Gardner, in her talk titled “Egg Drop Soup”, spoke about her own relationship with identity growing up as the daughter of an African-American father and a Chinese mother.  She recalled standing in front of the mirror as a child, and negotiating in her mind the origins of her appearance. She talked about not encountering anyone that looked like her and some of the implications that had for her about her own identity.


I can recall, although vaguely now, having similar thoughts in my youth.  Not because my parents were of different races, but because very few of my friends looked like me and very few of their parents looked like my parents.  I will admit that I have not previously given much thought to my own identity, at least not consciously and I certainly have not given due consideration to how that identity might relate to the complex power dynamics around othering and belonging.  However, after my experience at the conference, I am committed to trying. I know this journey will be a protracted experience, and will need to be an ongoing endeavor. I would certainly not purport to have found the answers yet.


However, for me, there is no better time to start than now, as the lens through which I view the world and how I move in this space is about to fundamentally change.  In a few short weeks, I will become a father. Our happy family of two is about to become a happier family of four (yes, we are having twins!). Soon, I will be responsible not only for shaping and understanding my own relationship with identity, but that of two new beings as well.    


Dawn-Lyen Gardner also spoke about her reflections on how she is viewed by the world around her.  Her realization that she moves through the world as a black woman and not as a chinese woman, and without any say in the matter was striking to me and caused me to reflect on how my own children will move and be seen in our society.  I am Japanese and my wife is white, but my children likely will also not have a choice in how their racial identity is perceived by society. Taking some time to reflect on my own identity and how it relates to power dynamics of othering and belonging is, I think, the least I can do as I prepare to undertake the awesome responsibility of helping my children to understand and reflect on theirs.