Mila Yarovaya, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Identity – what a fickle and mercurial concept for something we spend precious years of our lives trying to grasp and forge and stake our claim to. In fact, the founding of Trinity Times had been prompted by that very idea. Who are we as a college? What are our values? Who gets to dictate the identity of an institution that we all attend and whose future we have a stake in? The best that we could come up with is establishing an impartial and new platform that was free from associations of the past and would provide an opportunity to speak for any member of college. That way, we hoped, we would be able to write a new and cohesive identity for the college. For to write the world, is to know it. And this applies to everything – not just large and storied institutions such as Trinity. On a fundamental level, we are all, as individuals, in perpetual search of our singularity, what sets us apart from everyone else and gives us a stake and power to exert that very singularity on the world around us. Like everything else on this mortal coil, identity is a construct and largely depends on your surroundings and the things that you absorb through it. These surroundings can be divided into two main groups – the inner and outer circles. Or, your close relationships and the scary world at large. Whether we like it or not, most of our lives are spent navigating the spaces and inconsistencies between the two. For as we get older and find our footing in the world, we learn that the social sphere is an imperfect thing and what we had been taught and instilled with during our youth doesn’t always line up with the reality of the world outside of our safe cocoons.
But, what happens when the information coming at you both from the inner and outer circles completely contradict each other from the beginning of your life, when you first start to form that sense of self? Such is the unfortunate reality of many child immigrants and children of immigrants, whose ranks I myself am a proud member of. The culture that we are soaked with at home is completely different from the one we experience on the playground, at school, and at a myriad of extra curriculars. Our parents’ instructions also help very little to ease the tension in the divide — so what language am I supposed to speak exactly? Which holidays do we celebrate or combine or ignore? Am I supposed to like “back home” or criticize it? Who am I even? And, my personal favourite: why did you bring me here in the first place? As you can imagine, this doesn’t help in the formation of a solid sense of individuality as you are constantly trying to fit within the boxes provided for you. The diaspora didn’t help me either, for I was constantly afraid that I strayed too far away or not far away enough from my culture and was thereby performing it all wrong.
What exacerbated my situation was the worsening political relations with Russia following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. This topic caused a huge rift in my community and drew the battle lines fast and clear, for a time at least. Either you were pro-Russia and therefore pro-Putin, or against it — doomed to criticize every aspect of your homeland and effectively divorce yourself from it. Or so my maximalist teenage brain thought. And being young, maximalist and idealistic, I of course decided to stand for decency and territorial sovereignty by choosing the route of cultural abnegation. Believing that nothing I said would amount to anything, I became wholly apolitical and was ready to completely wash my hands of a country whose government was so audacious in its inhumanity. And yet, certain things still penetrated the iron curtain that I drew around myself : new poetry and movies, anti-corruption investigations done by NGOs, political assassinations, and variable protests. All this came to a head during the lockdown spring of 2020, when I had nothing better to do then sit at home and listen to the weekly live streams done by opposition leader Alexei Navalny recapping the events of the week. What started as a cultural experiment and a peek into the affairs of a country I would inevitably be linked to simply through the geography of my birth, quickly became a self-education campaign in which I found out, among other things, that Russia had an active and ready opposition movement. That is when the protests hit. From Khabarovsk to neighbouring Belarus, people were rising up against oppressive regimes and bringing with it a new sense of possibility. To me, being Russian no longer meant being a passive recipient of fate’s worst blows. I started tuning in and spreading the word and watching with bated breath as fellow citizens continued to fight for justice, especially following the poisoning and arrest of Alexei Navalny and subsequent protests. I spent an inordinate amount of time over the past academic year writing and trying to come to terms with my identity – detailing contradicting aspects of myself I learned to live with and cherish. From poetry to personal essays to screenplays, I would pour myself into any receptacle that could fit me. And while the exercise seemed frivolous at first, it helped me understand who I am. For when you articulate something and bring it into existence, you give it permission to exist and evolve and come into dialogue with various concepts of yourself that you had shut in before. You give yourself and everything that you are —permission to be.
I am still young (barely) and maximalist and idealistic. But now, I am also free. Free from personal prejudice regarding my culture. Free from artificial notions of my own identity. Free to write any amount of contradictory definitions about myself and exist in plurality that is free from assumption and expectation. So be free and selfish and incongruous and take up space on a page. Write, and forge yourself into existence.
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