Essay On Personal Identity

Below is the personal identity essay that I wrote for my Race and Ethnicity class. It was originally written on September 13, 2009. Any critiques are welcome.


Living in Spanglish

Every once in a while, I end up getting asked the question, “Where are you from,” or “Where were you born?”

My response is always the same, “America” –  if I’m feeling punchy that day – or more common answer of the name of the state and/or town I was born in. I can almost always anticipate the next question. It is usually comes in the form of, “No, where is your family from.”

At this point, things get interesting since I can answer the same for my family as well.

I usually get a frustrated look and then the question, “Where were your grandparents born?” Now, I actually answer the real question the individual was trying to ask: “What is your ethnicity?”

Ethnically, I am Puerto Rican. This has always been a little confusing since being Puerto Rican automatically makes me American, so even when answering the question of ethnicity, I am still an American. When this comes up in conversation, I sometimes have to explain that Puerto Rico has been occupied by the United States since 1898 and that since 1917 – with the Jones Act – Puerto Ricans have been granted U.S. citizenship. Sometimes, this fact is something that has been brought back to my attention through discrimination. At various points in my life, I have been told, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” While I understand that this statement is discriminatory, it is always something that has struck me as being somewhat ironic since the person making the statement has made the assumption that I am not an American citizen. Yet, if I were to go to Puerto Rico I would still be American citizen.

I have been speaking both English and Spanish probably as soon as I started talking. When I speak in English, I usually think in English. When I speak in Spanish, I usually think in Spanish. I’ve noticed that when I am thinking to myself aloud I speak in a mixture of both English and Spanish. In my mind, certain events happen in English and certain events happen in Spanish. Problems have always arisen when I try to relate an experience I had in English while speaking in Spanish, or vice versa. For example, a lot when I try to communicate to my English-speaking friends about why I enjoy a particular Spanish song so much. Sometimes, the nuances in the verses are lost as I try to grasp for the equivalent phrases in English. The same thing happens if I try to speak to my relatives in Spanish about something I experienced in English, such as what happened at school. In these moments it feels like my mind is a car with a flat tire. It wants to go forward, but can never pick up any speed. I know from remembering my dreams that I dream in a combination of Spanish and English, just like when I think to myself. In other words, I am always caught in a liminal state of sorts where I am constantly code-switching at a mental level. I live and think in Spanglish everyday.

As a heritage speaker of Spanish, I have been able to both participate in American culture and have also had the opportunity of looking at American life from multiple perspectives.  On one hand, I can look at events and culture from the American mainstream.  On the other hand, I can view events and culture from the perspective of someone able to stand outside and look in at the world of America.  My nights at home consisted of being able to walk into my living room to sit with my family and view the evening news in Spanish. When the news was done we would flick between watching “Wheel of Fortune” in English and raptly watching the drama unfold on the latest telenovela. All the while, we would speak in a mixture of Spanish and English.

I feel that I have never had a true crisis of identity when trying to determine what I am. I am American and I am Puerto Rican. Just like the culture of the island itself, I fuse English and Spanish culture into a new whole. My dilemma is one that is related to culture. In a way, I could never be fully Puerto Rican in regards to its Spanish-speaking culture. I have become too Americanized in some ways. Just like when I try to speak with my relatives, I would slow down and it would be too difficult for me to function easily. Yet, I do not fit into the English-speaking American culture either. I would never be able to pretend that my body doesn’t pang to be on a dance floor every time I hear a salsa song. I can not deny that when I go home I will cook half of any meal using the mix of Spanish spices in my kitchen cabinet regardless of the cultural origin of the dish I am cooking. I can never deny the fusion of influences from both English-speaking American culture and Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican culture. Mentally, I will always flow between Spanish and English. So while, I do not have a crisis of identity regarding my ethnicity, I will always live and think in Spanglish.

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Essay/Term paper: Personal identity: philosophical views

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Philosophy

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Personal Identity: Philosophical Views

Tim V Kolton

Alan Watts once said, "Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite
your own teeth." The task of personal identity is to define a quality of a
human which makes him or her a unique self. The person whose identity is in
question must realize themselves, and other people must identify this person.
In other words, what makes John unique from Bob? One must consider both
internal (mind) and external (body) perspectives. There are several general
philosophical theories of this identity problem. In the following paragraphs
one will find the body theory, soul theory, and a more detailed explanation of
the conscious theory.
One theory of personal identity is known as the body theory. This is
defined as a person X has a personal identity if and only if they have the same
body Y. However there are two problems with this definition. The first is
qualitative. It is necessary to have the same body, but if that body is changed,
is one the same person? Someone's body is surely different at age 40 than at
age 4. Also a problem arrives in alterations to a body. If John goes to war,
becomes injured by a mine, and then has his legs amputated is he not still the
same person, John? Therefore, the preceding definition of body theory is not
sufficient, since it does not account alterations to the same body. Yet another
problem is numerical. If someone were to get a finger chopped off, would that
finger be considered another person? What if a scientist was to use someone's
DNA and replicate another person with the same body? Surely just because there
are two identical bodies, these bodies cannot be the same person. They would
live two different lives. Therefore, the body theory alone cannot be considered
a necessary and sufficient definition when defining personal identity.
Another common theory of personal identity is the soul theory. This
theory is: a person is has personal identity if and only if they have the same
soul. The problem with this theory is arrived from the definition of a soul.
Soul is a very difficult term. It is thought by many to be a spirit that passes
from your body into another realm (i.e., heaven, hell, etc.). However, since no
one has ever seen, felt, touched, smelled, or tasted a soul, it is a mysterious
phenomenon. Since we have no clear and distinct idea of a soul , it would not
be wise to base the definition upon it. For instance, some religions believe in
reincarnation after death. This is when a soul enters another body. With this
in mind, someone's soul such as Elvis could become reincarnated in someone else
named John. However, we would not say that this Elvis and John are the same
person . Therefore, the definition of the soul theory fails in that the
definiens does not become sufficient for defining personal identity.
The most recognized true philosophical theory of personal identity is
the consciousness theory. The consciousness theory is believed by most to be
the best definition of personal identity according to most philosophers. However,
there are three different versions of the consciousness theory that will be
discussed in further detail: the conscious self, experiential content, and
connected stream of consciousness theories. First, we have the theory of a
conscious self: a person has a personal identity if he or she has the same
conscious self. In other words, if two people have a different conscious, then
they each have personal identity. At a first glance, this would be a good
definition of a personal identity. It is analogous to Descartes' cogito, "I
think therefore I am." Being conscious would mean knowing that one exists, and
able to think about any experience that happens. However the main fault with
this is that it is a circular definition. We are using the definiens in the
definiendum which is not a good tactic of defining personal identity. Next, a
common derivative of the consciousness theory is the consciousness of
experiences theory. This is defined as having the same experiential content.
This theory is based upon Locke's theory of the mind being blank, and building
from experiences. One would have personal identity because only one being can
go through the same experiences in a finite space. This theory does solve some
problems arrived at by other theories. Say for instance there are two twins.
This would be difficult to explain in the body theory of personal identity, but
with the conscious experience theory it would be simple. Although they have
identical bodies, since the day they are born they go through different
experiences. Therefore the twins do have their own identity since they have
both had different experiences. However, there are some problems that arrive
with this theory. First, the definiens is not necessary. Say for instance a
person has two different conscious experiences. Some people have a multiple
personality disorder, but that does not mean they are truly different people,
although they may have several identities. Another problem is the definition is
not sufficient. Say for instance a brain was replicated and was put into a
computer. At the exact time the brain was replicated, both "brains" had the
same experiential content. Yet the most devastating deviation from this theory
is the simplest. The biggest problem is that we cannot consciously remember
every experience of our lifetime. For instance, when one tries to remember what
they got for their fifth birthday the day after their birthday they would be
able to tell another. However, trying to remember what one received for their
fifth birthday when they are thirty is most of the time impossible. Also, just
because a person may be drunk and does some action does not make him or her
another person! In other words, the conscious experience theory fails because
the human mind cannot remember every conscious experience. Last of all, we have
the connected stream of consciousness. This theory states that a person's
identity is made up of a "stream" of connected conscious experiences. This
theory solves the problem of having a different memory of at different times of
life. For instance, when we are forty we certainly have a different memory than
when we were four years old. With the connected stream theory though, we are
still the same person whether we are four or forty. In general, we have a
finite mind, so are conscious is connected in a chronological pattern. To make
it simple, it is analogous to a river. If you were to see a river every day,
one is not looking at the same particles of water (representing body or
experiences), however one cannot dispute that it is not the same river.
Therefore the river represents personal identity. This theory solves most of
the problems arrived at from the other two forms of conscious theories. It
would seem that the connected stream of consciousness is a definition which is
both necessary and sufficient in defining personal identity.
In conclusion, we have discussed the three common theories of personal
identity: the body theory, the soul theory, and the conscious theory. The main
problem with the body theory is that people's bodies change, yet they still have
the same identity. The main problem of the soul theory is that it is immaterial,
and the whole idea of souls is disputable. Of the three consciousness theories,
the conscious self theory fails in that it is a circular definition. The
conscious experience theory fails in that a human cannot be conscious of
everything of his or her life. Finally we discussed the connected stream of
consciousness theory which is the best description of a personal identity.
Personal identity therefore is made up of a connected stream of consciousness
(i.e., thoughts, memories, actions), and therefore is always changing slightly.
As James Baldwin, a U.S. author once quoted, "An identity would seem to be
arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience."


1 Alan Watts (1915–73), British-born U.S. philosopher, author. Life (New York,
21 April 1961).

2 Locke, John. Personal Identity. Page 69.

3 Locke, John. Personal Identity. Page 70.

4 James Baldwin (1924–87), U.S. author. The Price of the Ticket, "No Name in
the Street" (1985; first published 1972).


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