Can You Tell What I Am? Part II (June 2005)
Although this snapshot from my last trip to Paris is not a great photo, I like its themes of reflection and identity. The play between the face of a customer gazing out at me and the photo of the eyewear model in the window inspired me to snap a quick shot without looking through the lensfinder; as a result, you can see the reflection of the camera's flash (and my head just above it) in the "optique" (eyewear) shop window.
Paris is a good place to reflect on what we "see" as identity because a variety of people call it home. As a longtime resident of Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area, both centers of large Asian populations, seeing two young Asian schoolgirls on the Metro talking animatedly in French struck me as strange; my expectation was to hear either English, Vietnamese, Mandarin or Cantonese. I have read that Japanese feel a similar surprise when they visit Brazil and hear the many Japanese-Brazilians speaking Portuguese.
But I could easily identify the Asian-Americans in Paris without hearing a word of their conversation; their body language alone--their gestures were somehow larger, freer and more expressive than Asian-French people--marked them as Americans. They also wore the more overt signs of American identity--tanktops and tattoos.
We are, it seems, more situated in a culture than in an ethnicity.
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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
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