Children of the Immigrant Experience: Group Identification vs. Staunch Individualism

Part III of the Children of the Immigrant Experience series.

Photo: chensiyuan (creative commons license)

Photo: chensiyuan (creative commons license)

Identifying as part of a group is an innate part of being human. We are all pushed by a desire to belong; it is part of our nature, a primal need. From teenage cliques and subcultures to our adult need to fit in at our workplaces: we’re sticky as popcorn, cells of a bigger body, books of a particular genre on a particular shelf in a particular library.

Stereotypical hipster. Image:Mitchell Virgil (creative commons license)

Stereotypical hipster. Image:Mitchell Virgil (creative commons license)

But to overly define ourselves as just another member of a group: this can be dangerous. Sorting ourselves and others into groups leads to unfair stereotypes. I won’t lie: I’m not immune to stereotyping people and “labelling” them. I know labelling people isn’t healthy, but it makes life so much simpler. A nerd is a nerd, a hipster is a hipster, etc. But, I’m also what I call an Individualist: I define myself as an individual, not someone who merely subscribes to the ideologies of the groups I belong in––Asian-Canadian, female, classic rock fan, etc.

For example, I don’t always have an easy time subscribing to feminist ideology. I do advocate strongly for gender equality and, should I have daughters, I’d definitely encourage them to ask out guys instead of waiting around to be asked out. However, when feminists talk about things like changing language and the way we speak in order to avoid being gendered, I don’t quite agree. For example, I actually prefer being addressed as “you guys” in a group setting than “you all” or even “you ladies.” Honestly, I prefer being called a “guy” than a “lady,” oddly enough. Perhaps it’s because I’m not lady-like and it’s weird to see myself as such. Feminists can argue all they want that I’ve been “engineered” by a patriarchic society to feel bad about my being a “lady,” but I think it’s just part of my nature as a very casual, rather androgynous person who doesn’t mind the occasional PC slip-up.

"La danse" by Matisse (1909-1910). State Hermitage Museum. PD-US

“La danse” by Matisse (1909-1910). State Hermitage Museum. PD-US

My ideal vision of a utopic society would be on that is gender-blind and racial-blind, one where we are all just human beings, nevermind our colour, reproductive organs, gender of the person we love, etc. Funny enough, I’ve learned that people don’t quite agree with my vision. They want a society where all groups and their group differences are respected as unique. But in my mind, this kind of society is realistically unfeasible. If all groups and their traditions are equal and should be respected, where do we draw the line that something shouldn’t be practised? For example, if a certain group in a multicultural society eats babies as a tradition, should their tradition be respected because we must respect their culture, or is there a “higher law” that the act of eating babies breaks? If there is a higher law, who (from what group) has the right to make that law?

Vitruvian Man (Da Vinci). Public domain image.

Vitruvian Man (Da Vinci). Public domain image.

You see, one problem with identifying ourselves as group members is that certain groups will always win and certain groups will always lose. Another problem is that by seeing ourselves as group members we start adopting an “us vs. them” attitude towards other groups. I think this is true of immigration and Canada’s mosaic model of multiculturalism. People see immigrants as “the immigrants” and project all sorts of stuff towards this group. They neglect to realize that immigrants are individuals with individual stories, even if they all came from one country. More so, it’s unfair for us children of immigrants because we inherit this stereotype. Despite my status as a native, I am often still treated as an immigrant strictly because of the way I look.

Of course, different people from different groups have different needs, but if we start seeing these differences on a more individual level, perhaps we can all understand each other a little better, man to man. (In this context, I’m using the world “man” as synonymic of “human”––sorry if this irks you, feminists!)

Do you see yourself as an individual or a part of a group?


One thought on “Children of the Immigrant Experience: Group Identification vs. Staunch Individualism

  1. When you comment regarding about the second F word of today’s society you always lose so I’ll say the other thing that came to my mind:
    I liked the content and quite like the choice of pictures!!! 🙂


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