Day 3: On language and identity

Today we answered simple questions, narrating anecdotes through which everyone shared how they identified themselves and the struggles that identifying one’s self involves. The day was followed by different activities in which each member had an opportunity to share different parts of their identity. We concluded the day with a workshop conducted by a transgender speaker. 

As each of us embarks on that intriguing journey to the center of our consciousness and our identity, we seldom notice elements that we consider irrelevant to the formation of our true self. More interestingly, we are often defensive about what we really stand for, and even adamant to accept any determining factors that might be the keys to truly understand who we are. The speaker from today used a made up (according to the strict and exclusive rules of language that the Spanish language imposes) pronoun, “elle”-- a neutral gender that does not identity with female or male. Her use of this pronoun made me recognize the ways in which something as basic and ubiquitous as language becomes and establishes the limits of our world (to borrow from Ludwig Wittgenstein). And this is just talking about a formal channel of communication, which is, on a large part, just an abstract and constructed concept. In addition to this, in many cases, ethnicity and religion are also inherited, without our sensible ratification, at least during the years of our infancy and youth.

More importantly, what are we basing ourselves on when we identify with a specific group (i.e. Muslim) and therefore exclude any possibility of being part of any others (i.e. Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, etc.) outright? The problem of identity then turns out, in large part, to be a problem of language. We are limited in the range of options that language allows us to articulate the multifold beliefs and markers that make us who we. In the end, if I were to repeat our morning activity of explaining my identity and what I stand for, I would very likely end up with a lot of half statements and invented words to depict a reality or identity that only legitimately, openly, and accurately exists in my head. That is to say that identity crises do not only emerge from our deranged and preposterous wars on race, religions, and ethnicities, but also from our inability to transmit ideas through words.

-Rodrigo Castillo, Guatemala City