Introducing : The Identity Project

This Saturday, I will have had my box braids in for two weeks. A lot of people might think, “Ok, what’s the big deal” well to that I say it is a big deal for me, and I acknowledge the fact that it isn’t for others. That’s because this WHOLE THING has been an experiment. Let me explain.

Of the multiple topics that I’ve had to deconstruct and analyze and write about this semester, two of the biggest ones for me are the concepts of Racial Identity and Standards of Beauty.

Being the product a beautiful interracial relationship and marriage, my heritage and therefore my title has always been mixed. And so that is why I have always identified as mixed. However, I’ve always internally struggled to understand why people would say I didn’t count as a full Black person, a full Colombian person, or full Native american, and why growing up I agreed and just went along with it, allowing myself to be cut up into metaphorical thirds.

I begin by taking most of the blame. Up until this point in my life I have skimmed the top of each culture, proudly claiming them even when I wasn’t and in some cases still am not well versed in the history and beautiful components of each individual culture. All I have to show for it is my skin color, the languages I speak, and strangely but not so strangely enough, my hair.

Now I want to make it clear that I am in NO WAY denouncing the title of being multi-racial.

I am however expressing that I’ve started to realize how important it is to be in touch with where I come from, where my family comes from, as much as I possibly can. I am also trying to express the damage that have been dealt to my identity by skimming over my cultures, allowing people to say I don’t count, and for never vocalizing how I felt about it most of the time.

I did not come to this conclusion on my own. It has been a part of me for a while, but it wasn’t until college that I’ve begun to actually deal with those thoughts and take the time to try and understand them. You see, growing up my parents were wonderful in the fact that they NEVER made me pick a side. They taught me to be proud of who I am and where I came from. Which resulted in just that. However, the danger in not picking a side (not saying that I should, or that I want to) is that the individual identities of each part of my heritage get squeezed and chipped at to fit the multi-cultural mold (of society nevertheless), and some important self-perception affecting knowledge is lost in translation. So I never felt the need to pick a side, until I came to college.

I have had an overall wonderful time at UNC Asheville, when everyone said college would be some of the best years of your life, they were so right. And when they said you’d learn a lot about yourself, they were right then too. The first time I’ve ever felt forced to pick aside was here. In college. I found myself pushed in that direction by the fact that my school is a PWI (Primarily White Institution). For clarity purposes, I didn’t feel forced to pick aside by individuals…but rather by the resulting culture of the PWI status. Being from a big city, I didn’t understand the culture shock I felt freshman year right until the end. And now, 10 days away from being a Senior at UNC Asheville…It is still becoming clearer and clearer to me. The thing is, when there are 432 underrepresented students out 3,636 total students, in other words 12.0% underrepresented, and even small numbers when you break that down (based on 2013 Fall enrollment data) if you did not feel your race or heritage before, you definitely feel it and become aware of it here. Is it a bad thing? Not necessarily in my opinion, being aware of yourself is important. But being hyper-aware day in and day  out? It’s exhausting. Feeling alienated at the fact that you know there is a essentially a 98% (totally made up number but it feels that way) chance that you might be the only person of color in the majority of your classes that semester? It’s a strange strange feeling. It’s discomforting…And it has forced me to think about my racial identity and the color of my skin more than I ever did before college.

So I have been thinking about all of this. A lot.  And, one thing that hasn’t changed is that I’m still very proud to come from a multi-racial background and I will always be grateful that my parents taught me that love doesn’t see color… at least it’s not supposed to (but that’s another blog post I’ll save for later). I wanted to do something out of the norm (In my mind) so that I could tackle some of these hard questions.

In trying to think of a way to do this, the only thing that I could think of was something to do with my hair. I refuse to cut it off, but I recognize its adaptability. One thing that i’ve always thought was cool and beautiful? Braids. I’d gotten braids maybe once before in the 5th grade for like a week a weird tight corn-row type of braid with no extensions or anything. So in my mind that didn’t count really. 5th grade was a time where I wasn’t worrying about much of anything honestly.

And so there was my decision. Braids. And thus this experiment began to unfold. My identity experiment. Geared towards vocalizing my thoughts about coming to terms with the parts of my racial identity that I’m figuring out, or rather, how I feel about my racial identity …that I’m figuring out (if that makes sense? I’m rambling now, I know).

I am going to walk you through the process, and be open and as vulnerable as I can stand to be through each step of the way, as well as through the thoughts that went, and are going through my head now.

I’m still going through this process, so bear with me!

More to come soon!

Thanks for reading!

Love & Respect,

 

Stephanie Watkins-Cruz

 

 

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