On the margins of this article that I just got accepted for publication, my former thesis advisor wrote, "Why this schizoid obsession with identity?!?" She was right in that I have been studying collective identity for years with a scary dedication. The reason I'm so interested in collective identity is that I'm not comfortable with the one I have been assigned by being born into my culture. The Russian-speaking culture, that is.
Today, for example, we went to a Russian grocery store in St. Louis. I dressed with more care that I put into dressing for the opera. Then, I applied make-up for 40 minutes, which is something I never do unless I'm about to meet my fellow Russian-speakers. I know that people will be judgmental, they will stare and make disapproving sounds if you are not 100% put together. If you are a woman, that is. Nobody cares what you look like if you are a man. And then people will make strange comments, whose meaning I will not be able to decipher. Which will make me feel like a complete idiot.
This was the reason I left my country 12 years ago. I was extremely uncomfortable with my own people. And they aren't bad people, or anything. There are many great things about the Russian-speaking culture. The problem is that I always felt completely alien to it. When I moved to North America, I lost out financially. I don't think I will ever have the same level of economic well-being here as I had there. I obviously lost out in social status because an immigrant is always an immigrant. I really lost out in terms of food because now I have to schlep all the way to St. Louis to get my favorite food. But it was all worth it because now I'm around people I get. And who get me. And that's worth more than I can explain to anybody who has not experienced life in a culture where you feel you have no idea what people are doing and why.
So here is the reason why I study identity, trying to figure out how it works.