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“How did I come to be who I am? And who am I becoming?”

stonewall's picture

“How did I come to be who I am? And who am I becoming?”


Identity is a funny thing. I feel like every day I am finding out new things about myself but at the same time I feel like I will never really know who I am. As Yukari Takimoto Amos put it “I have experienced culture shock and marginality in the United States and in this sense have been discovering and recovering myself every day since my arrival”. Although unlike Amos’ reference to arriving in the United States and her transition from being a part of the majority in Japan to becoming a minority in the United States, I grew up in the United States and have always been a part of the minority. However, I can still relate to this concept of constantly discovering and recovering of myself. Growing up I found that there were very few spaces in which I felt the privilege of fitting into a certain group especially with regards to race, sexual orientation, and class. I am not saying that I have not experienced some privileges due to certain aspects of my identity; however, I believe that I will never be able to fully identify with the way our society categorizes individuals and groups of people. Until very recently I found it hard to identify with any one group, mostly because of my racial ambiguity. This is the result of our system of categorizing being limited and limiting.

My father is White and my mother is Dominican. This is a part of my identity that I am constantly trying to figure out. What does it mean to be mixed race? And how does not having a solid grasp on which group to identify with influence me? My situation often made me identify as ‘other’, which is frustrating because what does that even mean? The term other for me implies color blindness and is a form of erasure of my racial and cultural identity. For a long time me and my siblings were the only mixed race people in our family. I don’t remember when I realized that I was different from my cousins, but at some point, very early in my life, I realized that I wasn’t white and had constant reminders from my family members that I wasn’t Dominican either. I wish that I could pinpoint when I became conscious of my marginality but I can’t. In Moyenda’s “How I Got My ‘Black Attitude’ Problem”, she also discusses the inability of her and her friends to remember when they first experienced racism. “As a child I either attributed the mistreatment to the “meanness” of the teachers or thought I deserved the treatment I received. I did not consider that there might be a connection between the events and my color” (Moyenda 18).

To further complicate my confusion, the public school I was not very diverse. There were mostly White children and a few Black and Puerto Rican children. Many people assumed that I was Puerto Rican. I feel like these wrong assumptions were due to a lack of knowledge.

Throughout my life I have faced microaggressions from both white and Hispanic people. However it wasn’t until I came to college that I learned what microaggressions were. According to Derald Sue in “Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life” racial microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, de-rogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color”. These acts of microaggression included questions like “What are you?” or statements like “but you don’t speak Spanish”. One struggle that I always faced that never really allowed me to connect to my Dominican roots was not speaking Spanish fluently. I grew up hearing Spanish being spoken and understand it completely but was never able to speak it. There were also so many microaggressions that I faced that I wasn’t even aware of like environmental/macro-level microagressions. According to Sue these types of microagressions include being on college campuses with buildings named after all white people or being exposed to media that mainly features white people.

During my freshman year at Bryn Mawr I joined the bi-co rugby team. At one point second semester my teammate Fern asked me if I was Dominican. I told her yes that I was half Dominican. She got really excited and said that she was too. Then she introduced me to another girl on the team Ram who was also Dominican. Ram was the first Dominican that I had met who embraced her blackness. I remember almost all of the Dominicans I met growing up idealized whiteness. I remember when my mother would go to the Dominican hair salons and bring me a long as a child. I hated going to the hair salons with my mother mostly because we would be there for hours and I would be bored out of my mind but also because every time we would go the women there would touch my hair and say things like “You have such nice hair you’re so lucky not to have Dominican hair”. Even as a child this made me feel uncomfortable even though I didn’t know what microaggressions were. These women were just a few of the Mrs.Brocklehursts I have encountered in my life. In Sekani Moyenda’s “How I Got My ‘Black Attitude’ Problem”, she shares an experience she had when she was asked if she was mixed race because of her beautiful eyes. As Moyenda further explains the woman was implying that if she had pretty eyes she couldn’t be all black.

 Another aspect of my identity that I feel shapes who I am is my sexual orientation. During my Sophomore year of college, after I broke up with my girlfriend, I found a space where I felt like I fit in. There is a group on campus called Zami. Zami is a club for LGBTQ+ students of color where students discuss the issues the face on and off campus due to their identity. I found that through the intersectionality of my identity I was able to find a more comfortable space where I could figure out my racial identity by also working on my identity with regards to my sexual orientation. During these meetings no one questioned my racial identity because I was a student of color.

Class has also played a large role in who I have become. A few days ago, I called my mother to wish her a happy birthday. During this call my mother excitedly told me that she bought a brand new car for her birthday. This made me feel so nervous. Growing up my parents didn’t make a lot of money and I knew this. My father was a photographer and my mother worked at an assisted living home. Neither of them went to college. Recently the portrait studio that my father worked for went out of business and my mother has been the only one with a steady income. In the last year though, my mother has been working more hours to make up for this and taking classes at the community college and just became certified to be a nursing assistant. I was nervous because I didn’t think my parents could afford this. Since I got my first job in high school I haven’t asked my parents for money. After my mom told me about the new car she gave me a little speech about the American dream and how she came here from the Dominican Republic when she was 14 and didn’t speak any English but worked really hard to get everything that she has. Coming to college I feel like class identity is something that is more ambiguous. It’s not something that people talk about like they do with topics like race or sexual orientation.

These parts of my identity all affected my learning style and sense of place in the classroom. I went to a small public school from elementary through high school and my graduating class was about 60 people. While this school had a lot of problems I did have the privilege of getting a lot of individual attention from my teachers and being able to know all my classmates. However being such a small public school funding was limited and resulted in a lot of programs being cut. Coming from my public high school to Bryn Mawr was kind of a shock. It wasn’t that I felt unprepared but it was just a very different type of learning than I was used to. Like many public schools, my high school tended to focus on covering materials for standardized tests rather than discussions. I still feel really challenged when I come into classes that focus on discussions and have trouble sharing my thoughts. It’s something that I constantly have to think about and work on and I’m not really sure if it will ever come easily for me.


Works Cited

Amos, Yukari T. "Navigating Marginality Searching for My Own Truth." Becoming Multicultural Educators: Personal Journey toward Professional Agency. By Geneva  Gay. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003. 293-314. Print.

Moyenda, Sekani. "How I Got My "Black Attitude" Problem." Taking It Personally. 17-33. Print.

Sue, Derald W. "Racial Microaggression in Everyday Life." American Psychologist 62.4 (2007):   271-86.





stonewall's picture

Cultural Autobiography Visual

jccohen's picture



You begin by connecting with Amos’ idea about ‘constantly discovering and recovering of myself,’ and your essay is then organized somewhat around how this has played out for you in terms of race, sexual orientation, and class.  You also talk about experiencing a sense of ‘marginalization’ that you attribute mostly to ‘racial ambiguity… the result of our system of categorizing being limited and limiting.’   (As an aside, I’m curious about why the term ‘other’ implies ‘color blindness’--?)  And I found your essay strongest and most compelling on the complexity of microaggressions, which can play out in the range of ways you describe and also (and here you go beyond Sue, in a sense) play into the complexity of individual identities such as, in your case, understanding but not speaking Spanish. 


Your discussion of Zami highlights intersectionality, since this is a space where multiple facets of your identity come together.  I’m interested to hear more about what having access to this space has offered you in terms of learning/growth, and also what this might suggest more broadly about how to create more workable, powerful educational spaces.   You say, ‘class identity is something that is more ambiguous. It’s not something that people talk about like they do with topics like race or sexual orientation’ – why do you think this is?  And again, what kind of educational spaces might provide some opportunity to bring this dimension of identity to light; how could class become a more prominent part of who we are publicly and how we learn in public as well as private spaces?


This piece is a thoughtful reflection on ‘how you came to be who you are and who you’re becoming,’ and you use a few of the theorists/educators to good effect to explain and support your reading of your own cultural identity.  A next step here would be to go further in terms of a conceptual framework:  What does this look into your identity suggest about our processes of coming into our identities culturally, and in turn, what might this tell us about how to do multicultural education?  Boler and Ellsworth, for example, might help here, given your story…


Language plays a complicated role in your piece – and you’re not the only one who wrote about this; see, for example, pieces by frigginsushi and salopez.