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Hetain Patel’s Identity Formation Speech Examines Imitation

By: Vasiliki Marapas - Published: • References: ted and
Hetain Patel’s identity formation speech begins rather unconventionally as Patel speaks in Chinese Mandarin, while his words are translated by performance artist Yuyu Rau. Throughout the speech, the audience learns that Patel doesn’t even speak Mandarin; he learned and memorized a translated version of his original piece specifically for this performance.

Patel uses a language other than his native or preferred tongue to convey the process of imitation. Together, Patel and Rau ruminate and imitate the different imitations that Patel cycled through as a child, from Spiderman and Bruce Lee to his own father.

Patel eventually arrives at the conclusion that we “learn who we are by copying others.” He asserts that imitation has a special function for exposition and revelation. Patel profoundly notes that each failure at imitation causes him to become more himself. Imitation, then, is not the antithesis of authenticity; but a necessary step in achieving it.