Unstable Identities

Each of our identities settles within the limits of a tradition, which involves habits, legacies, a piece of history, and very often a political ideology originating in the collective acceptance of certain events interpreted by a power group. To question or think about the limits of our understanding of the world is advisable for our mental health as it comes up in different moments of our lives when we confront situations that differ from those ones we consider normal from the point of view of biographical origins. Nevertheless, it is distressing to confirm how critical thinking is a politically dangerous exercise in societies that are becoming more globalized, and has declined at the same time due to all kinds of social, political and religious definitions. This is, together with the overwhelming power of the technology, breaking up the way to be in contact with others and ourselves. The world seems smaller today.

On the other end, a human being can turn to the pure speculation even at the risk of losing his/her own identity. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges relates in The Immortal[1] the voyage of a Roman soldier who longs for tasting the waters of the immortality river. His identity, along the course of the pages, ends up blending with the one of the mysterious character that was determined to follow him and one day recalls himself as the writer of the Odyssey’s verses.

I asked him what did he know about the Odyssey. The practice of Greek was arduous to him; I had to repeat the question.

Very little, he said. Less than the poorest rhapsodist. One thousand one hundred years may have passed since I invented it.[2]

To be something, to be someone is simply to be. Immortality implies being able to be everything, but then our recalls would dissipate with the inexorable passing of time – like the wind erases traces in the desert – and we would not identificate ourselves anymore with any experience or event that conformed with our identities in the past.

Nobody is somebody, a single immortal man is every man. Like Cornelio Agrippa, I am a god, I am a hero, I am a philosopher, I am a demon and I am the world, which is an exhausting way to say that I am not.[3]

Travelers are commonly identified by the place where we were born and stayed until we started our voyage. That place is marked by our accent. “I am a Spaniard” is the easiest answer I can give to a taxi driver that takes me to a destination in Quito. “Return the gold that you stole” was the reaction of a young student at the campus of the Central University of Ecuador when I was asking the group he was with about the ubication of a building.

Living in countries where you were not born may be disadvantageous in some aspects. However your understanding grows in several fields as you simply compare livelihoods and cultural horizons. I learnt from a different university system about the common origins of my mother language and a new world view in Italy. By trying to speak a new language I experienced political conflicts between Castilian and Catalan cultures in Barcelona. I was a philosophy student and a teacher of comparative Spanish in Austria. I was part of the country’s environmental management and worked as a consultant on micro economic projects at the UN. These and other circumstances took me to Latin America. I came with the dream of implementing environmental projects. And I crashed.

I came up against political ideologies that promote an external development model. It is about a model that depends on the extraction of minerals such as oil, gold, coal or coltan and on the privatization of natural resources such as water and territories. This model is very linked to technology investment and the destruction of nature and local, ancestral traditions. It intends to create wealth by satisfying increasing demands of raw materials by urban populations in the so called first and (also) third worlds, in detriment of the ecological and social well-being of the inhabitants of the exploited territories.

In Ecuador the development model adopted by the current government is based on a mestizo, urban, one-party socialist identity in detriment of the many indigenous communities along the national territory. In the last eight years concurrently with the increasing indebtedness with China, the deforestation rates have grown due to new mining and infrastructure  – mainly roads to carry the minerals – projects. This model goes back to the first industrialization times, it is being commonly supported by countries like USA and China and it is often reported as a form of neo-colonialism in African and Latin American countries. In this way, an identity is instrumentalized by a power elite and defended by a population group expecting to improve their ways of living. The result is the entrance of numerous commercial pipelines from abroad and the acculturation of local urban, rural and indigenous populations.

Another unfortunate case is the imminent destruction of the Kitu Kara – Inka heritage in the historic center of Quito due to the construction of the subway’s infrastructure, which is funded by the World Bank. This center was, together with the historic center of Krakow in Poland, the first to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on September 18, 1978.[4] “We are adding layers and cultural stratums. We are all the populations, all the cultures”, states the architect and researcher Diego Velasco Andrade during a guided visit through some historic places of Quito.

The destruction of the cultural memories by powerful elites leaves us isolated, insecure, transitory, foolish, empty and deeply unstable as we face a model about to break down.

Mavi Romano

Also published in: http://www.perypatetik.org/ (October, 22nd 2016)



[1] J.L. Borges, “El Inmortal” in: El Aleph, Emecé, Buenos Aires, 1957.

[2] Op. cit., p. 14. Translated by Mavi Romano.

[3] Op. cit., p. 16. Translated by Mavi Romano.

[4] Source: Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quito#Historic_center

This post is also available in: Spanish