Reinforcing Identity in a Marginalizing Society

Around the same time I started my spring semester with GOA, a speaker came to my school in NYC to share his writing and experiences as a touring poet. He based his whole presentation about one instance, in which a woman had walked up to him and told him that Carlos Andrés Gómez couldn’t be his real name, because he didn’t look Hispanic. He wrote and performed this poem on the topic:

This rapid assumption of one’s ethnicity and experiences infuriated Carlos, and, sitting in the audience, I found it easy to relate. Both of my parents are Spanish and as such my family, my culture, even my first language is Spanish. Even so, whenever I identify myself as Hispanic someone feels the need to say, “Yeah, but you’re not really Hispanic.” I’m always sick of these assumptions being made, with no effort for empathy ever, so I decided to write about this.

The lyrics of my song (which can be found here) pretty much explain the frustration I just detailed. I decided to keep the music itself rather ambiguous when trying to place it into a genre, as I used a lot of jazz harmony, hip-hop beats, and rock melodies. I thought this would fit well with my thesis, as it protected my music from being quickly judged and categorized by listeners, and instead requires a bit more of purposeful listening. In the same way, I feel that people have to take more active efforts to try to understand a person for who they are, not by simply filing them in the visual and auditory profiling cabinets that we’re accustomed to using. This habit, for most, is at no fault of our own but rather is just something that we come to take part in because of our history of racism and stereotypes. These philosophies have gotten to be so prevalent in our societies that sometimes, the only way to realize they are present is to take a step back and judge whether you are happy, from an egalitarian point of view, with the way things are at the moment. With this, you can achieve a position of understanding from which you can take action to better your own community.

Contemplating identity can seem intimidating and unnecessary for who you are as a person. However, I always encourage it and can do no harm. Some ways to approach it might be:

  • Speaking to someone who knows you well, like a family member or close friend. You can ask them how they personally connect with their identity and relate to this accordingly.
  • Less personally, you could visit the website of an organization that encourages people to voice their identity. This might give you a preview of how great it is to do so, and encourage you to do it. A couple of examples of these are Amplify Your Voice (here) and Powerful Voices Project (here).
  • Lastly, the quiz below might help you better understand what you can do about this issue in your current position. Please answer honestly, there is no judgement in answers and the survey will be completely anonymous.

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