piercings, authenticity, and the search for an arab identity

I pierced my nose last November. As I reflect upon the last six months of aftercare, the small scar, and red skin surrounding the puncture wound that now sits at the center of my face adorning my left nostril, I feel deeply that I made the right decision.

But what does this have to do with transracial adoption? You might ask.

Transracial adoption has everything to do with identity politics, which lead to a slew of thoughts around authenticity, cultural appropriation, and what the identity search means for an individual who is socialized to fit a racial category that is incongruent with their lived experience.

As someone who grew up in a predominately White community, feelings of difference were an unshakeable reality fueling my desire to blend in and just be like everybody else.

Because of this, it was not until my early twenties that I really began the process of understanding my Arab heritage in relation to my racial identity (emphasis on began – this for me, is an unending process).

It should come as no surprise, then, that my first genuine introduction to the Middle East came in the context of academia. As a student in college I took three years of Arabic, and studied Middle East history, politics, and religion because I wanted to know more about my Iraqi identity. I also hoped that in the off chance that I met my birth family, I would have a way to communicate with them. But my studies provided only a brief introduction to layers upon layers of identity work, which have gradually given me the ability to understand my struggle in the context of a transracial, and transnational landscape.

Fast track to last summer. I’ve reconnected with my birth family in Iraq over Facebook, and gone to visit one of my uncles, who lives in Northern Germany. I’m sitting in his living room, and through broken Arabic, I’m showing him my Pinterest page to gauge his impression of my taste in clothes, and other things.

We come across a picture I’ve pinned of a woman baring a nose ring who’s seductively blowing smoke into the camera. At first he zeros in on the smoking. Don’t smoke, he tells me. I laugh, drawing from an invisible cigarette as I point to the stack of photo albums he’s just shown me of himself in the 80s. He laughs, too.

Then I point to the piercing. What do you think? I ask. To which, he responds with a quiet shrug and types into Google Translate, “It’s fine. It’s cultural.”

A couple of days later, I come home to Capitol Hill – a neighborhood of Seattle, Washington known for its large number of hipsters. A site of gentrification, continuing to push out what has, historically been a neighborhood inhabited by communities of color, but what is currently a hotbed for the “trendy” and “alternative”.

Nose piercings are cultural here, too. The irony’s not lost on me, and when I finally do decide to go through with the piercing, I am doubly conscious of its significance.

There is so much I could say here. About the identities we honor, when we honor them, and why. Rhetorically, I think it’s important to point out that my trying to blend into White culture as an adolescent would not, in fact, be considered cultural appropriation, but that in contrast, the process of reclaiming my Arabic heritage as someone who is socialized White is one that brings up questions of belonging, and who gets to claim what identities, and when.

More on that soon.

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About mirellawarren

social work consultant, transracial adoptee, adoptee rights advocate, writer
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3 Responses to piercings, authenticity, and the search for an arab identity

  1. Kev Minh says:

    I look forward to more of your thoughts on this topic and your experiences with shaping your identity. Our coming-to-terms with how we view ourselves and want to present ourselves to the outside world is very much in tune with our transracial, transnational and transethnic (not necessarily in that order, of course) existence in society. How we translate that to others is very much a dynamic and never-ending process, but could be quite self-empowering. Would you mind if I share this post of yours on Facebook?

    • Absolutely, Kev! Another thing I appreciate about the transracial, transnational and transethnic (nice!) experience is its ability to capture this complexity within ones’ own personal experience. It’s a beauty that’s marked by its synchronicity – at once, omnipresent, but not really belonging anywhere anyway, or so it might seem. I’ve come to cherish that.

    • Absolutely, Kev! And thank you for your comment. Another thing I appreciate about the transracial, transnational and transethnic (nice!) experience is its ability to capture this complexity within ones’ own personal experience. It’s a beauty that’s marked by its synchronicity – at once, omnipresent, but not really belonging anywhere anyway, or so it might seem. I’ve come to cherish that.

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