WANTING TO BE WHO WE'RE NOT
 

Creative Nonfiction by Queer Writers
Edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk
Now available from Harrington Park Press

 
 
 

WHO AM I? (excerpt)

by Margaret Cleaver

     As a librarian at the Santa Monica Public Library I found myself dreading the beginning of the school year when the "Who Am I" project was being assigned. The middle school students in Santa Monica are annually assigned this research project, entailing a visit to the public library. There they are required to look up newspaper headlines for the date of their birth, research the meaning of their names in name dictionaries, and make a list of historical events that happened on their birthday.
     For weeks, my colleagues and I were terrorized by several hundred squiggly, squirmy thirteen-year-olds who, after ganging up on the newspaper reading machines and making the reels race back and forth, made for the multi-volume sets of historical events encyclopedias like they were heading into a football game. The fact that Valium became a prerequisite for surviving the duration of the assignment did not prevent me, however, from sporadically wondering about the meaning of it all. If I were doing this assignment what would I think about the idea that "Who I Am" consisted of a handful of events which happened to take place in the world at large at the time of my birth and the derivation of a name conjured up for me by my parents.


     While for most of the students a certain amount of fun is involved, notably getting to play with the newspaper microfilm machines, for others the assignment proves more challenging. The name research is an especially tricky proposition for those whose ancestry is other than European, as most name dictionaries do not include names that are not Eurocentric. But what interests me most about this endeavor is that, according to this assignment, a person's identity is somehow assumed to have a connection to events tangential to, or maybe even unrelated to, his or her life. Conversely, could someone's identity be developed in a vacuum, untouched by events taking place in the world, particularly during one's formative years?