Hello Everyone! After 9 months of planning, I am officially launching my blog!! As we start this journey together, I think it is important to introduce myself to you and to set the stage for my viewpoint/experience with the world. As I tell you about myself, I challenge you to start thinking about your own identity as there will be some questions for self reflection at the end.
My story begins right here in St. Louis, MO. I am born and raised here, with one year away for college and 10 weeks away for a fellowship. If were to see me in person, the first snapshot you would see would be a shortish women, average size with brown skin with yellow undertones, brown eyes, and black hair. What you wouldn't necessarily know is that I am Mexican American, an enrolled member of the Creek Nation, and White by heritage. My father is Mexican American, with his grandparents immigrating from Mexico, and my mother is half Native American and half white, her father being Native American and her mother white. In fact, in the 1870s, one of my great grandfathers was the Chief of the Creek Nation and appointed a delegate to Washington DC. His name is Ward Coachman. I encourage you to look him up!
Now that my claim to fame is done.....it is important to share my heritage because it has been a source of tension since childhood when trying to figure out my identity. As described above, I had a very Mexican looking father, a paler mother, an older sister that came out paler and I came out browner. In addition, my father's family had retained some Mexican values that I was trying to reconcile with my American values, all while trying to grow up in a world where few people looked like me.
As a child growing up in St. Louis City in the late 80s and 90s, there were hardly any children that had brown skin like me. I was often the only one. As such, my classmates would always try to figure out my ethnicity. A typical conversation would go "Are you chinese?" I would answer, "No." Then, "Are you Japanese". I would reply, "No.". With growing frustration, "Are you Filipino?" With a blank stare, I would reply, "No." Then I would inevitably get, with the person half screaming, "Then, what are you?!" I would then reply, "Mexican." (We will address the other parts of my heritage in the future.)
While I got this line of questioning routinely from my classmates, this sense of being alien was reinforced systematically at the administration level. At that time, the teachers used class lists with our names and races to take attendance. Under race, we were labeled "B" for Black, "W" for White, or "O" for Other. One year in summer school, with the line of questioning from my classmates firmly in my head, I kept scratching out the "O" and putting "H" for Hispanic.......because I was not Oriental! Oh, what our 9 year old brains do to us. However, this shows my tenacity and desire to fight the system at such a young age.
You may be wondering why I am saying all of this. It is to highlight the fact that throughout my life, myself and people like me are still considered "The Other". For me, it consistently started way back in elementary school (really starting when I was a baby when people asked my mother if she was my babysitter) and still continues to this day when people ask me where I am from or refusing to speak to me because they assume I speak Spanish only. This indicates that, for those that fall outside of the Black/White binary within this country, there is an automatic assumption that you cannot truly be from here, or have roots long established in this country. But I am here; I am complex; I am beautiful. And I am ready to create a world that celebrates everyone, no matter who you are, where you are from, or what box you fit within.
As we move forward and create a more equitable, just, and welcoming country that values everyone within it, we must expand our mindsets and challenge our assumptions of others. We must look beyond the surface and get to know each other as individuals and fight for everyone to be treated the same, with equitable opportunities. All of us must work to understand each other's cultures, values, motivations, experiences in this country, and vision for the future. What are the similarities and what are the differences? Where are the commonalities and where are the understandings? Only then will be build the bridges needed succeed in the future.
So with that said, this would not be Reflecting Change without challenging you to do some reflecting on your own. Take some time to reflect on your own identity and some assumptions you have made about others you have encountered in your lifetime. Then work to overcome them moving forward.
- What would you identify your identity and heritage as?
- What values that are unique to you and your experience would you want to share with someone if they asked? Take the time to list them out.
- When was the first time you were made aware of your identity in relation to others? Describe it in detail and how it made you feel.
- Describe the first time you encountered someone that looked different than you. What assumptions did you make about that person? Why do you think you made those assumptions? Describe the interaction in detail. Would you interact with that person the same knowing what you know today? If so, why? Would you interact with them differently? If so, why?
- What assumptions do you continue to consciously, or unconsciously, make about others who do not look like you? List them out on a piece of paper.
- In what ways do you act upon your assumptions about others in your every day life? How can you consciously combat this in your personal and professional life?