From a young age figuring out my identity and who I am was difficult. Like many of you, I was born into a family with mixed cultures. Both were almost immediately introduced into my life.
I was born and raised in Montreal, Canada to a Colombian mother and a Canadian father, who wished to teach me their beliefs, values and cultures. I was learning three languages all at once while trying to use each of them in appropriate situations. I would speak French to my father and his family, at school and on a daily basis living in Quebec. When I would go home, I would speak Spanish to my mother. Around four years old, I was introduced to the English language. My cousin had asked me if I was hungry and I had no clue how to respond. It wasn’t too long until I was fully trilingual. However, being trilingual isn’t all it takes to be a part of these cultures and identify as them. It’s so much more than that.
From the very beginning I felt like I didn’t fully belong to either. While trying to shape my identity, I was often contradicted by other people’s cultural stereotypes. When asked where I was from, I would always answer both countries. Their perception of me would immediately change. I wouldn’t be the girl from Montreal, I would only be defined as “the girl who speaks Spanish” or “the Colombian”. This made me uneasy because I wasn’t sure if I preferred being the girl from Montreal, Quebec or the girl from Colombia. As if by mentioning my nationalities, I now had to become one or the other. Whenever I went to visit family back in Colombia, I was referred to as the one who wasn’t fully Latin American, therefore the white one. Extended family never knew if I spoke Spanish, when first meeting me, and would always ask if I understood. Which was rather awkward. If I spoke Spanish in the city, people would ask where I’m from because I don’t have the local accent. This was hard because a place that had always felt like second home to me, seemed to reject me and call me out for my differences. As for Canada, I was always told by people here that I looked very similar to my mother and had her physical traits. Not to mention, I was constantly being reminded that I am very short and that I only reach the 15th percentile in Canadian girls my age. People ignored that I associated with both cultures equally and always felt the need to ask me which one I was closest to.
This was a constant battle throughout the years in which I could never fully grasp the main issue. What is the recipe for long-term happiness? One critical ingredient cited by many people is closeness in their social relationships. Very happy people have strong and fulfilling relationships but what happens if we feel rejected by those who are closest to us?
Bi-cultural people are particularly vulnerable to this kind of rejection. Research has shown that being bi-cultural is a very beneficial trait as it makes us more flexible and creative in our thinking. However, bi-cultural people may experience their upbringing as the collision of multiple worlds. This was how I felt growing up regardless of how hard my parents tried to dissimulate their cultural differences.
Going through adolescence made me realize it wasn’t about fitting into both of the cultures separately but making them come together into one beautiful mess I would create as I go. I realized being myself was more important than fitting into other’s idea of me. This is where my bicultural identity really sank in. Bicultural identity is the condition of being oneself regarding the combination of two cultures. My whole life I thought I was creating a problem that wasn’t really there. Convincing myself that I was acting a certain way and this was the reason people were so confused with my identity. Until I found out this was something real that other people struggled with too. Fitting in is a natural thing we all try to do as human beings. We want to be like others so bad that instead of creating new norms we try to mold ourselves into something we aren’t. Cultural identity is one of the things that are so categorized in society. We create boxes and try to fit people into those boxes regardless of how they feel about it.
I am aware that most of this sounds cliché, but this is the reality of cultural identity. Nevertheless, with all the bad also came good. Multiculturalism has evolved on a social standpoint and has given me the chance to meet other people just like me. In addition, being here at Stanstead College has allowed me to make friends with people from so many different countries. I’ve been able to socialize with people who speak different languages as me and who come from multiple backgrounds and cultures. Furthermore, I accepted myself and found happiness in my cultural identity and so should you.
So today, I will leave you with this quote by Audre Lorde, "It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."