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poet, technologist, cynic, father of five, child of chaos, punker, prankster, patriot, punster, leftist, latino, japanophile, audiophile, beer drinker, quiche eater, dog walker, soft talker, deep thinker, shallow sleeper, introvert, covert operative in a parallel universe.

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    extra special bitter
    hops are bitter. life is bitter. coincidence?

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    Who do I think I am?

    Self-image is a curious thing. In creating this blog, I listed a number of attributes about myself that were intended as a sort of word-portrait. In truth, it’s what I want you to believe about me. The reality behind the smokescreen is a bit more prosaic: I really think of myself as an alarmingly skinny, painfully awkward adolescent with gray hair. Of course that self-image is only partly true, but it’s been indelibly stamped into the mirror of my self-consciousness. It may not be what I am, but it’s what I think I am.

    Let’s take ethnicity for example: I was born in Rockville Centre, NY to American parents, which makes me an American. Easy enough. Both of my father’s parents were born in Puerto Rico, as were all of his grandparents. What does he consider himself? Spanish. Not Puerto Rican, not Hispanic, not Latino - Spanish. My mother’s mother was also born in Puerto Rico, while her father was born in the Phillipines to a Spanish mother and an English father. What does she consider herself? Puerto Rican, as do all of her siblings. This is the context of my own cultural ambiguity.

    While my parents grew up in the melting pot of Brooklyn, I grew up in the opaque Tupperware bowl of Farmingdale, NY. We were just another middle class family with a station wagon and aluminum siding. We were as white as Wonder Bread.

    With a few notable differences, of course. My mother and her family always spoke to one another in Spanish, while my father spoke to his family as seldomly as possible, and never in Spanish. So while my brothers and I heard plenty of Spanish growing up, my parents spoke to us exclusively in English. Spanish was a secret code belonging to the grownups. I grew familiar with the melodies and cadences of the languages, but I couldn’t sing along.

    I started to learn a foreign language in the fourth grade. It was French. The Farmingdale school system taught Spanish and French in alternating years, and I happened to be in a French year. I learned it well enough to score a perfect grade on my 10th grade Regents exam. I can barely speak a word of it today.

    In college I finally had my first opportunity to learn Spanish. I took a placement exam, which revealed that while I had a great accent and good ear for the language, I had a very limited vocabulary and no understanding of Spanish grammar. I was a beginner. Over a quarter century later, I’m still a beginner. Most of what I hear outside of a classroom setting is much too fast for my ear to discern more than every third or fourth word. When speaking, I still formulate sentences in English and attempt to translate them on the fly into Spanish. This results in a considerable delay, not to mention a significant amount of self-consciousness. Simply put, I lack the confidence to speak.

    Which is a shame, since, as a phonetic language, Spanish makes so much sense to me. Moreover, it’s in my blood. How can I not speak it? How can I not be what I am?

    Or is it only what I think I am?

    8 Comments:

    Blogger Aydreeyin said...

    I wonder if in 500 years or so we will have a new language that is something between Spanish and English and French?

    I like the ambiguity of foreign languages in their not quite as large vocabularies. They don't decide to make a word for everything, but they use certain words in different ways.

    I understand your plight. I am of West Indian, Spanish, and Chinese background and have never quite had a racial slur pinned to me that stuck.

    2:40 PM  
    Blogger extraspecialbitter said...

    Aydreeyin - thanks for sharing your thoughts. My biggest fear about a new "super-language" is that it will sound too much like English.

    Speaking of ambiguity, an acquaintance once referred to me as "ethnic-looking". I wonder what the opposite of that might be?

    3:11 PM  
    Blogger Aydreeyin said...

    That would be "white boy vanilla" looking, Extraspecialbitter.

    10:47 AM  
    Blogger extraspecialbitter said...

    aydreeyin - funny you should mention that. my complexion is usually fair, but I can get quite dark if I spend any amount of time in the sun. in 1979, at the height of the Iran hostage crisis, I had a dark tan, longish curly hair and a scruffy beard. I had my first series of racial profiling experiences...

    11:33 AM  
    Blogger Kristen said...

    "How can I not be what I am?"

    This question rocked my soul...by proxy, on behalf of my daughter. Though she is only 4, I imagine someday she will have the same question, and struggle with some of the identity questions you ask in this post. My challenge is providing her with a cultural, ethnic and language identity that I do not share. A tall order, made all the taller to me by this.

    Off to wallow in my own inadequacies.....

    11:41 PM  
    Blogger Eric said...

    the person i am, the person i think i am, the person i want to be, the person i want to be seen as . . . "alarmingly skinny, painfully awkward adolescent with grey hair" . . . holy shit . . . change that to balding instead of greying and it's me . . . but the only ethnicity i can lay claim to would be, what? redneck? god i hate that word. why? because it hits close to home. ignorant white boy living in the catskill mountains? growing up, i thought that there were only two types of ethnic cultures, us and city people. and my worst fear is that i am still that ignorant hick and everybody will know it except me . . . i'm 44 years old, a 99 pound teen-age weakling in a 180 pound middle-aged body. an ignorant, poor, white farmer-boy writing english-language-poetry-based-on-a-traditional-japanese-form, posting a web-blog and baring my soul on the world-wide web. indeed: "who do i think i am?"

    10:16 AM  
    Blogger extraspecialbitter said...

    Kristen - while Karen is likely to ask the question "who am I", you can be comforted in knowing that she'll never have to ask "am I loved?"

    Eric - to me you are a skilled photographer and an inspired, inspiring poet, truly a renaissance man in overalls.

    4:28 PM  
    Blogger Trena said...

    it is very simple and needs no translation and i know the words without looking them up -

    you are - extra special ;)

    12:41 AM  

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