Developing My Identity
People always say that college is where people find themselves and learn how to live independently. Although that wasn’t the case for me because my freshman year consisted of taking virtual classes from home, 2020 was a year when I developed my identity. As I continue my second semester of college, there is one lesson that rings loud and clear: I can’t allow myself to be placed in a single box that defines me.
As I entered adulthood, the way I perceived my identity changed. I grew up with influences from my mom’s Colombian background, while my dad is American, and I was born and raised in the United States. Despite living far from my mom’s family in Colombia, she always made her roots known in our home. My grandparents, who are also from Colombia, would live with us for months in the summer; and eventually, a vacation to Colombia became an almost annual trip. My parents raised me to value my half American and half Colombian identity, but it took me over a decade to recognize that I can equally identify with both.
The way the media represents Latinas makes it seem like we can only be one skin color. Certain people associate the typical Latina appearance with women who look like Sofía Vergara, Salma Hayek and Jennifer Lopez. Although I love these Latina celebrities, people don’t recognize that the Latino community includes people of all colors. We are a group of people with varying amounts of African, European and Indigenous descent, so not all of us look the same. As I grew up, I would sometimes get the phrase, “you don’t look Colombian.” I would never get offended by these comments, but I thought they were ignorant. I speak Spanish and deeply identify with my background, but I still had people telling me I didn’t have the physical features they believed I should have.
I felt that I had to defend these comments so that I could prove my Latin roots. Even if my Latino or American friends weren’t thinking about it, the notion that I wasn’t completely part of the Latino community would creep in my mind and it warped how I perceived myself. People naturally want to place others into groups because it makes the world easier to navigate. We sometimes do it to others or ourselves, and that’s okay to admit.
There is no single lived experience for any person in the Latino community, just like there is no single experience for every college student. I never struggled with saying I am half American and half Colombian, but I did encounter difficulty recognizing how my identity coincided with my experiences as half Latina. There are no popular TV shows or movies that represent a family completely like mine, and there is still not a Latina Disney princess (which I am still in awe about). In the past few years, amazing Netflix shows have premiered that represent the Latino community such as One Day at a Time and Gentefied, but there is still more work to be done representation-wise.
Now, I can acknowledge that I do not need to defend how others may view my background because the only perception that should matter is my own. As a society, we sometimes believe we don’t fit into a group because our experiences or beliefs don’t completely align with what is directly in front of us. As long as it’s not harming others, it’s acceptable to stray away from a “common experience” and uniquely perceive the world. It’s a lesson that can apply in nearly every situation. I’ve learned it by accepting that the approval of others does not define how I perceive myself, and my identity allows me to feel connected to multiple communities.
This blog post was written by Angela Tessitore, Diversity and Inclusion Committee Member.