Behind the Cortina
September 21, 2020
Growing up I always seemed to struggle with my identity. My family and I immigrated to the United States when I was very young. I spoke nothing but Spanish in my household and I couldn’t help but feel isolated and alone. Going to school I soon realized that my words no longer had meaning and I was a stranger in a place that was supposed to be my home. I remember feeling so much anxiety and shame when struggling to utter words to my teachers and friends.
I would go to my parents hoping to seek comfort but was only told that things would get better. I figured they were right; after all, this strange new place was now my home. I slowly began to adapt to my surroundings, my English improved and I began to make friends at school. Even though I knew I was different than a lot of the people around me, I never gave it much thought. At the time I still viewed the world through the lens of a child and the idea of racism was still very foreign. I couldn’t imagine someone treating me differently simply for the way I looked or where I was from. However, this slowly began to change as time went on. I began to see how different I was compared to others around me. I saw doctors, lawyers and businessmen; yet none of them seemed to look like me.
I began to question if the color of my skin was somehow a factor to my success, if the mere difference in skin tone somehow made me less likely to succeed than my peers. This was later confirmed in my mind when I told my family members that I wanted to be a doctor only to be met with patronizing disbelief. Although I knew I was capable, I couldn’t help but question if they were right. Every time I thought about who I was and what it meant to be Mexican, all that came to mind was the stereotypes of “uneducated,” “poor,” and “unintelligent.” Even though I would try my best to succeed in school I was never able to truly escape my thoughts.
Although I had felt this for a long time, it became extremely evident the summer after my sophomore year when I attended an internship at the University of San Diego. I was incredibly excited to go and felt like it would be great to meet people with similar interests. Soon after arriving I couldn’t help but notice the differences in those around me. Despite being in a group of around 200 people, I realized that I was one out of two Hispanics in the entire program. Even though I met great people and felt at home, I couldn’t help but feel different; I felt inadequate due to the color of my skin.
Even so this perception of myself slowly began to change. I grew tired of simply accepting the notion that my race had anything to do with who I was as an individual. The present assumptions and stereotypes I viewed myself with hadn’t changed but my perception of how big of an effect they had on me began to. I felt the need to work on achieving my goals, not only academically but in the way I viewed myself. I knew that it was pointless of me to simply conform to the assumptions I had created for myself and instead I hoped for change.
Although identity continues to be and will most likely be something I struggle with, I have learned to embrace it rather than shy away from it. I have accepted the fact that my race and upbringing are a pivotal part to my character and should serve to empower me rather than force me to fall into a preset mold based on stereotypes and statistics.