The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024
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The privilege of official identification

So we all have the freedom of expression. And among other rights, we have the freedom of speech, the right to worship and of movement. But there is one entity in all this that is still somewhat a privilege. “We.” How can you prove you are indeed you? In other words, what exactly are your rights to your own identity?

We could produce a host of papers, legal documents and cards right away. From our passports to licenses to birth certificates to a host of other certifications you may have with your name spelled out and a picture of you.

But really, how much of us really exists outside these papers? If tomorrow all of your identification papers are burned, will you still be you?

We live in a world with more mobility, information and communication – the effects of globalization – than ever before. And there is indeed one thing we take care of on a day to day basis, almost without even realizing it, and most of the time simply taking it for granted: our identity.

Being an alien in a foreign country certainly breaks you out of your comfort zones. Indeed, staying in a part of the world where you physically stand out in every way thrusts you into even more unfamiliar grounds. It makes you realize how much you have to be able to demonstrate accurately that you are, indeed, you. A luxury that I might have taken for granted back home.

We have systematically done this all through our lives. We meticulously build our own identity in the society and our private lives. And we take care to put it all in writing and legal documents. We’ve proven our identities in school, in college, at our jobs, at the bank and a million more places including the local bar.

I couldn’t have realized how important this might be until I was told that the format of my Indian name is simply not acceptable in the U.S. I did not carry a surname as part of my name, and this made all legal processes in the U.S. excessively difficult. In the process of getting my passport itself changed now, I had the opportunity to witness how much my own security and rights simply rely on a very delicate balance of maintaining a bunch of papers that would say my name and description just right. From my passport, to my University I-20, to the I-94 I received on arrival at the airport, to the so many other small pieces of paper that really give shape to my own identity.

This is not simply a question of trust, of course. It is also convenience. At a bar, flashing a government ID to proclaim your age definitely makes more sense than any philosophy about realism. And yet, it is impossible to not note that without a “valid” identity, you are hardly you. Secondly, as I mentioned, it is a matter of security. To live inside a system, we need to have certain rules. And this not only makes us all more efficient, it helps identify the outliers in the fringes of our society.

So I am certainly not repining. It’s part of our system, and our society. But I couldn’t escape the thought that in this decade and generation, if I would decide to burn all of my “identity” papers and decide to “explore myself” much like Chris McCandless (“Into the Wild”) in Alaska, I might just get shot; if I am lucky, I might get branded as an outlaw and put to jail.

Sunil is a graduate student in the Lyle School of Engineering. 

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