December 11th, 2014

In Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist, the young Changez experiences the difficulties of living with inherent duality: His Pakistanian side and American one attempt to coexist under the pretense of princehood that he allows his friends to believe, and thrives easily in college. Upon reaching his work, this trend continues until 9/11, at which point extreme anti-Middle Eastern sentiment ransacks the United States and causes the unfair treatment of this man as caused by racial profiling. The resentment that he feels towards America for the treatment that he receives as a result of his ethnicity manifests itself in his attempt to more strongly represent that very identity. The two cannot exist in one: Given New York’s paranoia and general ignorance towards the difference between Middle Eastern terrorists and Middle Eastern citizens and the cultural expressions that are common among both, Changez’s decision even to grow his beard is met with uncertainty, hostility, and discrimination.

The idea of identity is complicated. We all have many identities, and the intersectionality of the issues that those identities face (such as our race, gender, class, ability, and nationality) defines the struggles that we face in daily life. These identities are rarely directly conflicting, however. For Changez, his American identity clashed directly with his Pakistanian one, and as a result, he was forced to pick one identity over the other. He could not be both American and enjoy the experience of his culture in a society that was ignorant of that culture, lest it be misperceived. In the eyes of New York society, his Pakistani-ness directly degraded his American-ness, and in his eyes, abandoning his culture because the Americans by which he was surrounded simply because they were too culturally ignorant to identify the terrorists as lone actors, not representatives of an entire society, was betraying his Pakistani roots.

I represented this idea with a two-sided sculpture. One side shows the stereotypical American financial worker, as Changez was, while the other shows the dress of those Middle Eastern men featured by the media immediately following 9/11. These sides, though part of one sculpture, exist at exact opposites from one another, much as Changez’s identities did. This post thus explores the concept of identity, explaining that while some identities can intersect and coexist to define our living circumstances, others cannot. When identities cannot exist together, the possessor must choose between them: In Reluctant Fundamentalist, this explains why Changez went back to Pakistan.

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