Archive for the ‘ identity ’ Category

“Who are YOU?”

said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

In a training I had recently for work, we spent some time on a section called “Dealing with Diversity” (a classic title that always has me shaking my head) and we were told to write down at least five cultural dimensions that reflect who we are. Just for fun, I encourage you to also do this before reading further.

Here’s what I wrote:

  • Faith
  • Multiethnic
  • Low income
  • Single/independent
  • Female
  • A liberal
  • College graduate
  • Native English speaker
  • Non-profit employee
  • World traveler

…there are of course, many other dimensions to me, as to all of us.

Then we were asked to share how we are stereotyped by some of our cultural associations. Take a moment and think about some ways you might also be stereotyped by what you put down on your list and how some of those stereotypes may  not be accurate to you.

This exercise I think helped many of us understand that you can’t just judge a book by its cover. I believe that stereotypes work only as a framework to suggest possibilities when interacting with individuals or communities, but not to be used as assumptions or labels. It’s a pretty important thing for me to remember as I work in an Asian counseling center with a vast range of diversity among primarily the Asian Pacific Islander population in Seattle. Lots of dynamics there.

I won’t mention them all, but here are some assumptions often made about a couple of my cultural aspects: 1) my Christian theology and my liberalism are mutually exclusive. Most Christians I have interacted with assume I have more conservative values and most liberals I interact with assume I am not a Christian based on my liberal opinions. 2) Because I am a native English speaker and fluent in the dominant North American culture, people assume this is who I am. In fact, I don’t always feel like I can associate myself with the dominant American culture; such is true otherwise: I do not always feel like I can relate to the Latin culture and ethnic groups.

Based on the two observations above, I don’t feel that there is one predominate culture group I associate myself with. I’m so evenly divided in many cultural aspects and I’m afraid I have slipped between the socio-politico cracks. I find myself in the gray area, the no-man’s land of culture because I am unique.

But aren’t we all? The purpose of the cultural exercise is, of course, to show how none of us fit exactly into a cookie cutter. At least, those of us who live in a non-homogenous culture. The best that we can offer when interacting with others is the respect that we may all feel differently, view things differently, make decisions differently, and believe differently. Like Alice, we probably change several times a day that who’s to be sure of who we are?

Finding Identity

I’m finding that as a substitute teacher, I am growing more interest in race issues.  I sub often at a local high school, where the campus is rich in diversity, but poor in social skills. Part of that has to do that they’re high-school students who have the usual adolescent self-centeredness that makes it difficult to be more sympathetic toward others. However, as the fall semester winds down, I’m beginning to have a pretty nice collection of observations, but I’m not sure how to categorize them yet. For example, today, as I was taking attendance, I called out the name “Miguel”. After a few times of calling his name with no response, I decided he was absent. Just as I was about to move on, a Hispanic ninth grader retorts, “it’s Miguel, not ‘Meeguel’.” Not to mention Miguel never accounted himself for attendance, I couldn’t understand this girl (rudely) correcting me on my “mispronunciation” of a Spanish name. Now what is this—assimilation? Ignorance? Or just stupid rude behavior?

I covered for an English 1 class today, who were reading through Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez, a Mexican emigrant. The book was translated in English, but was peppered with Spanish words and names. Oddly, many students who read with Hispanic accents didn’t know how to read the Spanish words when they came across them, or could even understand the words. A lot of times they would read the word in an American accent, which completely confused me. One usually assumes that if another person has an accent, it is a result of having learned that language when they were older, and therefore still keep the first language. Yet these incidents defied that theory and I realized that these particular Latinos (whether full or part) actually only speak one language: English, and they have picked up the phonetics of their peers, who are apparently English language learners.


These English speaking Latino students are associating themselves with the Hispanic crowd, putting on the “minority” label, if you will. This is a typical habit of people of multiracial/multicultural backgrounds. What they are doing is called hypodescent, associating themselves with their “subordinate” race. The opposite, hyperdescent, is when one chooses to identify themselves with the more “superior” race.

Multiracial people living in a multiracial society are forced to find an identity. My Puerto Rican relatives in Puerto Rico know without a doubt they are Latinos, or specifically Boriqueños, but I (half white, half Hispanic) need to find out which racial group I associate myself with, if any. (See Race: None Selected.) An expression of that may be in the way I dress or the way I speak.

Of course we don’t have to even identify ourselves with our racial heritage, but so many of us do. Unfortunately for high school students, they feel the need to quickly find a racial group to identify with, building pride and allegiance in that, and the end result becomes favoritism, snobbishness, racism, and arrogance, and quite a bit of other things. Still, a lot of it is sheer ignorance as this is a typical conversation between  my high school students and me: “Are you Hispanic?” “Yes.” “Oh, so you’re not white, then?” “No, I’m white, too.” “But then you’re not Hispanic.” “No, I am half white and half Hispanic. Get it?” “No, not really. So you’re Mexican?”