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Culture Matters - The Power of Identity

When I was 15 years old, I tried out for my high school play.  The casting director asked me to try out for a specific role meant for a Hispanic character.  As I read for the part the director told me I did a good job, but I needed to sound more Hispanic.  It took me most of the car ride home to realize what she meant was she wanted me to speak in broken English, and I couldn’t figure out why the fact that I was an actual real-life authentic Hispanic didn’t really seem to matter.  I didn’t get the role.

As a young Hispanic teen, I believed that my identity was an obstacle I had to overcome; and so I thought, come at me obstacle.  I went through this process for years of accepting the failure as my own, and then feeling deep shame that I couldn’t overcome the obstacle of my identity. I, like most people around me, believed that it wasn’t possible for me to exist in my dream as I was, and as a Hispanic teen, I went about trying to make myself invisible.  I stayed out of the sun so that my skin wouldn’t get too brown.  I wanted people to see past my identity and see what I was capable of, and maybe they would give me a chance. 

As I grew into adulthood, I began to hear a new voice, a voice that understood my tears and my pain were not about losing a role in a play or the way the world saw me.  They were about what was being said about me, what had been said about me my whole life by employers, teachers, friends, and family, that I was a person of less value because of my identity.  I realized that I couldn’t change what a system believed about me while I believed what the system believed about me.

As I grew into a man, I realized that it is possible to be the person who genuinely wants to see change, while also being the person whose actions keep things the way they are.  I believe change comes when you have the courage to question your own fundamental values and beliefs and then see to it that your actions lead to your best intentions.  I am just one of millions of people who have been told that in order to fulfill my dreams, in order to contribute my purpose in this world, I must resist the truth of who I am.  My identity is not my obstacle.  My identity is my power and strength.  I will not resist who I am.  I will exist as my full and authentic self.