Student walking on the Pace University, Pleasantville campus

Telling Our Stories

Telling Our Stories: Reflections on Race, Culture and Identity in written words...

Telling Our Stories: Reflections on Race, Culture and Identity are testimonies that document personal experiences with race, culture and identity -and how they have shaped the individual in written words.

The voices represent students from Pace University and the City University of New York (CUNY), as well as their family members and friends. They are young and aging; citizens and undocumented workers; heterosexual and queer. Some of their accounts are uplifting, while others are tragic and speak to the failures of immigration laws, the educational system and public policies that are designed to protect the underserved and marginalized. Altogether, they form a kaleidoscope of experiences that at times mesh seamlessly and other times collide with our sensibilities. Nevertheless, they remain our stories.

The Written Word

  • Brown hair, brown eyes, tanned skin, a small waist and thick legs. A quick visual, stereotypical description of a Hispanic girl that in reality has dreams she will probably never achieve. An innocent girl that has always been proud of who she is and constantly tried to over come obstacles in life that continued to appear to set her back. This young girl was seen only as a racial object, but that is not what she actually is. She is a smart, hardworking dedicated and loyal girl, which despite society’s depiction of her, continues to strive for success. Who is this girl? This girl is me.

    My name is La Nena. I am the youngest of my mother’s three children and my father’s only daughter. My mother is Puerto Rican and my father was born in the Dominican Republic. His parents were from Spain and her parents were from Puerto Rico. I was conceived without notice. My mother was five months pregnant and did not know. My parents lived in a studio in the South Bronx on Bronx River Avenue in a building under my grandmother’s house; in an area with a Hispanic majority. Everyone knew each other and said they were family. My mother had two children, Peter and Krystle by the time she was eighteen. My father had three sons in the Dominican Republic that were teenagers by the time I came into the world. I was the child that was so tiny, no one would hold; that was in an incubator for almost a year because her nostrils were not fully developed; the child that would forever be known as the odd ball out. The hardest times in my life were when my race, innocence, and absence of a father became a huge factor.

    As a child, I was always the outcast. My father was framed for something that he did not do when I was almost two years old and was arrested. My mother was left unemployed, with her two children and my father’s three sons whom she had brought to America, in a small studio. At the time he was framed, my father had not completed his citizenship and was deported even after the charges against him were dropped. This left me growing up without knowing what a father figure was. My mother had no choice but to become a statistic and obtain public assistance for her three children, commonly known as welfare.

    Due to my mother being so young and also unemployed, she was forced to send my father’s sons to his only legal brother that lived in the Barrio on 116th, street (a place formerly comprised of Hispanic people and recently gentrified) because she knew that she could not support six children without a job. My mother moved in with a boyfriend of hers on Union Avenue. This was mainly a “Black” neighborhood and they hated my brothers and I. They would call us “wetbacks” and “spicks” when my mother was not around. My older brother and sister became the most feared kids after they began defending the “Latin” name. Since I was not from the same father as my brother and sister on my mother’s side, they beat and attempted to kill me on numerous occasions. My mother always tried to protect me but she decided to send me to live with my grandmother (abuela) back on Bronx River Avenue.

    Living with my grandmother was a huge turning point for me. My grandmother was a strict Catholic and also an alcoholic. Drugs, alcohol and gangs were more popular in the 90s. My grandmother always had me in the house doing homework and helping her to clean up the house. She would only allow me to watch television in Spanish and listen to only Spanish music. She said that Spanish girls are the most beautiful women in the world and that I had to flaunt my beauty. She would also tell me that everything was a sin. Until this day, I feel that all cops are sinners because my grandmother told me that it was a sin to touch a gun. She was the epitome of a house wife. She woke up at six in the morning to clean the house and iron her husband’s clothes and told me that it was the way a wife was supposed to be. She said I had to be like a model and would not allow me to do “boy” things like play with cowboys, so that I can find a good “Spanish” man to take care of me.

    My grandmother was not mentally stable at the time. She would constantly fight with her husband and I would have to watch her be abused. I can remember sitting on the couch and crying for hours until the point where I was so tired I could only breathe in and out to try and catch my breath. He would occasionally stop hitting her and tell me “Es su culpa por fartar me respect,” in Spanish meaning that everything was okay, and it was her fault that he hit her she disrespected him. I would always agree in fear that I might get hit. At the time I thought that it was okay to be beaten by your husband if you did not respect him. It was traditional.

    My grandmother was very suicidal and attempted to commit suicide on various accounts. She lived in a three story building and I remember her taking prescription bills and the ambulance taking her away. The neighbors would always take me in because child services would have took me. The worst suicidal attempt she did was one morning when I woke up looking for her and saw her smoking a “Virginia Slims” cigarette on the fire escape. I went to go hug her and she jumped out of the fire escape. I remember hearing the thump on the first floor fire escape. I yelled out the window and the neighbors all ran up and consoled me. My grandmother survived but I was sent to live with my mother again at age eight.

    Assuming that living with my mother was a better idea was not right at all. When I went to live with my mother I became like her “pride and joy” child. She called my brother and sister “monstros” (monsters) because they always misbehaved. My brother and sister hated the fact that I was spoiled and would neglect me and call me names. They would tell me that I did not have a father and I was adopted or that my father was a drug dealer and I was a “crack baby.” I did not know any better and would always cry. I remember thinking that my father’s oldest son, Richard, was my father because the pictures of my father had a strong resemblance to him. My mother had to remind me that he was not my father all of the time.

    Since I was not allowed out of the house I was always focused on school. I was never accustomed to being a sociable person. I was very quiet and only spoke when spoken to as my mother always told me. The only people that I felt loved me were my mother and Richard who came to pick me up from time to time. I can remember my siblings from my mother’s side telling me, “Nena you are too innocent, you cannot be our sister. Mommy is mean and she is lying to you. You will see.” I never understood what they meant until after I turned ten years old.

    It was a Friday night and I was at the back of Juan’s Bodega on Bronx River Avenue in the Bronx, where my mother and new step dad hung out and drank every weekend. Since no one would baby sit me, she had to drag me along while she had her “fun.” I hated being in a store with old, beer smelling men, loud music, intoxicated Hispanic women dancing around and yelling at people who were right in front of them. I would always complain. That night, my stepfather told my mother that he would take me home since I was tired and falling asleep on a milk cart in the back of the store. When we got home, I went to the living room because since my brother and sister did not like me, they would not allow me to sleep in their rooms. My mother’s room had a pad lock and he said that he did not have the key. My stepfather stayed and watched television with me. I remember waking up and hearing noises, and when I turned around he was pleasuring himself in my name. I was so scared, I remember him telling me, “Don’t tell your mom, I’ll buy you a scooter.” I caught an immediate asthma attack. He took advantage of me that night and I did not tell my mother until that Sunday after church because I was so innocent and afraid thinking that I had committed a sin.

    Tears, a pounding heart and a quivering ten year old body are all I can remember feeling on that night. I was afraid to tell my mother because the word “Dick” was a curse and it was a sin to curse. I kept crying and she insisted on knowing what was wrong. I told her, “I cannot tell you because I cannot curse, it is about Cano.” Cano was my stepfather’s name. She jumped up and said, “What is the curse I will allow it.” Once I said it, her eyes watered and I told my mother the story about six times. She was supposed to be my angel and protect me. I did not have anyone else. She walked me to school the next day and had me repeat what happened that Friday over and over. When I came home, I found it odd that she picked me up because I stayed late in an after school program and would always walk home alone. She told me that he was home and was never going to do it again. I had no choice but to believe her. I went home and sat in the living room floor to watch cartoons and do my homework. He came in and started to undress again and I ran to my mother who yelled for me to get away and sit in the living room. Me, being so young and innocent, I obeyed.

    Not knowing what it was to have a father figure to defend me, or what was right and wrong, kept me from speaking out. I remember that same night she was arguing with him and begging him to leave her “pride and joy” alone. He told her it was his “dick” and that if she wanted her hundred dollars a week and rent paid that she would shut up because he would leave her and she accepted. I was basically sold for a measly hundred dollars. This is what it all came down to; a mother of three, who could not finish college, using her youngest daughter for the man that she claimed she “loved.” The anger that I felt that day, I had never felt before in my life and I vowed to never become like my mother; a beautiful, healthy, educated Hispanic woman who depended on public assistance and a man to live.

    As I got older, I never spoke about what happened inside of the house and accepted the mistreatment from my brother and sister. I stayed later in school and joined sports teams. I became the star student. I was nearly mute towards my family, my sister Krystle experienced something similar with my stepdad but not as intense as me and spoke out. My mother did not believe her either. That was when I spoke and my brother Peter was in shock. They hated her even more and vowed to protect me. I remember being thirteen and leaving to stay at my brother Richard’s house because I knew that my mother would never leave my stepfather. The irony is that he left her once I left.

    My brother, a Dominican immigrant, always gave me good advice and told me to keep moving forward. I never had the guts to tell him what happened but sometimes I wish I did. He took the place of my father on so many occasions. I could not have pictured my life without him. I once was awarded for being an outstanding Dominican student by the Dominican Counsel in America and needed my father to prove my heritage. Of course, that was impossible and my brother took his place, but I remember how happy he was of his little sister. He always said that I was going to be someone in life and to continue up the ladder of success.

    I do not speak about my father in detail because there is not much to say about him. He was not a bad guy he just made bad decisions. I met him three times in the twenty one years on this Earth. He is wealthy in the Dominican Republic and had another son that is two years old now. I love my father because he is my father. I wish that I had more time with him so that he could show me how a man is supposed to treat a woman. I know that it was wrong for my grandmother to be abused and my mother to be so vulnerable. It was hard trying to be a teenager and have a boyfriend, afraid of doing things as simple as holding hands. My father knew that he missed out on my life and regrets it more than anything. He could not do anything in the United States since he was not a citizen and no one really cared about his rights or that he had four children in the United States to provide for. The government treated him like garbage and threw him away. He was sent back to the Dominican Republic.

    History tends to repeat itself. I never asked my brother what his occupation was. I just knew that when I was with Richard I was happy and did not have to worry about anything. One night, when I was fifteen, he dropped me off at my mother’s house and said, “I have to go to Florida, I will be back tomorrow.” I wanted to go with him but I was still in school and he would not allow it. When a week went by without hearing from him I began to go insane. I cried and wondered where he was. I received a call from my father one day that said he had been arrested. He had made some bad decisions like my father and was being deported. I felt like my life had been taken from me. It was the first time I destroyed anything. I broke the mirrors and plates and asked God why he was putting me through this “Hell.” It was like there was no way out.

    As I got older, I stayed out a lot. I obtained two jobs in high school, became the only female on an all boys Rugby team. I spent mostly all of my time working, playing Rugby, coaching, and socializing with friends in school. My Rugby coaches were like my NEW parents and my team mates were my brothers and sisters. They assisted me in coping with all of my problems I had by showing me the future. I never believed that someone from the Bronx could be anything. For someone who grew up in a small apartment having to struggle for food and respect to have any opportunities.

    Once I saw all that I had accomplished and survived, I changed my mind and started to believe in myself, I realized that the experiences that I went through were hard on an adolescent girl, but it made me open my eyes to bigger things. I was not a “sinner” I was a “victim.” I had a 99.9 average throughout the four years in High School and was known for being the founder of the New York under 19 female Rugby team. I presented the Valedictorian address at graduation and saw my mother crying in the audience and I forgave her that day because of how strong I am and how much I still loved her but continued on my road to success.

    Pace University was my dream school and to work at one of the Big Four accounting firms was my dream job. The day I was accepted to Pace University had to be the most exciting day of my life. I was ecstatic. I came to a school where the majority of the students were white and that meant nothing to me because I was finally around “educated” people. . I used Rugby as a networking tool and found that my coach’s sister worked at a Big Four firm, Ernst & Young. She introduced me to her husband, who introduced me to a recruiter at, who introduced me to my boss. I could not believe that I was living my dream after all that had happened to me. My hard work was finally paying off.

    Intelligent, hardworking, dedicated, inspirational, motivated and unstoppable; what people should see when they look at me. Although I was judged and I was looked down upon in life and also my freshman year at Pace University because students would only see that I was from the Bronx and not that I was intelligent it does not matter. Four years later, I still hear people in school make ignorant remarks, but I know that whether I am blue, purple, green or yellow, I am just as intelligent and capable of anything my peers can do. They were raised in a different matter and I was raised to fend for myself and to be proud of who I am. I choose to surpass people’s perception of me and continue to do well in school. The innocence that once held me back is now the strength and knowledge that I use to move forward. Even though I never had my father there to help me and educate me on life’s hardships, and always felt that gap in my heart, I learned and I made it! I forgave my parents, my siblings and even my old stepfather who ironically was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer this year. I visited my father this year and it felt great to see him and be around my family that loves me. I speak to my mother and attempt to help her any way that I can. I cherish my brother and sister and their children with all of my heart. Regardless of what happens, I know that this is my life and that I am above it all, so I refuse to allow anyone to bring me down again.

    La Nena
    Fall 2011

  • Add a half a cup brown, half a cup white, 2 tablespoons green, take one out, one cup pink, talk half out; add one cup yellow, a cup of curls and add gold glitter liberally. Let simmer; spice as necessary.

    I knew I wasn’t white before I could read. In first grade when our new black principal arrived, my admiration of her was instantaneous. When we went to church and I told my mom that wasn’t what god looked like; that she had dark brown skin and curly pop-pom pigtails. I knew I wasn’t black when the man with the bullhorn yelling at the black kids to get to class because they were late stopped, said hello and asked how my day was. When the kid in my homeroom read the names of my favorite bands and looked at me; bewildered.

    I knew I wasn’t straight when I stopped myself to check the perceived gender of a passerby before sharing with my friends that I thought they were cute. When I fell for my best friend. She was brilliant, beautiful, the girl I could share all of my secrets with. I knew I wasn’t gay when I didn’t want to march in pride parades and I knew marriage wasn’t the goal. When I stopped shaving and started processing.

    I knew I wasn’t poor when I had two parents working. When I didn’t worry about where my next meals were coming from. I knew I wasn’t rich when my paychecks were spent before they were received. When I hoped the food would last all month. These glaring contradictions led me to explore the identities I called my own and along the way I found many others.

    Interracial, was my white mother’s response to my sister telling me we were mixed as a child. That sounded too awkward and formal but mixed didn’t fit right either, so I tried on the black hat and it wasn’t my size. Growing up with a black father who taught me all too well what disappointment means, I succeeded for a while in trying to distance myself from one of my more obvious identities. It was easy enough; the shows I went to, the classes I took and the interests I had didn’t have many other folks who looked like me so I could avoid it for a long time. It wasn’t until a couple of years after he was gone that I finally wanted to search for and re-claim my brown skin. I had previously discovered that I could be black OR gay but not both; fine, I thought, I’ll be neither. After landing on POC and brown I grabbed the ends of those threads and tried to bring them back to queer spaces.

    My queerness shaped my politics and my politics dictated my queerness. I figured out what it meant to be a lesbian; apolitical, fast-moving relationships, cats and not-so-great hair, and that wasn’t what I wanted. Then I figured out what the queers were all about; radical activism, body hair, radical relationships, fierce hair and glitter; and that is where I found my home. I began attending organizing meetings, planning marches, workshops, making and contributing to zines and processing everything. I found the folks who wanted to not only discuss but create action around dismantling the gender binary, giving pride back to the people, creating safer spaces for people to be who they are, however they are and creating chosen family. Who ask and respect gender pronouns, name changes, spellings and word spelling alteration to resist an able-ist patriarchal way of using language. When I found my queer community I was able to breathe for the first time. I was no longer the only one in the room wearing a dress with armpit hair, the only female-bodied person with a shaved head, no longer did people want to talk about when they were going to marry their boyfriend and how many children they would have together now I talk about short shorts and glitter over dismantling oppression and different ideologies. Everything had changed.

    Old ideas evolved like wildfire; non-monogamy, child-less lives and queering my hair. I found the space to express my desires of being femme, something I had always dreamed I was but I never quite fit until I discovered the difference between straight femme and queer femme and suddenly things made sense again. I could still be femme and wear whatever I want, have body hair, not wear make-up if I didn’t want to but rock lipstick whenever I saw fit. I could be assertive and dominant or demure and submissive, now I could mix up all of those wonderful adjectives. I could flag a right or a left or switch it up all night. I could explore my gender identity and still be femme; I didn’t have to use she/her pronouns, I could use they/them or none at all. I found other people who worshipped body-positivity; the radical notion that your body is amazing just the way that it is. I felt empowered to call myself fat, that word I had been taught to be afraid of. My stretch marks became battle wounds, my body a canvas and the best tool I could ever have. My wardrobe got a little bit shorter, a little bit tighter and a little bit brighter. Earrings were and still are the perfect accessory. This rang true especially when I decided to shave off my famously curly hair.

    My hair had always been the one thing that I wouldn’t let me forget who I was had I never taken the time to remember. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it until the brown folks I was surrounded by were trying their best to get rid of their own. Why on earth would anyone do such a thing, I thought. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about it before but I did love my curls, they were just as much a part of me as anything else and I was not going to conform to any standards, especially those put out by a white male patriarchal society. Contain them? Contain them for whom? I then became afraid of not having a head full of hair; plus it would take too long to grow back, it wouldn’t look ‘right,’ it wasn’t something girls were supposed to do (turns out grrrls can do it just fine) plus everyone loved my curly hair. Was I now hanging on to this big, head of curls for someone else? Was that not the reason I wouldn’t tame them? I was in hair school at the time which was an extremely oppressive environment for a fat, queer, working-class, brown grrrl with thoughts of their own to exist in and finally the question of when I would allow my hair to be straightened ended. No, I will not allow you to attempt to put me in a box and silence my voice. So off they went. They have been slowly returning and it is great to see how my hair grows and how many more brown folks are allowing themselves to love their hair in the naturally and looking fierce while doing it.

    Weaving all of these things together has given me back my voice, reminded me how to scream and that I can make as much noise as I want or need to. Once I found a solid foundation I could begin to dig deeper to explore more of who was under the labels. I keep digging up more and more which leads to unraveling the well-put together mess I’ve become.

    It started twenty-one years ago, though that part does not matter as much as what came after. The priority was and still is happiness. She did not plan for this to happen. War is never the answer. I left you without saying goodbye far too many times and now can no longer tell who is leaving whom. Fate may have played a part or maybe have really been in control the whole time. You were missing. I am missing, you. Safety is the lie I tell myself before I fall asleep. I wanted to accomplish what I had set out to do, with you in my life. I am trying to forget everything. I never forgot, just moved on. It was time. Kindness was taught through the example of your hidden beauty. I miss you. I miss missing you. She wanted me. I knew that much was true. Many things I did not even know were dreams came true.

    Advice is a form of nostalgia, a way to redo your own mistakes through someone else. Regrets hardened me. Regrets softened me. Regrets made me close my eyes and eventually they made me jump. I measured the great strength through the fire in your eyes. Forgiveness was not essential, but it did help the knot in my stomach from overtaking me. I left out the important parts. It has taken me four times. I am still working on it. He meant it when he said it. Hope helps. She is my savior. Hoping created an illusion of perfection. Truth carries a lot of weight, but how do you know when one is telling the truth?

    I was at peace floating under that moon. Enough is enough. You will know when I have had enough. Fear has not motivated me the way it should. Passion motivates me. Conflict has lead to things that never would have been realized otherwise. I have learned nothing and everything at the same time. I am learning from everyone and they are all learning from me. It is still hard that I said goodbye. It is hard to say goodbye when I care. I always care.

    Life is busy. Sometimes it is full. Her life is not that fair. We may meet again. It makes me smile the way you think we will. I am not so sure. However, there may be a big surprise. There are so many ways to get there and I have created one more. You started it with your ten-dollar words. The still point is in the water, under the moon. The unseen forces are always at work. I have had more than enough, but I keep going back for more. Masochist.

    Passion can create. Passion can destroy. Passion is the only thing that has ever made sense to me. Promises give me a false sense of hope. You can help by never promising me a rose garden. Experience teaches me to build my walls of out sand so you can at least attempt to see the other side. He ended up there because he is trying to save the world and keeps forgetting to save himself. The danger in honesty is that they will find out how powerful yet maybe also vulnerable you really are. It frightens me that I am becoming idle again. They remember our first kiss. Is it still a secret if it is not kept? “When you grow up your heart dies.” She wanted this to happen. I made it happen. Injustice enrages me. It can be resolved through education and openness. It is harder than I let on. Time is flying now that I am running out. The impact of love is deadly. I could have said everything, anything; instead of watching you walk away. There is not enough time to say all that I have to say. “They were only words and I never meant them”

    Fall 2010

  • Every Sunday, my father would pick me up from the mosque at three PM. I remember running into the car, and being so excited to tell him everything that I learned from Sunday morning class. I can't say if we ever bonded more than at those moments; his smile was priceless to me. But there was always a small dark cloud that would grow as we approached home. I wore a veil to the mosque, but I would always feel the need to remove it before we arrived home. I don't know now if I was ashamed, or scared, but I didn't want my mother to see me with it. I still would love to tell her everything that I learned that day; there was always something new. But she could never really understand what I was going through and what I was learning. I suppose that happens when an Egyptian Muslim man marries a Catholic Italian woman.

    Donna Petralia was born and raised in Flushing, Queens. She grew up in an Italian household with her parents and her two brothers Ronald and Louis. Her father Louis was a hard worker who emigrated from Italy when he was five and built his way up. He always provided for his family and showed his children that you could get anywhere with hard work. Her mother Francis emigrated from Italy when she was two and was a stay at home mom. Donna and her two brothers were all very successful and landed great jobs for themselves.

    Karam Mohamed was born and raised in Cairo Egypt. He grew up in an Egyptian household with his parents and his five siblings. Otef, Hamdy, Ilham, Nasr and Omar his father was a fruit market owner and his mother was a stay at home mom. His father wardani was a hard working man who migrated from south Egypt to the city and made a life for him where there were more opportunities. His mother Amina was born in Palestine and illegally immigrated to Egypt when the war broke. Both Wardani and Amina were hard workers who went through many struggles in their lives but always showed their children with hard work you can get anywhere.

    Donna and Karam grew up and left their parents households and started their own lives. Donna landed a great job as a sales associate at Xerox where she was making great money while doing what she loved. While Karam decided he wanted to leave Egypt and come to America to make a better life for himself. When Karam came to America he decided to come queens New York. Donna also decided to stay in queens after moving out of her parent’s house.

    After work Donna and Karam would go to the gym after a while of always seeing each other they became familiar faces. Karam the emigrant with dark skin who had a heavy accent and was a dishwasher built up the courage. To o ask the white skinned girl from queens who had a great paying job. Their story was just like any other couples story, after dating for a while they feel in love. They decided to get married and then had a child.

    The only difference for Donna and Karam was that just like any other couple this came with extreme difficulties. Donna and Karam came from two different ends of the world. With different faiths, culture, and class as we all know however, love does not discriminate. Reguardless of the struggle they stood strong and held together. After a while they became used to the negativity form friends and family. Due to the fact that they were both adults made this a little more understandable and easier for them to accept, unlike myself.

    Growing up in a biracial household has been one of the most confusing obstacles for me to overcome, and has shaped me forever. I never really felt accepted by either side of family, and always felt the odd stares and whispers of outsiders. The experience was horrible. But I was tempered by that fire, and have gained so much strength by facing my challenges and overcoming them.

    These days, biracial relationships are not cause for much comment now. Twenty-one years ago though, you were at best crazy for dating or marrying a foreigner, particularly when the religions clashed to my parent's extent. It was hard growing up with my uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents treating us like outsiders. It was hard to understand at age 5 why my mother would fight with her parents about accepting my father. He was a good man, a better husband, and a father without peer. I came to realize that this was different than what other families went through. There was always tension at home as my grandparents strived to separate my mom and dad.

    The older I became, the more I kept telling myself that everything was going to be better, but it never did. My extended family made me feel at times that my father was some evil man or a terrorist, and that he would ruin my life. My mother, to her credit, always supported my dad. It was hard to see her tears, and hard at times to not hate my dad. Peer pressure can be so hard to resist, but my mom, even though she cried to herself to sleep countless times, consistently taught me what was right from wrong. How love was more important that race, how strong a family could be.

    Twelve years ago, I spent the night at my mother's parent's house. This wasn't a common occurrence, but they still were my family. I woke up in the morning in time for prayers. I put on my veil and when I was done with my prayer, I went downstairs with my veil still on. My aunt was downstairs and started laughing at me. And said "Where do you think your going with that thing on your head?" Enough was enough; I was going to take their smart remarks anymore. I turned around went back upstairs put all of my belonging back into my bag. Went back downstairs looked at the both of them and told them one day when you need me the most your going to wish I was there with or without this thing, my veil on my head.

    All they did was watch me leave, and didn't say one word to me. But I was in no need to hear a single thing. I had found myself. The world always has a message of how to act, how to conform, how not to be the nail that sticks out waiting to be hammered. I am not a rebel, just a half Egyptian half Italian girl who sees her parents as wonderful, loving people who want nothing more than to be themselves. There is a quiet strength in that, something that I feel I had to earn the right to inherit. I learned to be proud of myself, to trust myself, and to be strong. And to be what ever I want to be because all it takes is will power and the strength to push through. These obstacles make me see that I want to go places in life to show myself and everyone out there that thinks I cannot that, I can. I intend on keeping my word and doing all it takes for me to get to the places I want to be.

    It's twelve years from that day. When I return from the mosque, I still make my dad smile. When I return from the mosque, I still tell my mom everything I learned that day. And when I return from the mosque, I return with my veil on, and straight into my mother's warm embrace.

    A. M.
    Summer 2011

  • Ma’s Chili

    An eleven-year old Xavier Reminick darts in and out of rooms in his childhood home in search of all the sledding essentials. It is that time again. Winter has hit hard, the snow has fallen, and it is thick. No doubt, school will be cancelled tomorrow. While the morning was spent flipping between cartoons and ESPN to see whether the Cleveland Cavaliers won last night, the afternoon was a case of strategy. The mission at hand: assemble the buddies, grab the sleds, and hit the Hill—Kings Hill. The afternoon was a different strategy for my mother. From her proud and honored post in the kitchen (not saying that in the misogynistic “women belong in the kitchen” way, but my mother actually takes great honor and pride in her kitchen procedures), she could hear my anxiousness to sled the Hill from my bedroom upstairs. It was no question the weather was cold, my wartime consiglieres (friends) and I would burn a mountain’s-worth of calories on our dozens of trips up and down the Hill, so it was of even less a question that this night demanded the presence of my mother’s fit-for-king chili.

    I grew up on Kings Hill. This tucked away, gem-of-an-area of Cleveland, Ohio’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood has gained notoriety amongst locals for a slew of reasons. It is the home of The Parkview Nite Club, and Tina’s Nite Club, locally-owned and operated bar/restaurants responsible for Clevelanders desire to slip under the influence and gorge themselves on delicious bar food since the turn of the 20th century. It offers one of the greatest views of the Cleveland skyline, and the Hill hugs the Detroit Shoreway, where cars whiz by on their way to the hustle and bustle downtown. The grassy, mellow aesthetic of the Hill, coupled with the loud, working man’s attitude given off by the mini-metropolis yonder, make for spending time on Kings Hill a reflective, symbolically beautiful reminder of all the incredible landscapes of this country, both natural and manmade.

    In the winter months, the snowfall in Cleveland can leave one in awe. The wind often blows harsh off the shores of Lake Erie, leaving snowdrifts upwards of six feet tall in front of neighborhood houses. This particular point in the season can also be described as a sledding man’s dream. Kings Hill transforms from its delicate, serene summer appearance, to a winter wonderland, common in the Coca Cola commercials starring the family of polar bears. After an ounce of momentum, sledders and snowboarders alike soon race down the glacial, snow-laden Hill toward the guardrail 100 yards away; a single, horizontal, small metal structure that, although hard to reach from the top of the Hill, is the only object preventing sled-fiend children from coasting right onto the Shoreway and into 60 mph, oncoming traffic. It is the incessant trips up and down the hill, the shouting at friends, the non-stop inhale and exhale of frost-bitten oxygen, the snowball fights, the potential injuries, and the uninhibited fun that can work up quite the appetite.

    No later than noon and my mother has already started her chili preparation, due to be served upon our arrival from sledding around 9 or 10:00 p.m. Onions, celery, tomatoes, and garlic galore are sautéed. My Jimi Hendrix-themed clock in my room tells me there is still a solid seven or eight hours until sledding will commence, but the unabashedly Italian aroma wafts through the vents in our house, making me salivate all too early. While I attempt to distract myself by way of videogames and other adolescent indoor activities, my anticipation for the evening grows moment to moment. As the vegetables are nearing the end of their sauté session, in go the beans and tomato puree. There exist many different approaches in regards to the ideal bean necessary for chili. My mother puts her faith in the tricks and trades of the Latin Americans she hung close to throughout her young adult years in the Latino-dominated regions of California’s Bay area; thus, pinto beans are her ideal. Not to go unnoticed is the inclusion of chili powder and cumin to give her recipe the kick in the ass every growing boy after a hard night’s sled needs.

    Clearly, this is not a quick and easy process. My mother pores over her formula for hours, stirring incessantly, slow-cooking, and meditating over the vat, instilling as much love, light, and positive energy she can muster into her bountiful concoction. Never has the message of Mexican author Laura Esquivel in her popular novel Como agua para chocolate been more apparent in my mother’s cooking practice. Como agua’s fiery heroine Tita is only able to express herself when she cooks, and those who consume her meals feel her sentiments immediately when they eat. If Tita cries over a meal she prepares, than those who take down the feast will be overcome with sadness and bawl. My mother has riddled to me time and time again, “Your energy makes its way into the food. The reason we feel like shit after we eat McDonald’s is because those schlepping together our Happy Meals are not doing it with love. I love my meals; I give my meals the endless attention they deserve. Every stir is a story, and that is why you and all of your friends love my cooking so damn much!”

    If there exists any lesson my father, my younger sister and I have taken away from my mother it has been that lesson mentioned above. My mother is a busy woman; the entire chili making process can take upwards of 12 hours, and she cannot always be there to watch over her creation each minute. Before she departs the house to attend to her job, or any number of errands she may need to run, she pops her head into the living room, where either me, my sister, or my father can oft be found lounging, watching television, and she stares daggers at you demanding, “Keep an eye on the chili, keep stirring it. DON’T FORGET!”

    “Alright, ma,” I respond. I watch her leave the house, give it a couple minutes before I muster the energy to get off the couch and tend to her food baby.

    As I turn the corner out of the living I can see the steaming pot a mere fifteen feet ahead of me. It is almost as if each little ingredient is calling my name, demanding attention in the same style my mother demanded I give them attention. “Xavier,” says the pot of chili, “Lend me your gaze. Lend me your soul in the form of that wooden spoon stirring spirals through our blood and guts. ” I respond, “Gladly. ” I stand over the stovetop, letting the heat smack me in the face, making up for the beatings my mother never gave me. The herbs and spices and vegetables make for an aroma so invigorating that the shivers down my spine feel shivers. I let the moisture from the steam collect in my open eye sockets, forcing tears to stream down my face (yet unlike Tita in Como agua para chocolate, I try to keep the tears out of the food). I focus my gaze away from the chili and to the right, looking out the window at Kings Hill, and I take a breath, thanking the universe for this time and place.

    My mother’s chili recipe has certainly undergone some changes over the years. My family (myself included) used to be frequent meat eaters, so naturally beef chili was a must. It wasn’t long, however, before my mother experimented with ways to make her chili healthier, albeit just as filling, replacing the beef with more vegetables, and mixing and matching flavors until the lack of a carnivorous substance was no longer an issue. Quite possibly the most satisfactory discovery my mother made was the change the chili underwent once a square of ground Mexican chocolate was added to the pot. As far as taste is concerned, the hint of cacao goes unnoticed, but my mother insists the chocolate is not added for flavorful purposes, but rather, it cuts down the powerful acidity the slow-cooked tomatoes lend to the dish, and adds a richer finish to each bite. My mother, a car saleswoman by day, avid yoga instructor by night, and somehow, a chemist with a PhD in Chili Making in between.

    When it comes to hearty winter meals, we obviously focus on the large portions, the density of the meals, and with that, the indigestion (or as the Italians call it, agita) that follows. Being raised by an Italian mother, my immune system has seen 50 shades of agita (and moving to New York, with the abundance of Chipotle at my disposal, it has only gotten worse). Unlike others’ chili recipes, my mother’s vegetable-based formula will not have you running to the medicine cabinet in preparation to overdose on Tums and Pepto-Bismol. Its chunky, hot spoonfuls require you to eat at a slow pace, chewing, savoring, letting its spice and temperature engulf the palate. The chopped raw onion, grated cheese, and cool sour cream that sits atop the piping hot chili provides context, a counter-argument, a dialogue between hot and cold, crunchy and chewy. As the garnish (onions, cheese and sour cream) gets mixed into the bean and veggie-filled stew, the chili takes on a different form from its original state, becoming thicker, yet creamier, a convoluted, contrasting bowl of chili indeed. One must also not forget the role endless oyster crackers play in assembling this perfect bowl of chili. A cracker or two per bite keeps the low-calorie crunch counteracting the chili’s liquidity, and does not stuff the stomach like that of dipping a large piece of carbohydrate and MSG-filled bread into the chili. The dish has the greatest impact when eaten in moderation, and after those eventful evenings of my youthful past, after exhausting myself to no end sledding and gallivanting throughout my own Midwestern winter wonderland, Kings Hill, Cleveland, nothing quite hits the spot like a bowl or two of Ma’s chili when I got back home.

    Nowadays, when I find myself in Cleveland in the winter season, sledding with friends is not necessarily atop my to-do list. Not that it has lost its greatness; rather I accredit it to simply having grown up. Nevertheless, Ma’s chili holds pole position on my list of wintry needs. Ma knows her soul flows through her slow-cooked acts of culinary genius. Ma knows she gives me life (alongside nutrition) when she whips up another bowl for her boy. Ma knows that if she makes a big enough pot full of chili, it will last us long enough for leftovers the next day, and Ma knows that chili heated up on day two, after it has had the time to cool, condense a bit, and be re-heated, is just as good as its fresh-out-the-crockpot state (and trust that Ma always makes more than enough for leftovers).

    Xavier Reminick
    February 20, 2014

  • My reflection story is about being a dark-skinned girl during a time when having a dark complexion was viewed as ugly. All dark-skinned people were looked down upon by whites and sadly, by blacks as well. The unfortunate part about blackness is that the very people who had to deal with racism—would also feel superior over one of their own because of color. That was but one of the many conditions imposed on us as a people by slavery as well as colonization. For a long time older black people would tell my mom how pretty I was with my dreamy eyes and my dimples. My peers, however, did not share the same sentiments. Yet, they were the ones I actually wanted to impress. I had a dark complexion, large lips and “nappy hair, all the things that in the seventies and eighties were not good features.

    I was born in the late sixties, during a time when integration was alive, but the races (black and white) were still separate; tension was exercised daily between the two. Blacks and whites, in general, did not mix. Biracial relationships and marriages were not accepted. The dividing line between the two groups was visible and violence was the result, if defied. Back then we were termed Black as a race; not Negroes, not Colored nor African American, just Black. The whites did not like the blacks and the blacks did not like the whites. Tension was not hidden, and feelings were raw. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but intermingling was not the norm when dealing with races, every race stayed to and with their own; at least in my area.

    My views regarding racial mixing and dating has matured a lot with age. Yet there are still instances where my past views remain in the fore. This, in an era where the racial mixing has become normal and interracial dating has skyrocketed to an all time high. Unfortunately, the past has put a dent in my ability to just see people as people and not races.

    The area in which I was born was Brooklyn, specifically Coney Island. The location of Coney Island at that time was purely black and Puerto Rican. There was also a gated community called Sea Gate and Brighton Beach; both were inhabited by white people as a majority. At one point, Coney Island was also a haven for whites, however, when NYCHA projects were built and the blacks and Puerto Ricans started to move there—whites began their exodus to the suburbs. It seemed as if all of Brooklyn was under a transformation—in ways that mirror today’s reverse gentrification in all of five boroughs.

    Funny thing, to think back to that time, Brighton was inhabited by Russians, but to the young mind, they were white also. However, the reality of the situation was they were immigrants and not considered white.

    In my Coney Island, there were no white children or adults to speak with. There were no outlets to learn about or understand their cultures and ways of life. My only point of reference was what was shown on television—a world of whiteness; since there weren’t any black sitcoms or shows at that time.

    Not knowing and not mingling with whites made them seem alien; with everyone one of them having a good life and not having hardships and poverty. There was one family that lived in the building we resided, a mother and her daughter. They were older, and the mother was very gruff but the daughter was very nice and friendly. As a child, the mother seemed mean, but as an adult I can only surmise that the real reason behind her anger was most likely due to the influx of blacks and Latinos moving in. Obviously, they were the left behinds that could not afford to run and move away like all the others like them did.

    Racism was not spoken about during the elementary years, there was no one around to show and express the ills of the divide. We played as children with the other children that were just like us, black or Latino. No one had much money. Of course some had more than others, but it was like everyone was one even ground. We just played and enjoyed our innocence, not realizing the difference between not having any whites around because of… Throughout my elementary school experience there were no black teachers that resided in our neighborhood. Being new to school and learning, racism still wasn’t an issue.

    I can remember a teacher pinching my cheeks and saying “what a cute little monkey”. I was happy to be acknowledged and to be told I was cute. It wasn’t taken as a racist remark, but in hindsight it could have been, but then again it could have been as innocent as I believed at that time.

    Onward to junior high school was when the separation and the dislike between the races became open, apparent and real. As Coney Island had only one J.H.S., we had to be bussed out to the surrounding areas of Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge which were populated by whites in homes, not projects.

    The schoolyard could have had a line dividing the races, that was how serious the non-mixing was at that time. Since they were young they did not have any reason to hate blacks or Latino’s, the hate was fostered from what was learned and spoken of in their homes—on the superiority of their race and the inferiority of ours. They were not happy about us going to their schools. It was hell if a person missed the school bus. The train station, which was the means of transportation when you missed the bus, was three long blocks away. Many boys were jumped if they were caught by the white boys on their way to the subway, some girls were targeted too.

    The discrimination didn’t stop with gender—no that is where fairness prevailed. It would have been the same difference if a white boy came to “the hood”, they would have received the same treatment from the black boys and girls as well. Although I can’t remember any deaths, at least not in my days and in my area, some of the instances, nevertheless, were pretty brutal.

    Some of the educators were just as racist as the students which made learning, and even trying to get along with the opposite race even harder. Those times were hard and the word “nigger” was not taken lightly. Unlike today, it was not deemed a term of endearment, nor could someone outside of the race be allowed to use in a joking or fun manner. Nigger was specifically used to hurt and label. That word had much more of an impact on our race at that time than it does today.

    For a time, the word nigger being used freely by all races as a term of endearment seemed a really good idea. For me, it took the sting out of the word—making it appear that its negative implications were forever lost. But with the word constantly being spewed about, the clarity behind the fight of our elders to abolish the word becomes more understandable as I age. Our great-great grandparents, our political and religious leaders and all of those before us, took so much slack, abuse and death—all because of the fact that they were not seen as men or women—but as niggers.

    I am happy that we as a people have come so far from the era of our ancestors. We have made leaps and bounds in our mobility and education. But all is not well. We still have a very long way to go. The playing field still needs to be leveled for all of the future dark-skinned girls from the projects in Coney Island, such as myself.

    Monique Anderson
    February 2010

  • Introduction

    The following reflection merits an introduction; the reasons will soon become apparent. Whether or not to post the paper was weighed heavily for over two months. When I initially started to read Joy’s paper on my ride to work, I became annoyed. I thought to myself, “Hasn’t she ever heard of spell-check?” I immediately whipped out my red pen and started correcting the errors. However, my subway ride, which started at 161st Street/Yankee Stadium evolved from annoyance; to a headache; to profound sadness coupled with a floodgate of tears; and lastly, to action.

    In 1991, Jonathan Kozol wrote Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools. The book is a searing indictment of the inequities in our public education system. Fourteen years later, he wrote yet another exposé of the continued failures of education: Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. Here again, the author gives voice to what many students and their parents in under-served communities and education advocates have known for decades: that despite policies and the rhetoric of slogans—the disparities between working poor and the middle class run deep; the chances for parity remain elusive; and their future as full members of society, questionable.

    In closing, I congratulate Joy for her tenacity, her self-advocacy, and for bearing the characteristics of her name; for she is indeed a source of pleasure, of wonder, and of charm.

    Denise Belen Santiago
    Director, Office of Multicultural Affairs

    I Am Joy—I am Special Education

    I never know that had experience racism, class and sexual orientation in my life until now. As I write this paper I am starting to remember all the bad names and things that had happen to me. Such as begin called an orea which’s means a black person on the outside but a white person in the inside.

    From Junior high school I was called the Black girl who acted white. As a child I thought that kids were begin mean to me. I would never pay them any mind. I didn’t know what to think of the kids begin mean to me. My grandmother said don’t patient those kids any attention to them.

    I didn’t know what class was until I was 16th years old. I never realize that I was middle class or what poor. Some people call it. I knew that I wasn’t like most kids in many ways. I knew that I didn’t have parents and my brothers. When I registered for college it was the first time I learn my grandmother financial situation. My class as a child I thought was wealthy due to the fact my grandmother well off them most people.

    In the tenth grade my math teacher Ms.Jarvis who absent. My class went crazy. The class started bullying the other kids in the class. The biggest bully name Sharesse started making jokes about me, my friend and clothes. She would say “joy you think your white “you’re an orea!” “what is whitey doing?” Sharesse started calling me a “black bitch who wanted to be white”. She would say that I need to stop speaker as white girl and act black. I was the stuck up white black bitch to them. Due to the faceted that there was no sub teacher the kids got away with anything. The kids torn the room up. The exams that were hanged up on the wall were torn down. That was the day the sharesse torn my self esteem down. She would say the white snow flake is wearing timbers. Deep down inside I started to hate the way she spoke to me. I started to hated sharesse. I start to feel bad about myself. The class started calling me a bourgeoisie black bitch. One of the kids and the class laugh expect this boy Reggie. Reggie was a class clown he said the only thing I have is that I have pretty hair for a dark skin snow girl. Sharesse started asking where did I come from and did I have a lot of white people in my family.

    My junior high experience was the worst time I my life. I hated that school with a passion. I hated the teachers, prinpinicals, and deans. And the staff. From the third grade to I graduated from high school I was in special education. My junior was located in brownsivliie and I lived in bed stuy. I was never on time to that school. I truly didn’t care about be on time. I was bullies, jumped and tortiment me for two years. One day I was doing my class work then the next thing I remember was getting pencil shaving in my hair. These two girls head behind one of them had to do it. The girl shaniqua said she had put the pencil shaving in we I started cleaning my hair my felt so dirty. I was so mad and want to go home at that moment. Shaniqua say that dark skin girls don’t have pretty hair. I wanted to cry and fight but deep down inside it was a lost cause. I knew that cacique was begin use by the girls who didn’t like me.

    My senior class had all been program wrong and were missing credits. I was the only one who had 47 credit but I was only miss regent and RCT. One problem was that the state schedule regent and RCT on the same time and day. Most of the would take at least 6 exams back to back a day.

    I remember my high school counsler had a meet with the senior class. It was horrible. It was right of outside Ms.Steadman office. All the student had to find chair or stand up. Their was no prillviage and no help for student to learn what the need to graduate. I was so mad that Ms.Steadman had the nerves to hold the meet outside her office. I thought that meet was very unprofossoail and degrading to the students. I honornessly thought the better place would have been the high school audition.

    In June 2007 all the senior were able to walk down the alse and receive a grown and cap. Out of 50 senior special education only less than 10 received a local high diploma. I learn that the system set the kids up to fail. Due to the fact that my class are low income families. The wasn’t all nothing I could have done. In many way I felt that I was push to fail. It was like I has loss the battle but I won in same ways. I graduated with a local high school diploma and one day dream of change the process for special education. I learn never to let anyone try to break you down .Also I learn to become more involment with my education.

    In many way I always felt like the block sheep of my family. Two of my aunts would always tell me I was stupid and would always tell me I was stupid and would never be any thing. My aunt would say no man would ever want me. She would say I was to black for a man. My teeth was jackup and that I had monkey feet. Also my aunt would say that my grandma shouldn’t have keep her grandchild. I was the uglyist little girl she had seen. My aunt had a lot of hated toward my mother and her children.

    I remember one day begin one day begin at my aunt house playing with my cousin. My aunt nina had asked me a question and I said okay that is when my aunt tee went off on me. She said “stop sounding like a white girl”. It was getting on nerves, all I could remember was her saying that I was try to act white but I didn’t know I always that felt that my aunt had a lot of hated toward me .

    I have learn hard way bout family and education. I learn how special education they only push you the next grade. It doesn’t matter if the children know’s the work doesn’t. It goes my their age. Also I learn that the staff was only their for their pady checks. Its been hard.

    February 2010

  • In 2002 I graduated in the top five percent of my class, was accepted into several colleges and I was on my way to be the first person in my family to graduate from college. Everyone knew that I was smart, affable and well liked by my peers. No one knew that I was a rape survivor, victim of domestic violence and insecure young woman who did well in school in order to escape her family. Like many Latinos, I was taught that whatever happens in my family stays within my family. This fundamental rule was engraved into my subconscious and no matter how bad things got, I never sought outside help.

    When my father sexually abused my mother while my sisters were on the floor sleeping, we never dared to open our eyes or even talk about what happened afterwards. Whatever transpired in my parents’ bed was between my mother and father and that was that. The most confusing aspect of my father’s abuse was my mother’s acceptance. After protests and a brief struggle she would simple give in with silent tears. She would spend the rest of the day slaving over my father just as my sisters and I were expected to slave over our younger brother. This aspect of the Latino culture always bothered me. I did not feel inferior to my spoiled brother but was brought up to believe that I was. He was the one who was going to get a good job and financially support the whole family when he was older. Therefore, it was our responsibility to take care of him.

    What I remember most from my slave days is that my brother was never wrong. I specifically remember an incident where my brother wanted to play cops and robbers. My oldest sister was in charge of him and ended up being tied to a chair and having to go to the hospital for a dislocated shoulder. My sisters and I were certain that my brother was finally going to get in trouble but we were wrong. My sister was the one who was held responsible and punished for having to go to the hospital. There were no repercussions for my brother. There were never any repercussions for the males in my family and this knowledge of male infallibility is what forced to me to not tell anyone when my uncle sexually abused me.

    Abuse wasn’t a new experience for me. I grew up in an environment that accepted male abuse and had seen my mother be abused numerous times. I assumed that it was normal although it felt terribly wrong. At first I wanted to run to my mother and tell her what happened but for some reason I didn’t. My life experiences up to that point had taught me three things: (1) Whatever happened in that bedroom stayed in that bedroom; (2) Although I hated my uncle I had to show him respect; and (3) If I told anyone the truth, I would be the one blamed and punished for what happened. My uncle was raised in the same family and his ‘machismo’ attitude had always been encouraged. I am confident that he felt superior to me and that it was my job to serve his needs. As a girl, I was weaker and more vulnerable so he took advantage. Afterwards, he did not fear that I would go to the police and knew that if I ever said anything, no one would choose to believe me. I was too young to understand most complicated things about life but I was certain about this as well so I kept his transgression a secret.

    I would have taken my secret to the grave if I had not feared history repeating itself. I was in my second semester at Pace and it was my youngest cousin’s birthday. It was a typical Latino celebration with pernil, arroz con gandules and a piñata. No one else would have been able to notice it. There was a hand placement just below where it could be deemed appropriate and a look that I had seen before. I can’t explain it, but I just knew. I also knew that I could not allow my uncle to go after my cousin although I did not know how to stop him. I had to tell someone so that they could protect my cousin. The only person I could think of was my mother, the woman who was supposed to have unconditional love for me. I was 18 years old and no longer a little girl so I thought there was more credibility to my accusations. I also felt that my mother would be able to sympathize with me since I knew she had also endured sexual abuse.

    Telling my mother was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. I knew that I was breaking the rules and was scarred to death. I had never allowed myself to think about my abuse and had locked away every aspect of that traumatizing event. I don’t even remember how I told my mother what her brother had done to me. All I remember is her reaction: She calmly told me that I misinterpreted the events of the past and that my childhood imagination made me invent lies. No words could describe how horrible I felt. My own mother accused me of lying about being rapped and then walked away.

    The next day I found my bed and clothes outside of our apartment. I knocked on the door and my mother wouldn’t even open. She simply told me that I did not live there anymore through the closed door. I knew there would be repercussions but I never imagined that I would be thrown out of my home. I was a commuter student in college and had nowhere else to go. Common sense would have told me to go and plea to my father or ask someone in the family for help, but my pride got in the way. I walked away from that door with no plans but with absolute certainty that I would not ask anyone for help.

    Nine years have passed since my mother threw me out of her house for telling the truth. I know for a fact that I would have been the first person in my family to graduate from college in 2006 if I would have turned a blind eye and kept my secret to myself. Because I told the truth, I have endured hunger, homelessness, despair and loneliness. However, telling the truth saved my cousin from suffering and pain. My mother still makes sure that no young child is ever left alone with my uncle and I am still the black sheep of my family. Saving my cousin from suffering my same fate cost me my biological family. I am never invited to family birthdays and have only once been invited to spend Christmas at my parent’s home. I am no longer the young girl who was too afraid to tell anyone the truth for fear of not being believed.

    My evolution from a timid girl to a strong and independent woman has evolved in three phases. The first was experiencing the abuse of my mother. This experience served as the model to how I initially dealt with my sexual abuse. Like my mother, I internalized my feelings, accepted my circumstances and never talked about my experiences. Since then, I have learned to think for myself and have been able to give advice to women who have also been abused. I am a stronger person because I no longer internalize my feelings and allow my voice to be heard. In my personal relationships, I allow my loved ones to know when they hurt my feelings and never keep secrets. I have an open and honest relationship with those I hold dear and I am very blessed.

    The second phase of my evolution was learning how to think for myself and to survive on my own. When my mother threw me out I had to mature at an early age and learn how to be independent. While I was worried about how to pay my rent, my friends were planning their Spring break. It didn’t take long for all my superficial friends to stop calling. The two friendships that survived are still strong today. I grateful to have two people I can blindly trust. These friendships have helped me surpass many obstacles and have encouraged me to be a better person. I no longer model anyone’s behavior and am not afraid to speak out against injustice. I am not dependent on anyone to provide for my needs and this will not change when I marry. I will not confirm to traditional gender roles and will teach my children how to be independent as well.

    The third phase was the hardest and took the longest because I had to accept what happened to me and let go of my anger. It took years to no longer see myself as a victim. There were times that I truly believed I was to blame for what happened to me. There was even a time when I tried to commit suicide. I had to reach rock bottom in order to pick myself up. After waking up in the bathtub after taking several sleeping pills I realized that I could never again give up. I made the decision to forgive my mother and uncle so that I can move forward. After making that decision, my life started to get better. I met a wonderful man who helped me through depression and brought me to Christ. This same man is now my future husband and has helped me to come to terms with an autoimmune disorder that has almost taken my life two times in the last two years. I now see myself as a survivor and hold my head up high because I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of.

    This is a story of victory. I choose to write about my experiences because they have matured me into a beautifully unique woman who has a lot to offer this world. I have learned more about who I am as an individual, how to deal with people on a personal level, and have become a competent and compassionate individual. My most profound lesson has been learning how to overcome obstacles and remain persistent on achieving my goals. Almost a decade after having to abruptly stop my college education, I am back at Pace University. I will now become the first woman in my family to get a college degree since my brother graduates this year. Finishing my education has been my personal goal for the last decade. Through perseverance, hard work and determination, I am finally in a position to realize my dream.

    C. P.
    Fall 2011

  • Let me start off by telling you a little about my mother and my grandma. These are the women who raised me. My grandma was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1933. This was the worst year of The Great Depression, Adolf Hitler opened his first concentration camp, Roosevelt was president and the Jim Crow laws were still in effect. Her parents came from Germany prior to the Holocaust and were very poor. Her father worked at the state capitol which was right across the road from her house. My grandmother grew up with her two sisters in a time of complete segregation. She entered what would become a troubled marriage, became a nurse who still works to this day, raised three girls, and is very right wing in her politics. My mother was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1963. This was the year Martin Luther King Jr. gave his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech, President John F Kennedy was assassinated, and Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique sparking a national debate about women's roles. My mom is career oriented, has a great sense of humor and prefers not to pay attention to political affairs or world news. Most people begin forming their opinions about life, culture and politics from their parents, but my mom would much rather discuss celebrity gossip, shopping or football so that is the knowledge I acquired during what I consider my most impressionable years. Even now, she calls her residential street “ghetto” because black people live on either side of her and the houses are old. I was taught to treat everyone equally and to be considerate of other people’s feelings. However, I am embarrassed to admit that I have heard both of these women used the “N” word along with other racial slurs in reference to other ethnicities.

    I spent the first half of my life in Nebraska; originally living in the house my mother grew up in with her and my grandma. Then my mother remarried when I was seven and we moved to a brand new cookie cutter neighborhood in a brand new cookie cutter town called Millard. My brother Adam was born in March of 1993. At that time in my life I didn’t notice that almost all of my neighbors were white and the majority of the students at my elementary and middle schools were too. There was one black girl in my grade named Andrea who was my very good friend. She worked hard at school and was so smart, always getting better grades than me. Her dad had a good job and her house was twice the size of mine. No one in my school treated her any differently that I noticed. In fact, everyone seemed to like her. She was what one would call popular. The only thing she did that I thought was strange was when she told me she would only wash her hair every month or so. My mom told me I was gross if I went more than two days without washing mine. These, I thought, were perfect examples of how equal and fair the world had become.

    I had not experienced racism at that age, but I was exposed to some of the hateful behavior that can occur from ignorance – the same type of ignorance that feeds racist behavior. In 8th grade my mother divorced her abusive husband and being from a young town, and fabricated rumors were easier to believe and to spread. Those rumors got back to me through the taunting of my classmates who had overheard the gossip of their parents and came to school whispering to their friends that my mother was a “slut, gold digger, and a liar”. It was rare in this suburban neighborhood for a marriage to publicly fail and even less for a woman to accuse her husband of child abuse. It didn’t take long for us to feel alienated and alone; causing us to leave town.

    When I first moved to Michigan the neighborhood seemed relatively normal and similar to Nebraska. I had to take the bus to school for the first time which took some getting used to because the many students were rowdy in the confined space. When I got to the school everyone wanted to know my name and all about me. I was warned to “watch out for the Chaldeans”. Although at the time I had no idea what the term Chaldean meant. There were a few new ethnicities I had no knowledge of, one of these being Chaldean, a group that mainly came from Iraq. I eventually learned the names of many different Middle Eastern cultures and some of their traditions. I tried their food and learned a few Arabic words. I listened and asked questions about their values and customs that seemed so unique and different. Some of these different customs included a strong dependence on family, strict rules for females with regards to dating, and a mainly male dominated culture. Also I lived approximately twenty five minutes outside of Detroit, so after living there for a few years, I thought I knew about poverty and the struggles of life in the inner city – even though my neighborhood was far removed from these concerns. Rap music was a huge new phenomenon and driving down to Detroit to buy drugs seemed so exciting and defiant. Looking back I have to laugh at it. High school kids from a good neighborhood and opportunities that many people dream of were trying so hard to forget it all. The majority of my friends during this time in my life came from suburban middle class, yet many took longer than four years to get a bachelor degree and are just now figuring out their career path.

    I relocated to New York City in November of 2007. I live in Tribeca, an extremely nice area of Manhattan with my boyfriend Zach who works in Finance. The first group of people I encountered was through my boyfriend. These people mostly came from wealthy families, went to Ivy League schools and were equipped with a different set of priorities.The people I had been meeting did not cook and seemed impressed with the fact that I knew how. I wanted to impress my new acquaintances and in attempt to make friends I invited my boyfriend’s coworker, Matt and his girlfriend over for dinner. That night I decided to make pork tenderloin. I thought it was the perfect dish because it was easy to make and hard to mess up. It was around Christmastime so when my boyfriend came home the tree was lit, the holiday carols were playing and the pork was in the oven. I was so sure everything was going to be perfect. When Zach realized what I was cooking he kindly informed me that our guests were Jewish. I immediately promised to turn off the Christmas music so they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. He told me to think about that his coworker’s last name was Knopman. The last name didn’t mean anything to me although I thought it was unique. This is when I found out the hard way that most last names ending in the letters “man” were Jewish names and people who practice Judaism don’t usually eat pork. I was confused to say the least. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t eat pork. I will never forget my first lesson in Jewish customs and am looking forward to attending my first Jewish wedding this fall to further my education.

    I became employed in the high end of the fashion industry where I worked with my best friend Alexis until the economy fell on hard times and we were both laid off. I was the assistant for the sales team who sold the designer’s line to department stores and specialty boutiques around the world. Alexis was the receptionist. I think we bonded because we were both new to New York and at the bottom of the totem pole according to everyone else. Alexis is a 30 year old black homosexual from Savannah, Georgia who is living with HIV. He has opened my eyes to many things. My favorite quality in him is his self-confidence – he refuses to conform regardless of the situation. Because he is from the South, black, and gay he has had to endure many forms of racism.

    Currently I am enrolled in a community college where I seem to be the minority. At the beginning of my first semester at CUNY, a professor went around to each student in the class and asked if they traveled anywhere over their summer break. When I answered honestly, with my hard to miss Midwestern accent that I had been to Italy and Greece there was a loud rumble of comments from my classmate’s reactions. Immediately an invisible line was drawn. I was no longer one of them. It doesn’t matter that I myself have no money. It’s the people who love me that have the ability to travel places and want to experience those places with me. I am now the one who may be labeled, harassed, stereotyped and taken advantage of because of my ethnicity. Because of my experience at BMCC my perspective has changed tremendously and will continue to change. I thought I knew what the world was like before. I thought I had put myself in the shoes of the less fortunate, the shoes of the minority, and the shoes of those who are judged. I had not yet. I don’t see that world anymore.

    Talk about coming full circle. I learn more day by day. Some trivial things like the reason the girl that sits next to me in sociology class continually smacks herself in the head is because her hair extensions itch. And bigger things such as where my peers come from and what those places were like for them. I have met people from very impoverished countries that lived without electricity and clean water. I have met young girls who came to live in the United States alone and very possibly will not see their families again. I have never been poor. I have never gone hungry. I have never known an unprivileged life. But I have learned to keep an open mind and acquired a need to know more. I still feel I have just scratched the surface of my cultural education.

    Erica Sparks
    May 2010

  • It’s 1992, I’m five years old. I’m presently a Kindergartner. I’m so excited this is my first year in St. Anthony’s. I’m so happy that my teacher is Mrs. Vode, she’s the best! My classroom is decorated very cool. We have red and orange carpet, our desks are attached to our chairs, and attached to our chairs we have a basket to put our folders in. Our walls are painted with animals representing the letters of the alphabet. We have five bowls of goldfish and have three hermit crabs in our classroom. In the back we have a walk-in closet where we put our snacks and coats in. I’m known as the girl whose dad got beat up by a classmate’s stepfather.

    I live on the second floor on Mercer Street in Paterson, New Jersey. Rodney King’s case was just big in the news. Police brutality is an issue just introduced to the public. The media says it’s a racial issue.

    It’s two in the morning. It feels like I’ve been up all night waiting for my dad to come home.

    “Mom, is that you?”

    “Liz, what in the world are you doing up this late?”

    “I can’t sleep. Where’s daddy?”

    “Look, now your brother is awake, both of you go downstairs to the tenants apartment for a little bit. I have to go do something.”

    “Ceez hurry up, mom said to go downstairs.”

    It’s morning now. Why am I still downstairs? Why is my aunt here? Where is she taking us? Where are my mom and dad? We finally arrive at my aunt’s house.

    “Liz! Ceez! Your dad is here—come say hi.” I start crying. “Daddy is that you?” I didn’t recognize my dad. He was dressed in his work uniform full of blood. He had white bandages all over his nose and face, and his eyes were too swollen to look at us. It looked as if his eyes were closed. What happened to him? Why did he look like that? Who did that, and why?

    At that time we were too little to understand. My dad was a victim of racial profiling and police brutality. My mom later explained to my brother and I that my dad was beat up near a bar, by a cop. When I asked why, she told us that she went looking for him, that’s when she left us with our tenants, and found him in a bar with his friends. She said that they started to argue because my mom wanted to take my dad home and he wanted to drive home. My mom said that she didn’t want him to drive because he was drinking. Like my dad kept insisting that he was alright to drive home, my mom told a cop who she saw was coming their way to pull over. That was probably the worst decision my mom could have made.

    The cop pulled over. His name haunts me to this day, Christopher Lemons. He was a tall, white, dirty blonde hair with brown eyes. He was my classmate, Herbert Lemons, step-father. I was in a weird situation. I wasn’t sure if I should I talk to my friend about what happened? It’s not like he doesn’t know. I decided to not talk about it, anyway it wasn’t his fault. I held no grudges towards my friend, but to his step-father it was a different story. I was so young experiencing true hatred towards a person I didn’t even know. Even thinking and writing about it right now is making my hand tense up and making my handwriting sloppier. How can I hate someone I don’t know? Like the saying goes actions speak louder than words. I don’t have to know him, from what he did, I hate him!

    After the cop and his partner came out of the car they approached my mom and asked her what was wrong. She told them that my dad had been drinking and she needed help taking the keys away from him so he won’t be able to drive. She was responsible and aware to keep my father off the streets for his safety and other people on the roads safety. The officers didn’t see it like that; they saw him as a monster, a criminal, someone they had to attack. Christopher took things into his own hands. He started to use racial slurs to refer to my father. Christopher called my father a “Spick” and started to beat my father up with a hand bar. After they got tired beating him, they put a gun to his head and told him, “We’re going to kill you mother fucker! “You fucking Spick, you don’t deserve to live.”

    Why are people scared of different things? Why can’t we accept that we are all brothers and sisters who all migrated here for the same purpose, success and more opportunities? Why see someone like a monster when different? I think, overall, humans have a hard time accepting change. Generally speaking, “Americans” think they/we are great; not a person nor thing can be better than us or different. And when we see something different, some people don’t know how to handle that experience, but to show violence and anger.

    The officers probably saw my father like a lazy person that sits on his ass all day. They probably profiled him as a “Ghetto Hispanic” or a person that probably already has a few felonies on record, was on welfare, and lived in project homes. He probably thought the stereotypical things we Hispanics get stereotyped as. Little did they know that both my parents were immigrants from Peru who worked very hard in a new country by themselves to start a family, never committed a felony, and have two houses built by my fathers own two hands from the ground up, and that are both owned by them. Fortunately, we never had to receive or use any government help. My parents would work many hours so we wouldn’t have to resort to government help. Very humbly and proudly, we established a steady income that was able to maintain us through all these years.

    They put him in the back of the car and started to take him downtown. My dad later told us that throughout the cop ride to the station, they kept telling him they were going to put a bullet through his head and kill him. As they were passing the red lights, as cops can do, my mom was right behind them doing it too. She wanted help. She didn’t want her husband to get beat up but she had to remain strong for my father. She wanted to bring her husband to her children safe, but asked the wrong people for help. My mom followed them downtown, to find out that they weren’t going to take him to a hospital; in fact they were going to put him in jail for “resisting arrest”. My mom waited for him that day until she was able to take him out. That was the day he came and I couldn’t even recognize him. I even remember calling him a monster because he had dried blood and bandages all over his work uniform, face, and head.

    Seeing my father like this is what made me create a fear and hatred towards cops. I was poisoned to hate all officers; they inadvertently taught me how to hate them. I thought, “How can someone commit such a hate crime to a person because of differences?” I didn’t and don’t understand this concept. Because of this traumatic experience, whenever someone I was with in the car would get pulled over by an officer, I would get so nervous and start to cry. My fear remained until I was thirteen years old. I, in turn, became a profiler. I thought all officers were going to hurt the person I was with because of a silly traffic offense or just because… My perception of law enforcement was that they’re out to hurt instead of “out to serve”.

    My dad went to trial. It took five years to finally be able to go to court and try to fight against them. That didn’t work. The cops were so corrupt that they paid off my dad’s lawyer! What kind of people where they? To try to win the case, my dad went public. He came out in the news and the newspapers. My dad appealed the case and supposedly the lawyer never received or forgot the court date. He even told my father, "Take me to court if you want.” Because of the lawyer, the case was lost.

    If I were to see these people today and they were to ask me for forgiveness for the traumatic and emotional damage they created to my family and myself, I wouldn’t even think about it twice, my answer would be NO. Even though I’m not supposed to think like this because of my religion but I will never forgive them for what they did and I hope God won’t either.

    My experience is what motivated me to go to school and major in criminal justice. Not to be like Christopher Lemons, but rather, to be either an officer who genuinely protects people. I also envision becoming a criminal defense lawyer to protect the “criminals” who were unlawfully abused by officers—as was the case with my father.

    This experience also motivated me to go to school and graduate. It motivated me to remind “America” that not all immigrants and their families fail. My struggling parents were able to put me through a good university, even though that meant a lot of sacrifice and overtime work. In a couple of months they can say, “We accomplished the “American Dream”, we have two houses, put our kids in university and have the pleasure to see our daughter graduate this May with her bachelors degree. We accomplished the reason why we migrated to this country, so our children can have the opportunities we didn’t.”

    Elizabeth Villanueva
    February, 2010

  • Many people come to the United States seeking a better future and trying to pursue their dreams. During that time many become strong while others become weak. Some fulfill their dreams and many others don't. Being an immigrant is tough, but being an undocumented immigrant can be worse. After arriving in the United States at the age of ten it didn't take me long to figure that out. The experience, in many ways, has shaped who I am today. The absence of a paternal figure and the lack of help changed my personality almost completely.

    Like every child, playing around and being happy was at the top of my "to do" list. At ten I was brought to the United States by my mother. In the process I lost my family, my happy and almost perfect life and my friends back in my country. When I left the Dominican Republic I lost the only paternal figure I had, my grandfather. Once I lost him I became little aggressive because I didn’t feel the protection that he always provided to me. The change of countries was a big emotional shock that changed my personality almost 100%.

    While in the Dominican Republic I was a straight “A” student; in the United States it took me a while to become one again. The change of language kept me isolated for a while. Once I learned English, however, other obstacles came up to interrupt my childhood happiness.

    The struggle to adapt to a different culture was a painful war. In my country I was an athletic and very active girl, but once I stepped off the plane in New York, all of that changed. The new food and the lack activities drove me to become an overweight child. The extra weight brought a different kind of war upon me. It became harder to have any friends because I didn't look and/or feel right, not to mention the language difference.

    I found children to be cruel in this new country compared to the ones in the Dominican Republic. The aggressiveness I had acquired was most of the time misinterpreted and many accused me of being “boy like” or a lesbian. This added to the list of reasons why I didn’t have many friends. The cruelty in this country was so intense that even at the age of ten, children will discriminate against another child because of their sexual orientation that hasn’t been developed yet. Since friends were out of the question—so were playing, running outside, homework buddies and/or any social activities altogether.

    Back in my country no matter how old you were, once homework was completed, you were allowed to go out and play. While here in the United States, since my mother worked, I faced many long days and lonely nights in front of a television or a video game.

    Many things were either hard to obtain or completely denied to my family because of the lack of a green card. Ever since my mother came to the United States, she's been working two or three jobs at a time in order to care for her three children. As a strong undocumented woman, my mother dealt with her responsibilities but hardly earned enough because she didn't have a green card. Seeing my mother struggle to give us everything we both needed and wanted, has only made me work harder for what I want and deserve.

    Ten years later I am a college student and still don't have a green card. As an immigrant without a green card, I cannot receive financial aid for my education. My brother and I both have two jobs to help my mother pay for our education and other expenses. Although we researched different scholarship options, one of the criteria was that we needed to be a U.S. citizen.

    Before I started college, I didn’t have a social security card made which made it hard to find a job. Ironically, the only reason why my family and I are still in this country without fear of being deported is that I became a crime victim. It was only then, that my family and I were granted social security cards, a visa and work permits to stay in the U.S. and testify in the trial.

    When I was sixteen years old, I arrived at home like any other day from school, but this day I didn’t have the key to my apartment. Once I had gotten into my building and knocked on my door I had noticed that my brothers weren’t home yet. I decided to wait for them in the lobby of the building, when a man took me to the roof at knife point. There, I was sexually molested and many of the dreams I had were temporarily lost. Others were lost completely. Even though what I went through was and still remains very painful it came with its negative and its positive outcomes.

    Psychologically, I will always be in pain but it also helped my family to obtain a better immigration status. While I still don’t have a green card or citizenship, my family and I are considered to be somewhere in between being illegal and being legal. We have our visas; we have social security cards; and most importantly, the ability to work legally. All of this has helped my mother obtain better employment to support our family. It also helped me to shift my attitude a little about this country—it was like a little light in the darkness. It made me believe that one day things will change and my family and I will be able to do better.

    However, my life in this foreign country has also brought up weaknesses that I didn't know existed inside me. I was raised in a very close-knit family. Everyone helped each other including the neighbors; they too, were treated like family. So, my strongest weakness is fear. Fear of not seeing my family and people I love back in my country. I also fear that I will lose part of my culture and end up living the way people live here in the United States. Here, it’s hard to enjoy life because one has to work most of the time. In the Dominican Republic people live a little more freely, they take more advantage of time and spend it with their family.

    Another fear is looking like an immigrant and its relationship to racism. About two months ago, my mother organized a party for a high school in our home. Two white police officers came to our door and asked me to lower the music; they also threatened to come back for me. I lowered the music and they returned after forty-five minutes or so. The first thing I got after opening the door was a punch to the stomach and hand cuffs on my wrist. My mother whom hadn’t said a word because she didn’t see when I got hit and hand cuffed was also taken in by the officers.

    We spent a full day in jail and weren’t allowed to make a call. To me, it became apparent we were being treated with less respect by the cops because we were Dominican. This experience has led me to finally open my eyes to what the legal system in the United States is really all about. It is not about equal rights for everyone, the rules are manipulated depending on whose liberty or life is on the line.

    My journey in the United States has been shaped by my immigrant experience as an undocumented child who is now a woman. I have become a strong person. I learned to fight for the things that I desire which include my educational goals, my family and the culture I inherited from them. Rather than waste my time in front of a television or playing video games, I spend my time reading books and educating myself. I learned to be independent and not to trust anybody.

    The traumatic experiences I have been through in this country left a scar in my heart but I remain moving forward.

    Karen M.
    February 2010

  • Handicapped is a term that implies helplessness. A term used to describe an individual with disabilities, usually mental or physical. I was born handicapped, not mentally nor physically, but socially. Certain traits I carry as a unique individual have crippled me; deeming me “helpless” and “disabled” in modern society. As a short, diabetic, Latino American, bisexual, male, I have experienced soul shattering ignorance and gone through heart-wrenching obstacles. Through a great part of my life, I felt like the person I am was a curse, rather than a blessing. But just as a mentally or physically handicapped individual is no less valuable than anyone else, I learned that what I had seen as disabilities did not make me any less valuable than any other individual in the entire world, despite differences in race, size, gender, health, or sexual orientation. In fact, my unique characteristics shaped me to become the strong, proud individual I am today.

    My ethnicity has had a great impact on the person I am today. I am Dominican and Puerto-Rican and being a Latino, people have preconceived thoughts of me. Most of the general public expects a lot from me, but these are not good expectations. Day after day, I am stereo-typed and expected to act some way or speak another. Unfortunately, in modern society, people do not think much of Latin Americans. Many believe that we are lazy or drug dealers or drop outs. People believe that because I am Dominican I am supposed to love platanos or that because I am Puerto-Rican I eat Goya beans all the time, or that just because I am Latino I speak Spanish. Fortunate enough for me, I acquired the knowledge of every single stereo-type I could think of at an early age. Living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a dominantly Caucasian neighborhood, I heard what people had to say about Hispanics. I experienced racism and ignorance all over whether it be at school or from neighbors. Learning that I was expected to be less than a civilized human being at a young age is something I am grateful for, because it taught me that I need to live above and beyond the stereotypes. Today, I am eighteen years old. I graduated from High School with an Advanced Regents Diploma, I am an upper freshman in college with a 3.8 average, I have been working since the age of fourteen and I have yet to be arrested or impregnate any females. I am more than satisfied with the person I have become today, thanks to my nationality.

    At times, I would have loved to give up. I would have loved to let loose and do what a lot of my other friends were doing, but I just couldn’t. The reason I stay out of trouble and try to be the best of the best at whatever I do is because every day I keep in the back of my mind that many people are expecting me to fail, expecting me to be arrested, expecting me to do something, and I refuse to be anything negative that people expect me to be and I will never become just another statistic.

    My economic status has also shaped the person I have become today. Many people think that because I live in Park Slope, my parents must be rich. Latinos owning a house in such a neighborhood is a dream for many, but although many think we have it good, we are far from rich. My family is a middle class family, my father is retired from the Army and is currently a photographer and graphic designer, my mother works for the Board of Education and myself, I work at C-Town Supermarket. None of these jobs are the best paying jobs in the world, but they put the food on the table. My parents work hard day after day to provide for my family, keep the house they have purchased and enjoy some of the luxuries we are used to. There were times where my parents struggled to keep on the gas, the light and even keep the house in general. I have seen them work as hard as they could to keep us at the class where we are at just to keep my brother, my sister and I happy and healthy. This has shaped my personality in a way that I do not take anything for granted. I am grateful for everything I have, whether it was given to me or I worked for it. I work at a job that I despise for a mere $7.50 an hour, but I do it because my parents have shown me through example that you have to do what you have to do to survive. Despite the fact I live under my parents’ roof, I consider myself a man. I provide for myself, calling upon my parents as little as possible. Had it not been for the struggles I have seen my parents face in this dog eat dog economy, I would probably be another spoiled, lazy brat.

    On top of the economic struggles I have faced and the way my ethnicity affects my actions, another thing that has molded me into a strong individual is my illness. On February 25th, 2008, I was diagnosed with Type I, also known as Insulin Dependent or Juvenile, Diabetes. Till this day I still remember how I felt when I got the news. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I swore my life was over. I felt like I would not be able to do anything I had planned to do for myself ever again. Fortunate for me, five days trapped in the four walls of a hospital room left me thinking. Did I really want to give up? Can diabetes really stop me from succeeding? Upon my return to school and the real world, I was hit with the most powerful question I was ever asked. My 11th grade chemistry teacher asked me, “Do you have diabetes or does diabetes have you?” Along with the expectations people have of me based on my ethnicity, I learned to keep what people thought of me as a diabetic in my mind as well. I could not expect sympathy; diabetes could not kill me, unless I allowed it to. Since that time, I push myself as hard as possible. Many people believe that my diabetes would make me weak or hold me back from performing certain tasks, but Brandon Areizaga lives above any one’s expectations. Day by day, I push myself both mentally, at school and physically, at work and the gym. Many of my peers or co-workers watch me inject myself with insulin time to time and many of them say, “I don’t know how you do it. I think I would die.” Every time I hear those words I smile. Those words remind me that through every single day of my life I am overcoming obstacles many expect to be impossible. This is how my diabetes has shaped me.

    While my diabetes made me mentally stronger, my economic struggles made me more appreciative and my Latino background made me more tolerant; my sexual orientation has made me all of the above and more. I am bisexual; I like both men and women. I struggled with my sexuality for a real long time. I denied it to myself for a while; it was one of those things that I felt made me “handicapped” to society. When people would question my sexuality, I would become furious. However, in March of 2009, I owned up to my sexuality. Through sleepless nights and lonely days where I would sit and think to myself what life would be like if I “came out of the closet?” During that long period of thought I realized that I putting such great importance on sexual orientation made just as ignorant as those who stereotyped Latinos or believed the diabetic life style was impossible. I also realized, in the words of the great children’s author Dr. Seuss, “Those who matter won’t mind and those who mind don’t really matter.”

    Coming out was a great relief for me, but I experienced ignorance from everywhere. People judging my life style, people telling me that bisexuals do not exist, people telling me that I had to like one or the other and that I was just confused. There were times I would just want to run away and hide because it was unbearable, but I knew it was something I would have to face because I will never stop experiencing such ignorance and intolerance. My way of stepping up to the plate was writing a speech for my Senior English class on being bisexual. In said speech, I reported how much it hurt me to hold it inside and how difficult it was to let it out. I told people that I knew what I was getting myself into and that in a world full of hate and ignorance I might never stop dealing with criticism. As those words left my mouth, I felt my hard beating through my chest. I saw many jaws drop because many people had not discovered I was bisexual yet. After this speech, I was the talk of the school. Surprisingly, especially for a High School, it was good talk. People really felt what I had to say and were proud of me for standing up and owning my sexuality.

    My sexuality has had such a great impact on the person that I am today because it tested me in many different ways. It gave me the strength to deal with ignorance from all over. It helped me realize I should not get mad at what people say because people are always going to talk. It gave me the drive to keep going at anything I do. If my ethnicity, economic status and diabetes were the fingers that slowly shaped me into who I am today, my sexuality is the hands and I am proud of it.

    Everyone is made differently. No two people are exactly alike. For some reason, different things scare people. Not many individuals are opened minded and ready for change and their fear of that leads to ignorance, discrimination and hatred for one another. It takes an individual to own up to who they are and be proud of it because all of our characteristics have shaped us in some form. Sometimes individuals hide who they truly are to fit into society, but I, for one, have embraced my personality and have let my characteristics mold me into the person I am today. The idea of embracing who you are led me to write a poem, it was originally about sexuality, but I could also apply to any characteristic one may feel ashamed of. The poem says,

    “Embrace who you are, we’re all made unique,

    Don’t keep your traits hidden, this isn’t hide and seek.

    Seems you’re a bit confused, I think it’s about time

    You realize your reflection won’t show what’s inside.

    You act so damn confident, but it’s clear you’re afraid.

    Now look at the person your lies have made.

    Your façade’s your affliction, a painful addiction

    You go day to day mixing up fact and fiction.

    Your tongue’s never bitten, so why start now?

    You smother the real you inside, deep down.

    Is it the truth you don’t want them to see?

    Do you really want to make yourself what they expect you to be?

    It seems so cliché, but we’re all one of a kind

    & it’s those who truly matter, that really won’t mind.”

    I feel this poem relates to a lot of people because a lot of people are afraid to show the real them. However, in my story, I refuse to be fake. What some people consider a social handicap, I learned is a blessing. Every single thing about me, whether it be my race, economic status, health or sexual orientation, has molded me into somebody I have come to love. The unique parts of my personality have allowed me to open my mind and become what no other might expect from me. I would not be any one else and that should be the ending to every one’s story.

    Brandon Areizaga
    February 2010

  • On many occasions, I have been told by Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike that I do not fit the profile of what they either assume a Nigerian to be and act like – in the case of non-Nigerians – or that my speech and mannerisms betray my ethnicity and nationality. In society, we are often seeking for a sense of belonging and a sense of identity that is usually defined through other people’s perception of us. To a certain extent, certain factors of our identities are passed down to us by default, such as our race, gender and sexual orientation (to a certain degree), nationality, and ethnicity, to name a few. For instance, on paper, I can be described as a black, female, Nigerian of the Yoruba tribe. However, none of these labels or even the labels collectively, accurately defines who I am as a human being.

    Having lived in many other countries throughout the world, as opposed to my home country of Nigeria, I am fully aware of the fact that as a Nigerian living in the Diaspora, my realities differ from that of the average Nigerians who have. Often times, when in Nigeria or amongst Nigerians who have grown up solely in the Western world, I find it hard to relate or find the middle ground between the two groups that where I seem to fit in. For instance, those who have grown-up primarily within the Diaspora do not always feel that sense of connection for their heritage that native Nigerians feel. Furthermore, for many of them, Nigeria seems to be a far, foreign and alien concept that they are yet to see, and at times this causes a separation between them and their immediate roots, that in turn leaves them unattached to the happenings in Nigeria.

    For those who were born, bred and either continue to live in Nigeria, or have only recently left, I often find that their sense of patriotism, nationalism and unity is on a far greater scale than those who are based in the Diaspora, and even more so than myself. These Nigerians are often quick to label anyone who does not share in the Nigerian experience that can only be acquired in one having lived there, as not fully Nigerians. This is mainly because of the hardships and constant friction that people living in Nigeria feel, and is often the source of flight for many of those who have re-settled in countries around the world. Those who are left in the country to inevitably take on this burden often feel that it is these very experiences that shape and define the Nigerian identity. Thus, if one has not experienced this sort of lifestyle, one cannot claim to be a Nigerian as that person would have no real understanding of what other Nigerians attach the basis of their identity to.

    In-between those who are detached and others who have no choice but to be attached, lie people similar to me. Although I was born in Nigeria, by the age of four I relocated and although I visit often, it is not the same as living in Nigeria permanently. At times, I often feel like a foreigner when visiting my home country, where at times I have been referred to as a, “oyinbo”, a Yoruba word meaning “white person”, due to the fact that I sound and act like one, according to certain people in Nigeria. At first, this came as a shock and although it was not meant as a direct insult, I certainly took as one. For starters, I was certainly not a white person – at least in the racial sense. Secondly, with the exception of this particular context, due to the fact that I am black I have never enjoyed the privileges experience by white people in other countries. Yes, I did not speak the language fluently, and yes, I had not lived in Nigeria permanently beyond the age of four, even my first name did not reflect my ethnicity or my nationality, but was that enough to dismiss my ever-increasing sense of pride in being a Nigerian despite the negative and at times hateful remarks I continuously endure because of my nationality.

    I was always left completely baffled and could not quite fully comprehend, until much later, that this had nothing to do with my skin color, but everything to do with perception. After all, where does one draw the line between defining oneself by way of other people, or through one’s own personal understanding of a particular ideology, regarding identity? What are the criteria that one has to fulfill in order to make one eligible and deserving of a title or label? If such criteria exists, is it malleable and subject to change? Or is it fixed and set in stone, with no possibility of exceptions and additions? I find that over and over again, I continuously have to prove myself as a Nigerian – mostly to my fellow countrymen – but also to those who see me as too westernized to even be an African. In the presence of non-Nigerians, there have been times that people have forgotten my nationality and even gone as far as to make negative remarks about Nigeria and Nigerians. Naturally, this leaves me greatly offended, and when I do not side with them and staunchly defend those who they have attempted to degrade, they are often left surprised as I remind them that whether or not they consider myself to be a “different kind of Nigerian, not like the others”, it does not change the fact that I am one, regardless.

    Although I can understand where these judgments stem from, it does not make them any easier to bear. Constantly having to prove one’s self worth for the satisfaction of others is a tiring process. This comes as a disadvantage of not growing up in my home country, as well as through the conditioning that I have been exposed to in the West. For a large portion of my childhood, I greatly ignored the significance of African, and specifically Nigerian, history. Not because I believed it to be irrelevant to my life, but because the schools I attended greatly omitted this subject in my education. A lot of what I have come to know of both Nigeria and various African countries has been through a great personal effort to educate myself through reading, as well as in asking my parents, relatives and friends about their experiences and the history of their identities. In doing so, I have been able to re-connect with those who were once skeptical about my patriotism and concerns for Africa and its people. More specifically, I have also come to identify as a Pan-Africanist: someone who believes in the unification of all African people and nations, regardless of our differences. For if we can overcome what divides us, what unites us shall eventually persevere and ensure a secure and prosperous future. As simple as that sounds, the goals and hardships to overcome are deeply rooted in former and neo-colonialist structures that have immensely affected the state of Africa today. It is going to take a complete overhaul of many of the ideologies that were embedded by European colonialists that continue to be enforced, still to this day. Many Africans still feel a sense of division that has flourished since colonialist times, hence the labeling of someone who has lived in the west as a “oyinbo” - a white man, a betrayer of the African identity.

    A. A.
    Fall 2011

  • I was born and raised in Plainfield, a mid-sized town in central-northern New Jersey. It was once a getaway destination for rich New Yorkers to enjoy time away from large city life, but around the time I was born, it had become a poor town consisting mostly of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and a fair amount of newly arrived Hispanics from the rest of Latin America. The building in which my family and I lived in had mostly Puerto Rican tenants who were all somehow connected to one another. As a child, I grew up loving my culture. I didn’t really know much about it, but as far as I knew, being Puerto Rican was a wonderful thing. I always told people I was Puerto Rican for some reason. I never thought twice about it. I was obsessed with identities around pre-school and kindergarten age. I was the kid who would ask another child where they were from and would throw a fit if their answer was “Plainfield.” I took great pleasure in being Puerto Rican especially after I visited the island for the first time at the age of six. As far as I knew, it was a hazy land with castles, pirate lore, and delicious candies.

    When we came back from our vacation in Puerto Rico, it was nearly time for me to head into the first grade. I wasn’t worried at all because I’d always loved school and learning. I would be attending Stillman Elementary School a ninety percent black school, the other ten percent being Hispanics from all over Latin America. I remember reading too fast ahead of the class and being sent into the second grade class for their reading workshop. It was during these sessions in Mrs. Gray’s second gray class that I would experience my first taste of racism. Ja’neé Smith was the tallest second grader and the worst behaved. Her permanent seat was the “bad” chair in the front of the class. Every day after lunch, I would sit in Mrs. Gray’s class for the reading workshops until school was dismissed and every time I entered the class J’aneé would call me a “honky.”

    It’s funny that I didn’t even know what that word meant, although the class would roar in laughter mostly out of fear of Ja’neé. I soon learned what this and other racial slurs directed towards me would mean especially in the following year where I was officially assigned to Mrs. Gray’s class with children even meaner than Ja’neé Smith. Second grade was incredibly rough for me; both literally and emotionally. My cousin Jr. who looked like he could have been my brother was held back and then switched into my second grade class along with his best friend. We were the only Hispanics in this class and therefore endured endless amounts of bullying. The bullying wasn’t just limited to occasional slurs. The three of us enjoyed early morning beat downs where teachers would turn blind eyes, being followed and beaten to a pulp everyday by the same girl because she said she “hated white people.” The same girl even went as far as cutting my hair while we watched a film and ripping my father’s day card on the last day of the second grade all while teachers dismissed all of it with the casual laughter of “kids will be kids.”

    Looking back on these experiences, I don’t know how I made it to the fifth grade without losing my passion for school and learning. These behaviors carried on into the fifth grade, where I realized I had a breaking point. Mr. Assante was the cool fifth grade teacher who loved to make fun of students in a “tolerable” fashion; but once he got that ball rolling, he hardly ever stopped the other students from snowballing it into something cruel. I remember dreading the “crackin’ session” Mr. Assante had. He would go in random order picking on students to make “light” jokes of, with the promise that they could crack a few jokes on him, but it was something out of my element. My mother always taught me to respect adults, but she never specified if that respect should withstand an adult disrespecting me. So I withstood jokes about my pastiness, how I lie about being Puerto Rican and how everyone saw me getting beat up during recess; choking back tears every time. He unknowingly created a platform for students to feel as if they too earned the right to take a jab at me too. The fifth grade was where I realized that being myself would only cause me pain as it had all of elementary school. It was here where I first began to resent being a white skinned Puerto Rican because unlike the typical looking Hispanics and African Americans, I fit in nowhere.

    Throughout middle school much of the same treatment persisted and I was used to it. In turn I openly expressed extreme dislike against being Puerto Rican and I forcibly made “friends” so I wouldn’t seem like so much of a pariah. It wasn’t until the second half of the eighth grade where I was accepted into the honors high school did I begin to feel more confident again, however at this same time my grandmother in Puerto Rico passed away. This meant an impromptu trip to Puerto Rico with money we did not have. Along with the sadness of my grandmother’s passing, I had a pitted feeling in my stomach. Over the years, I had forgotten to speak Spanish as a form of ridding myself of the troublesome identity it stemmed from. The pitted feeling was the memory of my last conversation with “mi Abuelinda” where I was too embarrassed of my terrible Spanish to say more than “sì” and “no” and getting by the rest of the conversation as a chore with mostly English because I knew she understood. It is a terrible memory I try hard to forget, but it was a realization of sorts.

    How could I have allowed my nationalistic Puerto Rican pride to become matted down to the point where I shuddered at the thought of speaking Spanish and identifying with other Latinos? Had the pressures and fears of racism pushed me into forging an identity that was not mine? Regardless, on the first trip to Puerto Rico since I was six, I learned the hard way that these people I once denounced were the only people I had at the end of the day and only they could feel the way I felt during that time. So I embraced Puerto Rican culture wholeheartedly since then by learning Spanish, reading countless books on our culture, and taking pride in everything Puerto Rican from then on. It will always be sad to me how it took my grandmother’s passing to realize that I was doing a great damage and though I couldn’t fix things, I wouldn’t allow history to repeat itself once again. Fittingly enough, the honors high school was a great environment of diverse kids who allowed me to grow as my own person without any added pressures. I became my true self during my high school years, unabashedly partaking in everything and anything I liked.

    Going into college was a proud moment for me and my family, being the first to attend a four year school. However, I was not prepared to come out of the bubble my high school kept us in. I didn’t know that people could be insensitive to you in ways other than dealing with your race or ethnicity. In college I learned that people carried the sentiments voiced by their parents concerning social class. As a freshman last year in my English 201 class, I became aware that even college educated people are not fond of the “poor” and especially those who may have to resort to government aid. I was, of course shocked. I didn’t think that college educated people could be so close minded while they voiced their rehearsed “liberal” sentiments. Though it is not something neither I nor my mother are proud of, we depended on government aid for housing after my parents separated. My mother’s job just didn’t provide enough to be able to save money and raise me comfortably. I soon learned economic terms that summarized our social class like the “working poor.” This sad reality is what many Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and other ethnic groups are categorized as; a dead end in the economic ladder because while you have enough money to survive, there is no extra money to save and move up economically. It was difficult to swallow comments from students in my English class who said things like “I don’t want to know about poor people. I want to stay in my bubble” and “Ew; poor people need to stop sleeping in until noon and go look for jobs. It’s not fair our tax dollars support deadweight.” During discussions like that, I rarely spoke up because I was and still am not proud of that time when my mother and I needed government aid. It was necessary to survive, but even admitting it to being solely for survival purposes would have me and my family thrown in with the unfair stereotypes of lazy Puerto Ricans. I look back on that English class as an introduction into the real world; people will never fully accept poor people, a sad yet true reality.

    The story of my experiences with several barriers is not intended as a sob story about my woes, so much as it is to give insight into how I became the person I am today. In my case during elementary and middle school, I was one of the only people who did not fit either one of the generalized group types of Latinos or African Americans. Since the unpleasant experiences took place for many years, I was made to feel that I was weird. It was magnified when even an adult jumped in to point out how “strange” I was. Ironically, these experiences initially lead me away from my culture, but in turn they actually lead me to explore my culture with a truer passion.

    Outside of past life molding events, I have experienced other eye opening situations. I once went on a date with a really nice Jewish guy with whom I had a lot of things in common. We met at a restaurant and aside from usual first date awkwardness, we were having a nice time until he offended me without knowing he did so. He was talking about the neighborhood he just moved into and how his window faced the inside of a community garden run by Puerto Ricans. Although I knew his comment was going to end badly, I allowed him to finish out of courtesy. He finished his story with “…and all those Puerto Ricans do is sit around all day and blast their Reggaeton music in my window. Seriously, don’t they work? Do any Puerto Ricans work?!” I interrupted his rant just then and said very politely, “…Well. I‘m Puerto Rican. What exactly are you trying to say?” His face reddened and he apologized. Needless to say we never went on another date.

    Experiences like this one just go to show how I’m more self-assured than I have ever been in my life. Years ago I would never have voiced my true feelings because I would fear being judged for siding against the generalization. Today, I don’t allow people to put me in a position of belittlement. I don’t need to fit anyone’s molding to be happy in life or successful socially. I’m happier with myself when I voice my opinions against everyone else’s. It is who I am by nature and the sooner I realized it, the easier my life has been since.

    N. M.
    Fall 2011

  • Through the eyes of young child, the world seems like a fresh batch of cookies you can’t wait to get a bite of. Issues such as race, gender, sexuality, and class are neither within the realm nor within the grasp of our knowledge for we are only concerned with the simple pleasures in life. However this cannot last forever. Some where along the way we stop seeing people as just people and instead as black, white, hispanic, gay, straight, bi, rich or poor. Our minds become enraptured with these concepts thus inhibiting us from moving closer to someone simply because they are different. It is unfortunate that as we emerge from our innocence, we are immediately submerged in a sea of prejudice and discrimination. To me, race was never a huge issue; neither with my friends nor my family until around my junior year of high school.

    I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and lived there with my mother for four years before she migrated to the United States. We lived with my aunt for another four years in Long Island and then moved to New Haven, CT where we lived with my grandfather until I was thirteen and ready to go off to high school. My mother wanted to send me to a private school but seeing as how I had attended one from fourth to eighth grade, and how much I detested it, I decided to change things up a bit and enroll in a public school. Neither my mother nor I regret the choice for not only did I receive a good education, but I also learned some very valuable life lessons that I will carry with me forever.

    Now that I had moved to Hamden, a suburban town adjacent to New Haven, I found myself adjusting to high school with ease. I made many friends no matter their color for I was used to being around diversity. Throughout my freshman and sophomore years I had a lot of fun, but as I reminisce on how things were, I realized that something was wrong.

    Looking back I now see that although I may have conversed with white and Asian students, I only hung out with blacks and Latinos. Though this does not cause much feeling in me, I do wonder why things worked out this way. I ponder if I subconsciously made more of an effort to bond with my African American and Latino peers rather than my Caucasian and Asian counterparts. Though I never thought of race at this time, I now find myself wondering if the images portrayed to me through the media had a negative impact on my perception of other races.

    Now at the beginning of my junior year and even towards the end of the summer that preceded, I noticed that I fell out of touch with many of my friends. Though it was not attributed to any arguments, or any “he said she said” nonsense, I realized that the goals my friends and I set forth for ourselves led us in completely different paths. I wanted to go to college and leave the monotony of Connecticut while they lost sight of the fact that high school would not last forever. I started taking A.P. courses and became more concerned with building not only my academic resume, but also ensuring my opportunity of getting into a great college and securing my future. I would see my old friends the hallway during passing time and instead of hurrying to they’re next class, they would be lounging around criticizing those whose attire was not up to par. I could not help but wonder why so many of my friends, the friends of color who once had so much going for them, suddenly stopped caring. Sometimes when I would speak to them they told me “stop talking white” and not only did it offend me as a person of color, but it also made me wonder why they looked down on my vocabulary and therefore thought of me as “white.” I found it so reprehensible that speaking properly and without slang was a “white” thing. It was at this moment that I began to look at the people in my classes and noticed that I was usually the only brown person aside from the few Asian kids and occasional Black or Latino student. I asked my self “why isn’t there more diversity within the classrooms considering how many races attend this school.” I was soon able to answer my own question.

    When I think of my friends and the homes they came from, I realized that with many of them, education was not always reinforced. And when I take into account that the people they hung out with all thought the same way, I also realize that the lack of motivation within the home paired with surrounding yourself with people who share the same sentiment makes for a mentality that fails to see the we all need to have a post high school plan. Though I lived in the same neighborhood as many of my friends, my mother was always pushing me to do well in school and to put my education first. She never failed to remind me of how beneficial it was to have a college degree and how limitless life could be if I obtained one. I truly thank her for wanting me to do more with my life while appreciating where I came from. I often think about how some of my old friends got involved with soliciting drugs which led to incarceration, how some dropped out, while others just went through the motions of school barely passing with a D and it hurts to know how smart they are and how much potential they had. But due to a certain mindset, some goals, I guess to them, just did not seem attainable or much less worth fighting for.

    As senior year drew in I only became more removed from the friends I had my freshman and sophomore year. I went from having maybe twenty friends to four really close friends. These four were all different but we were all motivated in some way and knew that we wanted to be the best we could be. By this time the issue of race had not dissipated but rather was often at the forefront of my mind. Though I did not attribute every mistreatment from other races to the fact that I was black, I was aware of its factor in certain situations. For example, there were twenty-six students in my A.P. English course and I along with two other girls, were the only people of color in that class. It seemed as though whenever we answered a question with not only accuracy but also depth, I would sometimes notice a surprised look on some of the students faces. At first it bothered me but after a while I decided to ignore it. Then I got my first job as a hostess at a Chili’s restaurant which was right next to my school and it was here that I received another glimpse as to how other races were treated. Once I began working, I saw that although there was a black manager, there were only three other black employees that worked in the front. Though there were many others, I noticed that they worked as cooks or bussers. When I began working there, though everyone was nice, there was one waiter in particular that who always greeted me with “what’s up girlfriend?”, “yo ma’ was good?” or “what’s good homie?” I thought he was simply being facetious but then I noticed that he never spoke to any of his other non-black co workers that way and I began to think that he spoke to me that way because he thought that was how I behaved. Though I do not look down on people who speak that way, it offended me that he assumed that was how I was before he got to know me. But little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

    As time went on I noticed that the servers had a change of attitude whenever an African American, Latino, or Asian person came into the restaurant. I was soon informed that the reason for this was because they felt like they would not get tipped. Before this time I had never heard of the saying that black people don’t tip. Whenever I went out, I always tipped so I found it shocking when this was brought forth to me. I used to get so enraged when a large party of Hispanics or black people came in and the waiters got mad at me for seating them in their section. At first I just let it go, but one day I went to get the waiter because a customer (a black customer) asked for a certain drink and when I got to the back, I overheard the waiter calling them niggers and how he hates serving those people. Before I knew it I went off on him and told him to suck it up and do his job. I could not believe the blatant racism that lay before me and how eminent it seemed to be. The more I worked there, the more instances of racism were brought to my attention and the more some waiters started to distance themselves from me because they knew I would not hesitate to put them in their place. For the most part, I got along with many of the staff but there were those few who gave me the cold shoulder whenever I sat them with people of color. What they failed to realize was that if you walk over to a table with the thought that you will not be tipped, whether you are aware of it or not, your table will sense that and therefore they will not tip you. There was even a server that was paying certain hostess’ to avoid seating him with black people. That is why coming to New York City was such a blessing for me.

    In this city, I find that this social construct known as race seems almost non-existent. This is one of the only places where I have seen so many interracial couples race never seems to play a factor in everyday life. Although it is also very diverse in Jamaica, this, Manhattan is the only other place where I have seen not only equilibrium amongst races but also a sense of consonance and there for a slew of languages and cultures mixing together. Even within the walls of Pace University I see all kinds of people not only within the classroom but also conversing in the hallways and café 101. I love that anyone who is anyone feels comfortable when in the school and even more so this city. There are no cities that I have been to in Connecticut where I have seen such a mix of ethnicities but when my time comes to have children, or even when my children have children, I hope that race will be a thing of the past.

    Danielle Davis
    Spring, 2009

  • Honest to God, how am I going to tell my story? How do I write all of this down? It almost seems impossible; there’s just so much to say. I have written numerous memoirs, narratives, poems, and unfinished monologues on what it’s like to be Latino and the complexities that make me who I am. It just all seems like a big task to handle, even though I am more than willing to embark on this journey. The intersections of my identity, outside of my Hispanic heritage, are vast and complex, and I am still currently labeling those aspects of myself. (Are they outside of my heritage or are they intertwined? I have more questions than answers.) While this is a reflection, I still feel strange being so informal and personal. Perhaps being personal is the best. It’s so honest. It would be strange to just be factual in describing oneself in the third person, but here goes (for a paragraph at least):

    Roberto C. Chavez (the middle initial standing for ‘Carlos’) is a Pace University student, a history major, a theatre-geek, an actor, a poet, a gay male, an aspiring educator (who likes the word ‘aspiring’), a native New Yorker, an American citizen, the son of immigrant parents, an Ecuadorian-American (who believes in the hyphenated American identity), a non-practicing Catholic, a confirmed Catholic, an Agnostic (now leaning towards being an Atheist), a gringo, el gringo de la familia, one who speaks Americanized Spanish, the son of an alcoholic/former alcoholic/recovering alcoholic, a bibliophile, a bookworm, a self-identified (and proud) nerd/dork/geek, a germaphobe, and a rambling writer.

    Now I feel as though the primary aspects of my identity are my homosexuality and my Hispanic heritage. I am an Ecuadorian-American who writes in English, struggles with Spanish, and loves being a part of a rich culture. I am bilingual. I am bicultural. I am monosexual. I am homosexual. I am a bi and trans ally. I am a prisoner of the Spanish language. I’m out of its reach. Out of touch with my culture, with my family, with understanding how everything that makes me the individual that I am fits together. In order to properly explain my story, I must go back. I must tell the story of my parents and their immigration to the United States, and then I may address who I am.

    My parents, Manuel and Marcia Chavez, came from Otavalo, Ecuador. Even though they originated from the same town, they actually never met until they came to the United States in the seventies. My mother and father eventually married one another and had two children: Natalia Rebecca Chavez and Roberto Carlos Chavez. My sister Natalia and I have a nine year age difference since my mother and father did not want to have more children after Natalia (apparently she was a handful), but when my sister was near the age of nine, she wanted a younger sibling. To this day my sister jokes that I owe my existence to her. Having a little baby brother at the age of nine helped my sister mature faster into adolescence and I occasionally still call her “Mami” since it was, at times, like growing up with two mothers. One could say I was part of the traditional family structure: there was a mother, a father, a daughter, and a son; however, I saw a change in my nuclear family over the later years of my adolescence.

    The primary focus of this narrative will be my relationship with both my parents, with my mother in particular, and how my relationships with them and how my homosexuality were affected by their Ecuadorian upbringing and their immigration to the United States. While my sister has played an incredibly important role in my life, my true connection to my Hispanic heritage would be through my parents (but mostly my mother).

    I never thought of it before, but I’ve been lucky that both my parents throughout my entire childhood and adolescence had consistent, stable jobs; my mother has been a housekeeper and personal chef for the Weiksner family on the Upper East Side for nearly twenty-eight years now and my father had worked as a garage manager for twenty-eight years until my senior year of high school. I also never thought about the fact that my parents were together for so long; my sister, who grew up in the eighties, noted being one of the few children going to P.S.6. that did not have divorced parents. Looking back, the reason for my parents not divorcing, despite not loving each other, reflected the issue of staying together as a family and was influenced by their upbringing on divorce. My mother wanted to spare Natalia and I the pain of being a divided family like our peers around us; however, as I neared the end of high school she had regretted not leaving my father and finding a better male figure in our lives.

    My mother has been an inspirational, moving force in my life, and even though she and I have sparred at times and struggled with understanding one another, I never doubted that my mother loved me unconditionally. The unconditional love in my household gave me a stable living environment, although it was at times strict. My mother had pushed my sister and me to gain the best education we can achieve; she was unable to accomplish her dream of being a lawyer due to her father denying her the chance to go to law school. Later on when she came to the New York City, language became a barrier and her need to work and support her family abroad hindered any hopes of finishing her dreams. Her love of the United States, which has been her home since she was twenty, made her firmly believe her children could get the best education they could because they spoke the native language and grew up here with all the benefits of being citizens.

    While my mother’s devotion to the United States is strong, she in a way never completely left Ecuador. We, as a family, have visited our relatives over the summers and my mother has assisted her family financially ever since she came to the States. She described the immigrant experience as: “You fall in love with your new surroundings and it becomes your home, but you are always homesick for your homeland. It’s like leaving a part of your heart wherever you go. You are never complete.” She eloquently described what it meant to be an immigrant and, in essence, also described what it meant to be the American child of an immigrant – a person of two cultures, two languages, two worlds, here and there.

    Language and assimilation were not immediate problems while growing up. My father’s alcoholism was the main conflict in the household. He emotionally neglected us at times; he was there, but he wasn’t really. My father had been and continues to be the subject of many poems expressing the hurt and betrayal a son experiences with a relapsing alcoholic father. My sister and I have been emotionally odd with him; the relationship with him has never been clear – one week it was loving, the next week there was resentment, and the other week could have been total indifference. My mother tried to protect us as best as she could from seeing him intoxicated, but it became almost impossible as I entered my adolescence. As a result, my mother became both a mother and father to us. She feared him losing his job – which he came close to many times and eventually did – and worried about his safety while driving to work. She never seemed weak to me though. Whatever problems she faced, she voiced herself loud and clear, and was not the submissive housewife image she was raised to be. She held herself up with pride and that pride kept her silent on occasion.

    When I came out to her at the age of fifteen, she cried and went through a long mourning process since the dreams she had for me were shattered; it was very difficult and she often felt alone in her suffering, due to her pride, yet her love for me never changed. She became increasingly worried about my safety in certain neighborhoods and worried I would be jumped. She scared me with her concerns about my father’s reaction – she worried he would drink again (at the time he was sober for two years) and that shook me so terribly that I did not come out to him until four years later. The pressures she felt of having a gay son and the pressures I faced in being gay in a Hispanic household, with many gossiping relatives, did put a strain on our relationship, which had always been close.

    I must note the difficulty in condensing years of struggling with both my family and my former internalized homophobia. Overall I have had a wonderful time at home, but it was hard growing up gay with frequently hearing comments of “not being dignified” or “not being private” about personal matters. There have been homosexual and suspected homosexuals in my family, particularly on my paternal side, and I am the only openly gay family member there is. I have an Ecuadorian uncle named Jaime Andrade, who is a successful and rich art curator. It is common but unspoken knowledge that he is gay, yet he keeps that aspect of his life separate from his family. Due to Facebook and online communication, relatives now see me freely expressing myself, my gay rights interests, and my current relationship with my boyfriend, and I have yet to be confronted by relatives on both sides, in both countries. After many long discussions with my mother, her unconditional love for me truly showed when she, bit by bit, began to express her support for me.

    At one point, I feared I would have to separate myself from my family in order to be free. Free from their homophobia, free from the worry of constant gossip, free from a household that was both home and hell. I really believed I would not be able to be close with my family when I grew up. I felt like I would have to exile myself in order to have a relationship and be open and true to myself. I thought I would be one of those gays that moved away, hid their personal lives from their family, and completely cut ties; however, to split myself from my family is impossible. My family is my heritage. My family is my culture. My safety net. My world. To separate my sexuality and my heritage would be like splitting my soul. It’s impossible. It was not easy to come to this realization, but after all the fighting, a dialogue was opened that allowed us to acknowledge how much we as a family loved each other. And as Frederick Douglass once said, “Without struggle, there can be no progress.” That quote is true for my family and for who I am.

    R. C.
    Fall 2011

  • Being born a gay, African man whose family’s faith is deeply rooted in Catholicism, is what has molded my life today. Each attribute reflects a puzzle piece during a point of my life. They all fit in the right to place for me to consider myself the person I am today. The shape up of my life has been built on the foundation of my religious upbringing, my migration to America, and the revelation of my sexual orientation.

    On May 1992, I was born in Accra, the capital of Ghana. I had a grand family therefore the news of a pregnancy was received with joy. My family was and still is very religious. My grandparents, parents were Catholics, so that was the basis of the family upbringing. They went to mass every Sunday, hailed the holy Mary and asked for forgiveness at confessions. It did not come as a shock to the rest of the family when my birth had brought upon an array of religious events. The weekend of my birth, a baptism took place at the diocese, my christening was celebrated by the bishop and family friends, and I was taken to mass, the first of many to come. The first week of my life symbolized the prelude of my upbringing as a catholic boy.

    I was raised on the principle of the bible, my rosary beads, and the constant urge to pray. I was raised to pray every evening before I went to bed, and every morning before I woke up. In my family the common knowledge was that, God had the answer to every problem. If anyone was in a difficult position, all they had to do was get on their knees, recite the Hail Mary, and pray to God. As time progressed I grew accustomed to this way of life. It became my life support. I went to mass every day, and took communion. When a problem arose, I took out my rosary beads and prayed to God. As a young boy, the idea of having a spiritual being be prominent in my life and listen to my prayers, made me feel safe. In my naivety I thought God was listening to my prayers. I prayed for material things and I got them. My experience with religion solidified my faith at such a young age, that it had engulfed my childhood. As I grew up I quickly learned that life was not what I had imagined it to be and that journey began with my family’s migration to the United States of America.

    It is every migrants dream to travel to America, A dream of having a fighting chance; a chance to better their lives. To the outside world it is viewed as the land of opportunities; a land where everyone is happy. This misconception is rampant especially amongst citizens in third world countries and this causes people to resent their own birthplace. When I was 11 my father won a lottery visa for the family to travel to America. Everyone was ecstatic, because going to America meant you were going to make it. I was not as ecstatic as my family was because I thought America meant that I was leaving my life behind. It started to dawn on me that I was leaving my church behind, and in a nutshell that worried me. I started to worry that God would not be as prominent in my life in America, but I complied to go because as the bible said you had to honor your father and mother. I thought moving to America was going to be a replica of what I saw in the movies. A car was going to pick us up from the airport and drive us to our white picket, fenced house, but I had thought wrong. I learned a great lesson in my journey to America, which was not to view the world through a narrow mind.

    My family’s migration to America was a difficult one. For the first few months we struggled a great deal. My parents had difficulty putting me in a public school or finding jobs for themselves. We decided to move from the fast paced New York City to a suburban Connecticut. There we lived with my father’s friend in a small one bedroom house. Meanwhile I myself was shocked to realize that this was not the America I saw on television. Why was I sleeping on the floor and not going to school? My life back in Ghana was better. An astounding reality check that hit us all was when my parents had to work minimum wage to support the family. Here I was a kid, witnessing America steal my life away. I watched as the man I respected, went from managing a prestigious bank in Ghana to coming home with leftover food from Burger King. This experience toughened me up as young boy. I realized I was not going to have the lavish life I dreamed of. I threw my dreams out the window and faced reality. With reality came realization; realization that my faith was not as prominent as I had thought it to be. My dwindling faith hit an all-time low, when I started integrating into the American society.

    Immigrating to a new country is no easy feat. A person has to learn how to maneuver themselves in a different setting. A person must learn how to master the citizens’ language, and culture without losing their morals, believes and culture. I can now say that I am not the person I was when I moved to America due to my experiences. When I first started middle school, I was teased daily on my darker complexion, my accent and my blossoming sexual orientation. Being from Africa, resulted in me being bombarded with questions about how I liked wearing clothes or if I missed my hut or if I ate tiger meat. I know now that these children were being ignorant, just like I was being ignorant on my perception of America, but back then the teasing affected me emotionally. I did not know how to handle myself in a situation like that, but I did what I was taught as a child. I got on my knees and started praying, but nothing happened. The teasing never stopped, and I started to really wonder if God was real at all. With that experience I completely lost my faith in Christianity. I thought to myself that God was not going to help me I was going to help myself. I started building up my wall of defense. I ignored people who teased me, and unlike before I did not give them the satisfaction of my wrought reaction. I simply ignored them and the teasing stopped. At that point in my life I had given up on a religion I was brought up on. This defense mechanism I had developed proved beneficial on my journey to high school. The four years I dubbed, ‘One Way Ticket To Hell’.

    My transition to high school was a smooth one. I felt like I had already dealt with all the negativity in middle school and I had my own personal religion if anyone or anything was going to attack me. My family was in a great place. We seemed to have finally assimilated into the American culture, but at the same time finding ways to keep our culture alive. We were living in our own house, my father was working on his master’s degree, and a new baby was being welcomed into the family. I gained back the respect I had for my father, because he proved to me that you could make something out of a tragic beginning. He taught me that even from nothing, you could make something and that was my big lesson I had going into high school. With maturity brought growth, knowledge and revelation.

    I always knew that there was something different about me. When I was young, I never played sports; instead I preferred to play with the girls. I viewed boys in a different way than I viewed girls. I thought myself as one of the girls and this realization became prominent in high school. At first I did not know the term for what my feelings were. In high school I had a lot of female friends, because I felt like I had a lot in common with them that I did with the boys. I found the girls to be friends, and therefore had no attraction to them. I did not come to a full realization that I was gay until I became the ‘is he, is he’ not spectacle in my high school. I went to a small high school so everyone knew each other. I dressed differently from the boys. My pants were a bit tight, I crossed my legs and I carried around what they call a man purse. This drew attention to a lot of people. They started asking me if I was gay. I wondered myself if I was gay either. I was attracted to boys, but I knew it was wrong. I hated myself for being that way. I tried to change the way I dressed, and the way I acted, but deep down there was an internal conflict going on with myself. It made me suicidal. Once again the defense wall I built in middle school went right back up. I denied to people that I was gay. I got an epiphany when I went to confessions one day, and told the priest about my feelings towards men. He belittled me and told me to get rid of those thoughts. He told me that God did not accept a man who laid with other men. From that point on I refused to go to church or even believe in God. I did not want to follow a man who shunned his own children. Through that realization I started to accept myself for who I was. The dismantle of my faith was the birth of a new me.

    I came to truly accept myself when I moved to New York for college. From every corner there were so many different people, with different skin colors, different hair, and though not everyone was accepted, everyone was respected. That’s what I wanted for myself. Not to be accepted but just respected for whom I was. I came to the realization that if I did not accept myself no one would. If I truly wanted to follow my dreams and be happy in life, I had to be confident in myself. My past experiences have defined who I am. I try to erase the pain from my memory, but I know that if I had not gone through that experience I would not be the person I am today.

    Being a gay, African man with a catholic family could seem like the worst thing a person could embody, but like any other person, I have learned from my experiences, good and bad. I haved used them to mold what my life is today.

    G. O.
    Spring 2012

  • Being both an African-American and a woman is not an easy task. We are told all of our lives and shown by others that as African-American women we are supposed to be SWBs (Strong Black Women) all of the time. Our parents are, our grandmothers are and our great grandmothers were all the way back to slavery. But what does that often mean? That we bear the burdens alone, do it all and be super women. We are to raise our children often without fathers. Be both mother and father to them and then the backbone of our men. Nurture everyone. I have visited prisons a lot in the past and there are so many women that visit the incarcerated men because they want to stand by their men and support them. They bring up the children so that these fathers will be able to be dads in spite of their incarceration. But in women’s prisons only family members and children are on the visiting roster. Where are the men to support them? The older women in my family were always very strong and my younger family members and I were always reminded of them. Many of my relatives past down the story of my great-grand mother saving many of her nieces and grand children from a house fire. The story is that she was a very petite and fragile woman, but still carried out over seven children from the fire. They held on to her legs and arms and she got all of them out of the house before it was consumed.

    I never saw my mother cry as a child. Not until my oldest sister died did I ever see her cry. All those times we went back and forth to the emergency room of Jacoby Hospital in Queens since at that time they were the only hospital that knew how to treat my sister for the Lupus she was diagnosed as having when she was three. It took us about two hours each way to get to Queens from our Harlem residence. Back then hardly any doctor knew what Lupus was. Today they still call it the most misdiagnosed disease because some of its symptoms resemble other diseases. It is also known as The Wolf because of the way it often devours the internal organs. Many times I did my homework in the emergency room. I never saw my mother’s frustration though she would be tired I am sure after working a full eight hours and them spending almost as much time in the hospital with my sister. I never saw a lot of emotion in my mother. She handled things and you really couldn’t tell if it bothered her or not. My home was very matriarchal. My father paid the bills but he didn’t run the household. He didn’t want to, instead he ran the streets.

    As a woman I feel that I must always see the world very different from men. I have to constantly worry about my safety. I must teach my daughter tactics that will keep her safe. I must always worry about being safe. I am always praying that my daughter is never a victim of things that, for the most part, women are the victims of, such as rape or mental, physical or sexual abuse at the hands of a lover or husband.

    As a young female growing up in the projects of Harlem the concerns I had to deal with is being harassed by the guys and even older men in my building. There was a time that young girls were getting raped in my building and I have heard about girls being raped and even thrown off of the roof in other projects close to where I lived. In my building a few girls had been forced to the roof and raped. There was a certain fear I had when I had to enter my building that I had all of the twenty years I lived there. When you entered the building you had to make sure you either knew who got on the elevator with you or that your intuition told you that the person was not harmful. As a teenager the girls I hung around with were not very feminine because during that time it was not wise to show that part of you since it could be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Walking the streets at night my friends and I acted very tough - - it was a way to survive. I had no brothers so that made it even harder. There were times I got up in guys faces in order to protect my sisters from being disrespected. One of my friends carried a gun. Many of my high school friends carried knives. My demeanor let people know that I took no nonsense and for the most part it helped to protect myself and my siblings. My sisters were very soft and feminine and I had to be ready to fight for them.

    I grew up with struggling parents. Both my mother and father worked but neither made a whole lot of money. We could be considered lower class but we had more than a lot of the people I knew. During most of my childhood we lived in the projects. My mom worked at an eye glass factory and my father was a mail room clerk for Merrill Lynch. My father took to the streets, hustled, played illegal numbers and drank all the time. He won the numbers often and many of the things we acquired was not due to his job but the money he made in the streets. Eventually my parents achieved the American dream and bought a home in North Carolina. It was mostly my mother’s dream. My father died not long after they moved south. I strongly feel he died due to extreme boredom from living in the south and that he truly missed his New York life. Like in many African-American families where the children have to help the parents financially when they get older, that was the case in my family. Because she is alone now I help my mother when she is having a difficult time. Sometimes I wish that she could have helped me more instead of the other way around. I wish she could have given me the kind of start that most white parents give their children.

    I think that if we are to talk about who we are, we need to acknowledge how important our place is in our families. I am the middle child of two sisters, one was sickly and the other not very mature most of her life. Often I was the one that held the family together and created balance. I was my mother’s support and there were many times that I kept my own issues to myself because I saw that she didn’t have the time for me. There were times that I felt overshadowed by my two sisters and their issues. I think that sibling order is as much the glue that defines us as does race, gender and other things. I have read many articles that agree. Middle children often feel like they don’t matter. I was extremely close to my oldest sister who died many years ago and when she did a part of me died, too. I think that had it not been for my child, who was only a few months old when she died, I would have killed myself or had to be institutionalized. But I was a mother and I knew that my daughter needed me. She saved me. By putting all of the focus and my emotions on her I was able to go on. The person that I was had everything to do with my sister. I knew that regardless of how bad things got we would be ok because we had each other. I was never that close with my younger sister. But anytime my oldest sister got real sick I was right there with her. It is still hard to talk about her. I am surprised at how hard this is to write because she died over fourteen years ago but she was my life and I always say I was a much better person with her than without her. When her hair came out due to the steroids she was taking for Lupus we bought wigs together, took them home and restyled them. My mom was a good mom because she made the hand she was dealt work as best she could. But the order I was placed in my family unit kept me quiet and feeling invisible, just waiting on the sidelines until someone needed me. And I was that way most of my life. When my husband needed me I was there, even after he went to prison. When my youngest sister needed me, my niece and nephew, no matter who you were, I was there because I learned early on that I had to be there for those that needed me. I try hard to not be consumed by others, sometimes I win but sometimes I let myself be consumed by other people’s problems because I am so used to that.

    My father wanted boys. I always knew this. When he died my knowledge of this was confirmed when at his funeral several young boys came up to my mom and told how my father was like a father to them. How he took them to football games and was always giving advice. He was a father to sons he didn’t have but not much of a dad to the girls he did. My sisters and I were shy around him because we really didn’t know him. And he never taught us what to look for in a man. He never gave us any fatherly advice.

    Like family emblems passed down from generation to generation my father passed to me the Diabetes that devastated his family for generations. I grew up seeing insulin in the refrigerator and seeing my aunts and uncles with many health issues as a result of Diabetes. I saw how they suffered, though I also took into account how they lived and ate. But I was afraid of Diabetes. I often obsessed over the fear, hoping that I never had to deal with it. But like Paul said in the bible, “What I feared most has come upon me.” And because I knew so much about it due to my fear and obsession, I was the first to diagnose myself based on the symptoms I was having and I told my doctor what to look for. Chronic illness, any illness defines the person with it in so many ways. You are two different people; you are the person you were before the illness and the person you are now, after the illness. You wear the disease like a t-shirt you can never take off. But I have finally learned that I am more than Diabetes.

    Now I try to live my life by my own terms and get rid of toxic people. I have learned through the years that disease is often the result of “dis-ease.” I carried the burdens of others and that eventually made me sick. I have a strong faith in God. I read motivational books and books that teach me to be strong no matter what. And as a writer I have learned to use it to deal with the hard things in my life. When my husband went to prison and made me a statistic I didn’t want any part of, I began to visit the prisons and write about my experiences. From that situation I wrote, “Secrets of an Inmate’s Wife,” which I sell mostly on Amazon and at other forums. Women write me from all over the world and tell me how much they liked the book and how It got them through a tough time. I have articles still circulating inside most prisons in upstate New York that have been for over twenty years and people still contact me about them which truly amazes me. I spoke to the head of a department in a prison once who was impressed with me, she had read my articles. I will never forget that. My husband is home now, we have a new baby, he has a good job where he is the supervisor and now, my friends are envious of me and not the other way around. I have been through many things in my life but I feel that I am finally doing what I really want to do. I am going back to school and finally finishing that degree I started on many years ago. When I look at my son who is only six months I know I can do anything, after all, God gave me a child, in spite of my age or health problems. Because of him I feel I can fly. There was a time I didn’t feel beautiful because of my dark skin. Then I wrote, a piece for Chicken Soup of the African-American soul called, “Lovin’ the Shade God Made,” and was actually picked but when it was time to sign the contract they sent me, they decided to cut several pieces due to space and mine was one of them. The author apologized and told me I should be very proud that my piece made it out of the three thousand that they received. Yes, I was proud but I was also very disappointed and I wondered if they cut it because nobody really wanted to touch the issues that dark African-American people sometimes have to deal with, maybe not on the vast level that this book would expose. Eventually when I have the time I will try to sell it again. I have been through too much to let that bother me. I will keep going. My sister’s death made me weak in some ways and strong in others. Disease taught me to fight hard for what I want because with all I go through to remain healthy I truly deserve to be happy. And I have learned more than anything that nobody gets to choose the hand.

    J. M.
    Fall 2011

  • On many occasions, I have been told by Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike that I do not fit the profile of what they either assume a Nigerian to be and act like – in the case of non-Nigerians – or that my speech and mannerisms betray my ethnicity and nationality. In society, we are often seeking for a sense of belonging and a sense of identity that is usually defined through other people’s perception of us. To a certain extent, certain factors of our identities are passed down to us by default, such as our race, gender and sexual orientation (to a certain degree), nationality, and ethnicity, to name a few. For instance, on paper, I can be described as a black, female, Nigerian of the Yoruba tribe. However, none of these labels or even the labels collectively, accurately defines who I am as a human being.

    Having lived in many other countries throughout the world, as opposed to my home country of Nigeria, I am fully aware of the fact that as a Nigerian living in the Diaspora, my realities differ from that of the average Nigerians who have. Often times, when in Nigeria or amongst Nigerians who have grown up solely in the Western world, I find it hard to relate or find the middle ground between the two groups that where I seem to fit in. For instance, those who have grown-up primarily within the Diaspora do not always feel that sense of connection for their heritage that native Nigerians feel. Furthermore, for many of them, Nigeria seems to be a far, foreign and alien concept that they are yet to see, and at times this causes a separation between them and their immediate roots, that in turn leaves them unattached to the happenings in Nigeria.

    For those who were born, bred and either continue to live in Nigeria, or have only recently left, I often find that their sense of patriotism, nationalism and unity is on a far greater scale than those who are based in the Diaspora, and even more so than myself. These Nigerians are often quick to label anyone who does not share in the Nigerian experience that can only be acquired in one having lived there, as not fully Nigerians. This is mainly because of the hardships and constant friction that people living in Nigeria feel, and is often the source of flight for many of those who have re-settled in countries around the world. Those who are left in the country to inevitably take on this burden often feel that it is these very experiences that shape and define the Nigerian identity. Thus, if one has not experienced this sort of lifestyle, one cannot claim to be a Nigerian as that person would have no real understanding of what other Nigerians attach the basis of their identity to.

    In-between those who are detached and others who have no choice but to be attached, lie people similar to me. Although I was born in Nigeria, by the age of four I relocated and although I visit often, it is not the same as living in Nigeria permanently. At times, I often feel like a foreigner when visiting my home country, where at times I have been referred to as a, “oyinbo”, a Yoruba word meaning “white person”, due to the fact that I sound and act like one, according to certain people in Nigeria. At first, this came as a shock and although it was not meant as a direct insult, I certainly took as one. For starters, I was certainly not a white person – at least in the racial sense. Secondly, with the exception of this particular context, due to the fact that I am black I have never enjoyed the privileges experience by white people in other countries. Yes, I did not speak the language fluently, and yes, I had not lived in Nigeria permanently beyond the age of four, even my first name did not reflect my ethnicity or my nationality, but was that enough to dismiss my ever-increasing sense of pride in being a Nigerian despite the negative and at times hateful remarks I continuously endure because of my nationality.

    I was always left completely baffled and could not quite fully comprehend, until much later, that this had nothing to do with my skin color, but everything to do with perception. After all, where does one draw the line between defining oneself by way of other people, or through one’s own personal understanding of a particular ideology, regarding identity? What are the criteria that one has to fulfill in order to make one eligible and deserving of a title or label? If such criteria exists, is it malleable and subject to change? Or is it fixed and set in stone, with no possibility of exceptions and additions? I find that over and over again, I continuously have to prove myself as a Nigerian – mostly to my fellow countrymen – but also to those who see me as too westernized to even be an African. In the presence of non-Nigerians, there have been times that people have forgotten my nationality and even gone as far as to make negative remarks about Nigeria and Nigerians. Naturally, this leaves me greatly offended, and when I do not side with them and staunchly defend those who they have attempted to degrade, they are often left surprised as I remind them that whether or not they consider myself to be a “different kind of Nigerian, not like the others”, it does not change the fact that I am one, regardless.

    Although I can understand where these judgments stem from, it does not make them any easier to bear. Constantly having to prove one’s self worth for the satisfaction of others is a tiring process. This comes as a disadvantage of not growing up in my home country, as well as through the conditioning that I have been exposed to in the West. For a large portion of my childhood, I greatly ignored the significance of African, and specifically Nigerian, history. Not because I believed it to be irrelevant to my life, but because the schools I attended greatly omitted this subject in my education. A lot of what I have come to know of both Nigeria and various African countries has been through a great personal effort to educate myself through reading, as well as in asking my parents, relatives and friends about their experiences and the history of their identities. In doing so, I have been able to re-connect with those who were once skeptical about my patriotism and concerns for Africa and its people. More specifically, I have also come to identify as a Pan-Africanist: someone who believes in the unification of all African people and nations, regardless of our differences. For if we can overcome what divides us, what unites us shall eventually persevere and ensure a secure and prosperous future. As simple as that sounds, the goals and hardships to overcome are deeply rooted in former and neo-colonialist structures that have immensely affected the state of Africa today. It is going to take a complete overhaul of many of the ideologies that were embedded by European colonialists that continue to be enforced, still to this day. Many Africans still feel a sense of division that has flourished since colonialist times, hence the labeling of someone who has lived in the west as a “oyinbo” - a white man, a betrayer of the African identity.

    Fall 2010