By Angelica Maria Barraza
I arrived at the panel an “I.” I was simultaneously a “not I” — this addition a testament to all the parts of me that were not contained in the basic terminology of my identity: Female. Mixed race. Queer. I took a seat near the back with my notebook opened to an empty page. I’m not sure what I was expecting to fill it with. Perhaps lamentations on the old questions Who am I? Where do I come from? But identity is more complicated than that. More elastic. And, perhaps, more difficult to language than I’d previously imagined.
Michelle Naka Pierce, the panel’s moderator, opened the space with a talk on hybridity. She spoke about her own experience as a Japanese American and asked us to imagine what it was like to embody two cultures at once, without embodying each fully. How can language be manipulated to illuminate the interstices between two worlds? An impossible question. Unless you allowed language to contradict itself, and, at times, fail.
Ronaldo Wilson was the first panelist to engage the subject of “I”. He conflated identity with the act of obliteration. But how does one practice obliteration through poetics? As an example Wilson streamed a ‘film’ layered with multiple audio tracks and visual components. It’s about texture, he said. Identity is texture. Texture is a space of loss. Mourning is a site of possibility. The film resonated throughout the room and I began to pull the pieces together. The pieces were not made to fit perfectly. Rather, they were meant to be jagged, imperfect, and to create gaps and overlap.
Kazim Ali followed with an introspective talk on the mind and the body. He asked who one meant when one said “I.” He posed the body as a thought, and contemplated our involvement in the creation of our own identities. Ali further suggested the powers of yogic chanting. He posed that chanting had the ability to change our internal shape/landscape. He believed in the practice of writing from a body centered space.
Ana Merino, who grew up in a country fraught with war, spoke about childhood and identity. She fervently argued for the inclusion of poetics in early education. She posed that languages were like houses and believed in the agency of children — that they, at young ages, possessed the capability of transcending the oppressions of their parent’s history. She sought intellectualism as an answer. After listening to her speak it felt like the world, however imperfect, was in my hands.
Alongside these panelists were two JKS graduate students who presented on the topic of I/Not I. Brent Zionic engaged a more scientific route while Cait Turner looked to Theodore Adorno to sparse out who one is under a capitalistic regime.
To say I walked away from the panel with an answer would be incorrect. While my notebook was dense with notes I found there are no answers on the subject of identity. We hold within us contradictions. We are and we are not. We are both/and. We are neither.
I’m not sure what I was waiting for.