[11 January, 2012]

on being an immigrant part 3

For the most part, overall in life, being bi-cultural is cool and advantageous. I guess. I mean, I can speak two languages and intimately understand two separate world views. I can communicate with a substantial portion of the world and I can even connect people through translation and interpretation. Knowing English is a huge advantage in general, of course, and stating that I am fluent in Russian on a CV is also impressive. I feel special for having extra skills and an edge when it comes to navigating our multicultural world. Having a U.S. passport also gives me traveling rights to most places, whereas having a Russian passport means I never have to deal with visa paperwork to visit my home country. Most people stop at these apparent benefits and proceed to tell me how lucky I am to have had such life circumstances.

But being bi-cultural, for me, is an unending identity crisis without a solution. It's as if my self exists in two towers, with just a few dangly bridges connecting them. There is some communication between the two towers; information can pass back and forth over the bridges. But these connections are tenuous, sometimes slow and sometimes dangerous. Some things never even pass from one side to the other.

Source: 20aday

In my mind's eye, I picture the tower on the right to be the Russian one and the left one to be American*. My self momentarily resides in the tower that corresponds to the context in which I find myself, but most often it runs back and forth between the two towers (my soul is fit?) depending on my various thoughts and moods. So if I am talking to my family in Russia on the phone, for example, I speak mostly from within the Russian tower. But most of the other time, I'm forced to function from the American tower, to effectively adapt to U.S. culture and not seem like such a strange stranger.

But then it gets even more complicated. The two towers are separate enough entities, but they can never be fully distinct. The bridges connecting them are permanent and I can never sever a connection with one identity or the other. When I function from within one of the towers, I know the other exists. There are bridges, doors and windows that cannot close. The other tower always casts a shadow on whatever I am doing within the first tower-context. Also, the Russian tower began building from birth, whereas the American one started construction in adolescence, and thus the Russian one is more sturdy and fundamental. I think my self lives there most of the time, even when I am in the U.S. and even when I speak English, although like I said, towers always cast shadows on each other.

Confused yet? I know I am. This bi-cultural chaos is my daily life inside my head. I try to be fully appreciative of the advantages of my situation, but sometimes it's me who considers single-tower people the lucky ones.

*The therapist in me would chuckle here at the fact that my Russian side feels so right and America is just so gauche!

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