Interior and Exterior Identity.

A breeze of wind rushed toward the bright morning of this busy city that I had almost lived my whole childhood in. It was nothing like a busy morning where you can hear the bird chirping, the car beeping, and the people who are up very early for a run. As I woke up to this busy morning trying to get ready for another day of school, I always had to wonder to myself about what I was in the past compared to now. Now, this was a serious thought that I had randomly thought of this morning. Have you ever wondered about this question before? What truly represents you, and what do you think fits your own identity? Thinking about this in my mind, I rushed outside to go to the train station for another day of school, but I was happy as living in this big city really never scared me before as it almost grew up with me. But what do you even call this type of identity? A place where you grew up? Somewhere you can call home. How about who you’re as a person, deep down? As I was slowly on the train ride to school, I really looked up and asked, “Can a place that you live in become a part of your identity?”. Well, now I was just a bit interested in forming my identity. This is my story.

In my own definition, I really believe that identity comes from two major points that I will later bring up. For now, I believe that identity is something that not only represents who you are to other people but really gives you a sense of who you are as a person. An example that I came up with is like a painting with a drawing of a town, but it had no colors. This is what I like to call the first stage of identity, as you are just starting out to figure out who you are but really don’t understand, but when you start to add colors and details to the painting, then it starts to become clearer what your identity truly is. This is the second stage of identity. Now, diving deeper into this painting, you would start to add the clear indicator of a background and the mood of the painting, which is called the final stage of your identity, as this really paints off the main point of your identity, which I have always referred to as your interior identity and your exterior identity, which sound pretty easy to understand. Wrong. There is a deep meaning behind these two main points, which really make up your identity. Now, let me go into my experience of finding out my identity after learning this.

Throughout my life, I grew up in quite a peaceful area, as going to school throughout middle school and high school and meeting friends along the way really made me the person I am today. As they say, “the friends you made in the past can really shape you as a person in the future”, which I really find to be true, as I would not be the same years ago as in my present day. Living on the busy streets of Brooklyn and walking to the park every day after school to go play with my friends really shaped me. As I became progressively more competitive every time that my friends and I would play sports together, such as basketball, chase each other for hours, laugh at jokes, and play games together, eventually this went on for years to what I called real friendship. Looking back now, I can happily call my friends part of my identity, my exterior identity, as without them, I really think I would become a different person than I am now. Although when I grew older on the path to college, I started to find sports less appealing, maybe it is because I don’t really have time to play anymore, but that is another story. Moving on, throughout my childhood, what really stood out to me was school, right? Shocking!

Throughout middle school, I met a lot of friends, mostly during lunch period, as we would play cards together and talk a lot. I remembered that the teacher I talked to really supported what I wanted to do in the future, and it was just a lot of fun talking to them about who they were in the past. They really seem proud of who they were as people and of teaching me as a student to them. After all, I believe that they have formed a “complete identity” to be proud of. Graduating from middle school, I felt like going into high school was going to be the same, but it hit me like a wave that it was very different, as finding out that making new friends was way more difficult now was a major change. Back in middle school, you would see your classmates for the whole day at a time since your class schedule would stay the same as everyone else who was in the same room, and at the same time, in high school, this was the complete opposite. But eventually, I made some friends and met some really nice teachers from whom I had learned their backstory. As an example, I can still remember that my history teacher really loved to travel around the United States during summer break, and they would show the class the pictures that they took throughout their vacation, such as the famous picture of the Mississippi River or the famous Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I think during my time in high school and now graduating from it really made me look back at it, almost like a memory that can’t be forgotten, as these days really fill up my mind as they were that important to me. Now why all of this backstory? It is because, looking back now, I really consider this as my turning point for my exterior identity as a person, as I really considered this as who I can appear as on the outside, as making these connections throughout my life, whether in school or outside, really formed my identity as it represented who I am, the place that I chose to represent myself as, and the friends that I had to represent as. Let’s put it this way: when you look at a person that you don’t know, aside from how they appear to you, you also take into account where they were, the place where they grew up, and the friends they made to give you a good sense of who they are. That is what my exterior identity is to someone I meet who is new. This really changes me as a person since, throughout the years, I changed from “painting with no colors” to “painting with colors,” where I paint my own colors into creating my exterior identity, going from being confused and dazed to someone who now knows my exterior identity, and that it is something that I am still proud of that I have created myself to the present day.

The background of a painting is like saying the cultural background of someone you don’t know but came to learn slowly about. That’s how I felt that I was living my life out, as going back to my middle school age, I remembered one day that I became very curious about who I was deep down, something that nobody can take away from you, and what is truly you. I remember learning about my own childhood, as when I was very little, I had spent a few years back in China. As a little kid, I don’t even think that I knew where I was, as I had spent most of my time playing inside of the house, but one day, I remembered going on the street of China to see a dance, a dancing lion, the loud drums, and the fireworks. That day really stuck in my mind to this day, and I felt really happy and amazed about it. I remembered receiving a red envelope filled with money as I asked my grandparents that day, “What does this mean?”, and they replied back, “Well, it is supposed to represent good fortune for the rest of the year, so be sure to keep it safe forever”. Looking back at this present day, this holiday is known as Chinese New Year, which celebrates the beginning of a new year. Going back now, growing up, I had moved back to America, as I had slowly learned about my own cultural background, learning about the way that I was supposed to live, and learning the language that was attached to my own cultural background, as I had to learn it from my parents as I was never really put into school to learn it back in China. Anyway, I became amazed at my own language; I was taught how to say it and understood it well enough to be able to communicate back. However, I was never ever taught how to read and write Chinese that well, as I already took upon learning the English language, which is my main language that I have learned to speak, but the point is here: the Chinese language really plays a role in my interior identity because it just gives a sense of who I am deep down, and it is something that I will keep for the rest of my life. Briefly, to revise my definition, I think that interior identity is something that you can keep but can’t change or that anyone can change for you; it is something that represents who you are and is built upon your interior identity, and it is something that I am proud of. Going back, I remembered the different foods that I ate, as I really enjoyed eating fried rice and drinking tea growing up. As some of these foods came from my cultural background, I really enjoyed the different Chinese restaurants that were always open to serve fried rice and other enjoyable Chinese dishes. I still remembered the time where I had to learn to use chopsticks, as it really was bound to my cultural background, as it felt special and unique to use chopsticks to eat fried rice with. Moving on from food, there was music that I enjoyed listening to that was unique to my cultural background, and watching different shows such as Ultraman growing up really made my childhood memorable. I believe that having a cultural background really can make what you tend to try to recall very important, as it is what gave me my interior identity. What I define as my interior identity is what I truly think is a cultural background that plays a major role in it because it is something that when you tend to meet someone new, they can learn from it as it is not easily known right off the bat, and it brings in this sense of comfort that you can be able to express your inner self, which is why I find this something to be proud of and to be remembered for the rest of my life. Another part of my interior identity that fits me today is my personality, as I would consider that part of my interior identity, as my cultural background really influenced how I act and view the world as of now, as I tend to really want to help people and want to be nice to everyone that would respect me back. This is what I called my interior identity, an identity that I had formed growing up, at once confused but now proud and happy because it is an identity that will stay with me forever and that can’t ever be changed.

I came to be literate in my sense of self and in your identity as part of your communities and the larger world, as I really came up with two major self-identifying identities, as exterior and interior identity, as they both grew up with me to the point where I had formed them to become my identity as a whole, what really defines me as a person living in the present day, as my exterior identity can be changed maybe in the future, and my interior identity can’t be changed no matter what. This is what I felt my identity truly was.

Raymond Li.