Half Vulcan, Half Human: My Mixed Identity

Yes, Leonard Nimoy was bilingual.  He spoke Yiddish in addition to English. Learn more about Leonard Nimoy  in these video highlights from the Wexler Oral History Project’s interview with the man made famous by his role as Spock on Star Trek.

I have  never been interested in Star Trek.  Why?  Because SciFi, aliens, space, the final frontier, robots, the federation vs. the Klingons, Romulans, star ships… that’s not my favorite film genre.   However, today, on the day of Leonard Nimoy’s death, I couldn’t get enough of Star Trek.  I learned something about Spock, one of the main characters who was played by Leonard Nimoy.   He has a Ukrainian heritage.  His parents were Ukrainian Jews from the town of Zaslav.   After that connection, my interest grew.  I started digging deeper and found another connection: he was a white male living in Boston, and yet, he felt alienated, sometimes even feeling like an outcast minority.

“Spock is an alien, wherever he is because he is not Vulcan, he is not human.  He is half and half.  He is a half breed.  Vulcan father, human mother.   He is not totally at home in the Vulcan culture, not totally accepted in the Vulcan culture because he is not totally Vulcan.  Certainly, he is not totally accepted in the human culture because he is part Vulcan.  Alienation is something I knew when I was in Boston.  I knew what it meant to be a member of a minority, and in some cases, an outcast minority.  I understood that aspect of the character.  It was helpful to be a minority for playing.”

Why do I feel connected to Spock?  The same Spock who was unknown to me except for his weird-looking eyebrows, is now so interesting to me that I’m blogging about him at midnight on a Friday night? How does one connect so quickly to someone who was a complete stranger just an hour ago?  For once, we share our Ukrainian heritage.  That’s just sweet.   What tugged at my heart more was when he said in this 9-minute long interview about Spock.  Spock is half human, half Vulcan.  He is an alien wherever he goes.  That’s the part that I identify with the most.  Immigrants who have been shaped by their new culture, often find themselves developing – in a sense – a third identity.  It’s a new identity, constructed with both the ethnic identity of the home left behind and a new home found in the new land.   My third identity is neither Ukrainian nor American.   Often, I feel at home in the new land, but not quite.  When returning home, to the birthplace of my parents, – де моя пуповина захована (“where my umbilical cord is buried”) I do not feel like I quite fit in there either.   One would describe that we reside in a third space, third culture, and a third identity.   It’s like being an alien wherever you go.   It may sound uncomfortable, however, it’s not.  I grow WITH my third identity.  In fact, I shape it and enjoy it.  It gives me a brand new dimension with which to enjoy life.  I am much more open to adventure, much more of a risk-taker, I seek out new things and I enjoy change.  It thrills me.

We have many identities.   My identity as a Christ-follower, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a co-worker, a friend, a blogger are all very important to me.  My cultural identity of being half-Ukrainian, half-American has a very special place in my heart.   Which identity has a special place in your heart?


language the final frontier spock black and white

ru dec 2013

Ruslana Westerlund came to the US and lived as an alien until she received her green card in 1998 and was “naturalized” in 2003.  She enjoys constructing her half-alien, half-naturalized identity and learning new languages.  She might surprise herself and even learn Klingon one day.  


2 thoughts on “Half Vulcan, Half Human: My Mixed Identity

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  1. I love this Ruslana!

    My step-father, a Canadian who never truly felt at home living in America, and I bonded over Star Trek and he admired Spock in particular; partly due to Spock’s half-Vulcan, half-human background and also because of how logical and analytical my step-father with a British background was… He would often look as at his American neighbors, and even American step-children, as “highly illogical” and “over-emotional”…

    However, now I connect with both the character of Spock and the actor Leonard Nimoy himself on many levels. As an American English teacher in Korea in what is now my tenth year here I have embraced my 3rd culture identity and I too truly feel never fully comfortable or “at home” in America or Korea– much like Spock in Vulcan & on Earth. Also, as a father of two beautiful, linguistically diverse and amazing half-Korean, half-American children I relate to that aspect of Spock (& Leonard) of being multi-lingual yet never really having a “native” language. I guess in a sense, I connect with Mr. Spock’s father there, married to someone from another culture & language, with children who have a connection & understanding of that “foreign” language and culture in a way that I will never be able to have; tho my children themselves will never truly understand their American-ness & especially my country Western Montana roots. Being educated in international schools in the heart of an Asian megalopolis, how could they truly understand daddy growing up in a rocky mountain hamlet of 850 with about 4 families of non-WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) descent?

    Also, I have a feeling that my children (& I) only truly feel comfortable and “at home” in an international, diverse, & multi-lingual setting such as the foreign school that I teach in. Much the way that Spock really only appeared comfortable and at home on the Enterprise, this self-encapsulated, multi-racial and linguistic ship on an adventure exploring strange new worlds. I expect that as you look a little deeper into Spock, Star Trek, & the USS Enterprise’s mission; you may find even more connections, as I have…

    To quote their mission:
    Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

    To paraphrase this into my (our) mission:
    Language: the final frontier. These are the voyages of a linguist and teacher of English Language Learners. Our continuing mission, to explore “strange” new worlds, to seek out new languages, cultures, and civilizations, to boldly teach what and where no one has gone before.

    RIP Leonard Nimoy– and live on forever on the Final Frontier Mr. Spock.

    And keep up the beautiful blogging Ruslana, my fellow 3rd Identity educator.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post contains so many wonderful sentiments. My languages and travels leave me feeling alien everywhere, because friends and family pull at me from so many directions. My history spans 5 cities in the US and multiple cities overseas. Each place I have dear people. So I never feel settled. “Maybe I should go visit my friends in Boston.” “How are my friends in Ukraine?” “I need to call my friend who got married in Saudi Arabia.”


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