What Are You?

What are you?  is a question that I raised in my website biography (Rose Ann Kalister.com).  When I was growing up that was the initial question that a new friend would ask.  What are you?  In that blog I complained that no one knew how to react when I said I was Syrian.  Trying to explain by identifying Syria geographically was next to impossible.  Nowadays the geographic identification is considerably easier. Most people can at least place Syria in the Middle East because of the horrific war in Syria and the plight of its innocent people.

Like other ethnic groups,  Syrians immigrated to the United States more than a century ago. And like other ethnic groups, all of them have famous people.  Jerry Seinfeld and Danny Thomas are our beloved comedians. Danny made us laugh for many years then built the famous St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital “where no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.” The hospital was opened in 1962 with Thomas saying “no child should die in the dawn of life.” (www.stjude.org)  (I have always loved that saint because 27 years ago when I had endocarditis, I received the St. Jude mechanical mitral valve which augmented and saved my life. Ironically my best friend’s name is Jude.)

Steve Jobes is one of us as is Paula Abdul and Paul Anka.  Athletes Brandon Saad and Johnny Manzel.  Diana Al-Hadid, contemporary artist of sculptures and installations. Neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Debakey.  You can explore any nationality in this country and come up with a list of persons who have made major contributions in all fields and endeavors. The list can go on and on, no matter if you are writing about the Irish, the Poles, the Chinese, the Italians, or any other racial or ethnic group.

Now what we are has taken on countless answers, interpretations, alternatives, and designations.  Racially we are white, black, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian….

Sexually we can identify, if we choose, as heterosexual, homosexual, queer or asexual….

In terms of age we have the Boomers, the Millennials, and probably what is to be Gen Z.

When it comes to labelling the no-longer-young, however, we must take care.   “Old” is barely okay.  “Elderly” is a no-no because it connotes feeble and dependent.  “Older adult” is considered the tolerable alternative. Older adults just want to be known as who they are.

The categories are seemingly endless.  What disturbs me however are the new stresses on the political categories, perhaps not new but used to emphasize  a history, a point of view, a way of life, a belief, a philosophy, or a stance – we have the Right and the Left. The liberals, moderates, and conservatives, and all those sub groups that appear in the news, some of which can promote prejudice, misunderstanding, or contempt. Of course I acknowledge that there are inevitable factions in any group, whether the group is a political party, religious group, a trade union, or, as in our day, the present political climate. Those factions are a part of our democratic constitutional structure.

But wouldn’t it be great if “what are you? could be what you might Want to Be and express a desire for a value, a commitment, a goal or an ideal?