“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Mark Twain.
I don’t know too much about copyright and titles, but I did recently finish watching the series Big Little Lies, and since I don’t want to get in trouble, I’m going to go with Big White Lies as my title instead. Anyway, Big White Lies is more appropriate, because this is about the lies we tell to fit into the White American world.
After I wrote my last post Immigrant, I developed a huge writer’s block. I didn’t know where I wanted to go next. If you didn’t read it, you should read that before reading this. It is the most vulnerable I’ve ever been in my public writing, and while it only skimmed the surface of the bullying that I experienced because recounting all the details is not necessary, the outpouring of support I received from people was absolutely incredible and had me in tears for 72 hours straight. I thank you. After that response, I really didn’t know where to go with my writing next. I got some assignments from Women’s Running Magazine to write about other runners which was a nice distraction and allowed me to continue to do some running writing, but I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to write about in this much more personal venue. I tried to write a triathlon recap after my incredibly fun tri, but I abandoned the post halfway through because it had no passion. I then decided that I would just wait until after my upcoming presentation at Expressing Motherhood to see if it would give me any ideas of where I want to go next. Out of the blue during my run this morning, as I was thinking about the show Big Little Lies and a recent unveiled lie, inspiration hit.
The most important thing that happened after my Immigrant post is that my older sister and I finally communicated about what we hadn’t talked about for 30 years; about her experience as an immigrant and what she did to protect herself. While we were at it, we went through a couple other difficult but crucial conversations that needed to be had as well. If all the writing I’ve done over the last couple of years was just to get me to the point of having that conversation, then it was all worth it. Other people started reaching out to me privately as well with white lies they told to blend in and be more easily accepted. Some immigrants go by nicknames or change their names entirely to make their experience easier. Many lie about where they come from. I never lied. It never occurred to me that denying my country of origin may be an option. When those boys in 5th grade kept asking me are you from Iran, I would say yes. When they’d ask isn’t that the country that was holding Americans hostage (the Iran Hostage Crisis occurred from 1979 to 1981 and we moved back to the U.S. in 1983), I’d say yes. Even in my undergraduate years, I remember being at Chauncy’s nightclub in Pittsburgh every Thursday for 50 cent drinks until midnight, and having guys ask me where I’m from, and I’d yell Iran over the loud music. Their eyes would bulge out, and I’d walk away. That truth-telling was for the best, because nothing good was going to come out of Chauncy’s anyway.
While every one else was telling white lies to hide their identity, we never talked to each other about what we were experiencing and how each of us was trying to protect ourselves. Even amongst ourselves, we were all pretending to be ok, despite seeking each other out for friendship, clearly out of a need to be with someone who may understand, but then not talking about it. No one pulled me aside and said, hey, don’t tell people you are from Iran…. just tell them you’re from Bangladesh or some other country with dark-skinned people that no one has heard of and is not in the news, and half your problems will be solved right there. Would I have been able to lie? I don’t know. I’ve really only told my husband one big white lie in the 20+ years we’ve been together. Over the last several years, I’d periodically think that I should come clean about that big white lie from 16 years ago, but I kept putting it off. After Immigrant, I finally told him what it was. He didn’t even remember the circumstances of the event that I was talking about and of course didn’t care at all about this thing I’d unnecessarily held in.
Anyway, what actually surprises me about these identity lies is not the lies other immigrant friends told as kids…. what disappoints me is to find out that some are still lying. I am talking about successful adults who are at least in their mid-30’s and still telling Big White Lies to fit into this White America which isn’t even White anymore…. Yes, maybe as a child I would have been better off to lie about my identity to protect myself and get myself through… I’m not sure if that would have been better….but as adults, we need to stop hiding… we need to be an example of hope for other people… we need to stop lying…whether about our identity or anything else that we don’t feel comfortable admitting for fear of how we will be perceived.
I’ve had a lot of mixed emotions about presenting at Expressing Motherhood. At first I was petrified, then I calmed down. Then I started to read bios of the other presenters and I again freaked out, unsure of why I was chosen to present my very simple piece amongst these other experienced women. But in the last week, I’ve finally gotten to the point that I am not just calm but looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I’m looking forward to being in the company of this cast of women. Most of all, I am looking forward to stepping out from behind my computer screen, standing in front of about 300 people on stage, and very simply presenting my truth.