The Case of the Misplaced Identity

If I would have filed a police report two years ago, it would have looked something like this…

Name: Michelle Conerly
Age: 21
Location: Seattle, WA
Missing Item: My racial identity.
Last known location: ???

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Agatha Christie novels. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are two of my all-time favorite detectives. Their wit and sheer intelligence astound me. But I think even these two super sleuths would have struggled trying to solve The Case of the Misplaced Identity.

As someone who never felt quite right in her own skin, I unconsciously sought out other cultures to be a part of in order to find community.

When I began learning Spanish in the 8th grade, I threw myself headfirst into that culture. I bought CDs of Mariachi music. I watched novelas (which are Latino soap operas). I took Spanish class every year of high school to improve my language and grammar skills. So when I met my Colombian best friend my senior year, our friendship was one of the most natural relationships I ever had.

Me dressed in a Kimono at the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival in Seattle.

Her family welcomed me in with open arms, and after hanging around them and her extended family for so long, I earned the title “Honorary Colombian.” No greater prestige could have been given to me.

Months later at Seattle University, I made a lot of Asian friends. Within three years, I had a K-Pop playlist on my iTunes, I had attended every Xuan Festival (Vietnamese spring festival), and I decided my next language to learn was Tagalog.  I had once again gained access into a super exclusive club where your ethnicity was your membership card.

Starting to see a pattern? Good. Because in all honesty, I didn’t see it until recently—this pattern of trying to assimilate into an outside culture because I felt like I lacked a sense of ethnic community.

What hurt my feelings, though, were the realistic views of my family.  “Michelle, but you’re not Asian. I think you’re a little confused.” “Michelle, even though you could pass, you’re not Latina. Stop being something you’re not.” “Michelle, I think you’ve got an identity crisis.”

A crisis? An identity crisis? What is a person to do in times of crises? Call Ghost Busters? Call the police? Seek professional help? Maybe I should have hired a detective to find the identity I had clearly lost and was on a journey to find.

Me dressed in my mother’s traditional dirndl from Bavaria in Leavenworth, WA.

If I had hired a detective, I’m sure he would have arrested me for being an imposter in addition to other culture-related crimes I had unknowingly committed. But I just wanted to fit in—to be a part of a group of people who had such a strong bond based on race.

I can’t say that I’ve completely figured this one out. No longer do I wish to be something I’m not, but still exists inside of me that longing for a community of people who are just like me ethnically, racially, and culturally. Given my mix, that is something I may never find. But, there’s a solution to this problem of mine. And I can’t rely on Agatha Christie and her marvelous characters to figure it out for me.

It’s time I play detective. And instead of investigating other cultures, I think learning about my own beautiful, rich, and powerful cultures could help me find the answer.


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