Identity and the Hyphen

Recently, I engaged Jhumpa Lahiri, “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” from Interpreter of Maladies, Ha Jin, “Children as Enemies,” “Shame,” and “An English Professor,” from A Good Fall, Amy Tan, “Two Kinds,” from Joy Luck Club, Mohja Kahf, “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears” from Emails from Scheherazad, and Azadeh Moaveni, Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran. A common thread between these texts was the authors’ discussions about how they reconciled dual identities. Specifically, each writer addressed how they’ve come to terms with the hyphen that makes them Indian-American, Asian-American, and Iranian-American. On the one hand, these authors demonstrate how the self-imposed and/or appointed hyphen allows access to different communities; on the other hand, they reveal how the hyphen can serve as a barrier for realizing full integration into either community. In these works, we see a rendition of W.E.B Du Bois’ double consciousness.

Not only do these works address how individuals deal with their hyphen, they reflect how people from different backgrounds play an influential role in shaping how people deal with their own hyphen. Thus, conceptualizations of identities are reconciled on an individual and collective basis.

These works demonstrate how identity is complex. They demonstrate how identity is dynamic, every changing and constantly under negotiation.

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