What Do Gang Members, Sorority Girls & My Toddler Have In Common?

Head out on the 4th of July, and you are likely to see folks in every shade of red, white and blue. Chances are you'll also see flags on t-shirts, shorts and spandex body building onsies (true story). My kid likes hers via ice cream cone.

Now, in general, our family doesn't tend to be the type that wears a lot of Americana paraphernalia. Maybe that will change when Billy becomes a citizen.... who knows?

But I remembered an article I used to teach in Sociology 101 entitled "Prison Gang Members' Tattoos as Identity Work: The Visual Communication of Moral Careers." I think you can see where this is going...

No? Well, basically the author is sharing how gang members used physical symbols (tattoos, in this case) to help visually construct and solidify their identity creation. The meaning attached to various tattoos identified someone's status and rank or career markers, such as how many people they had killed.

Wait, how does this relate to patriotic ice cream cones? I think the sorority girls will shed some light.

When we analyzed this article in my class, we discussed what physical markers students use to help materially "create" their identities. We usually touched on bumper stickers, athletic wear and the like, but at a big, state university, it always came back to Greek life.

Students would share about the symbolic letters monogrammed onto bags or sweatshirts and the other ways they dressed or labeled themselves to construct an image of a sorority girl. Many stated that they wanted others outside the group to recognize their involvement, as well as other "sisters" to know they belonged.

Identity Work.

As we hope to help our daughter construct a multicultural identity from a very young age, we also use material markers. And one of those is clothes (because hey... tattooing a toddler is frowned upon...).

We stocked up on progressively sized Messi jerseys when we were living in Argentina, and she has been wearing them since infancy. She lovingly refers to it either as "my soccer" or "my 'Tina." (It's better than a Bimbo jersey!)

(If you're wondering why she looks like she's been crying, it's because moments before this photo she learned the hard truth that a pair of shoes actually has assigned feet. You can't just put them on willy nilly and expect it all to work out. Being a kid is tough...)

She also wears her clothes from Guatemala.

Clothes are one way that we are affirming her multicultural identity and representing the different aspects of her heritage in outward, visual ways. For that reason, I say bring on stars and stripes and ice cream cones because my baby is American, too!

Of course, if she feels culturally indecisive, she can always just decide to not choose and hang out in the ocean. (Warning: Totally unnecessary, but shamelessly cute photo coming. I figured... I already put three, what's one more??)

Now that was totally worth the extra second of reading, right?

What material symbols do you use to construct your identity? Do you think clothes help create a multicultural identity? Do you wear patriotic clothes? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!

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