Identity and Experience | Teen Ink

Identity and Experience

July 27, 2021
By BryannaLMassey BRONZE, Rochester, New York
BryannaLMassey BRONZE, Rochester, New York
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
¨The journey is about growing and evolving and forever striving to become a better person. Bad things happen to us all; it is how we respond to those unfortunate events that defines the quality of our life and the lives of those around us¨. - Author: Khloe Kardashian

    In African American Literature this year we read, “A Letter To My Son” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It started me thinking that as you go through life, your Identity and Experience both will have a huge impact on you. I am a mixed Puerto Rican and African American, female teenager. These different parts of my identity have created many unique challenges, including facing people’s expectations about who I should be and how I should act. As a teenager, I am still trying to figure myself out. It is important that I be comfortable with my identity and not  change myself based on other people’s assumptions and expectations.

    When I look in the mirror, I see a light-skinned girl with curly, thick hair who strongly resembles her Puerto Rican mother. This in itself creates a conflict for me, because on the inside, I feel more like a black girl. This might be because even though I look like and live with my Puerto Rican mom, I am actually more comfortable with my African American self and family. since I was born, the black side of my family has been a big part of my life. I was surrounded by strong, black women and the most important of these was my grandma. On weekends and holidays the family would get together at my grandma's house and dance, play games, and eat. While the adults talked, the kids played hide and seek. My aunt taught me and my cousins how to do the “Bikers Shuffle '' and I looked forward to my grandma's macaroni and cheese, which is still my favorite. 

    The connection I have with my African American family probably influenced the kind of friends I made in school. Most of my friends throughout my school days were black. I always felt embraced by my African American friends. I did have a few Puerto Rican friends and even a few white friends. Sometimes people's expectations of who I was because of the way I look became a problem. I used to have a group of white friends who would talk and make fun of African Americans. They saw my skin color and assumed I was a white girl who would be okay with them making racist comments. They had no idea that I was mixed and wasn't white at all. I have had to learn to separate myself from the kind of people who make assumptions about my identity without knowing me.

     On the inside, I'm a black girl; but unfortunately, the Puerto Rican side of my family expects me to identify more as Puerto Rican because of the way I look. There are several reasons I don’t. The first is that my Puerto Rican aunts, uncles, and cousins all live in the New York City area. Another reason is that my Puerto Rican grandma who lives in Rochester isn’t in the best health and her house has never been a gathering spot. And most importantly, my mom's family doesn't like the fact that I am black. It never feels welcoming when we are with that side of my family. Even my Puerto Rican mom feels more comfortable and welcomed around my African American family.  I want to have a good relationship with both sides of my family but it’s easier when they live nearby and accept you unconditionally.

    Because of your identity there will be things that you are going to be comfortable with and some things that you will not be comfortable with. This is especially true with how I feel about being a teenage girl. In my case, as a girl, my family always expected me to take on the role of caretaker. Even though this is a stereotype, I am comfortable with it because I have always wanted to be around children. I am always most comfortable with other girls, women, and children. I can picture myself having a daycare or being a nurse, both of which are stereotypical roles for women, but I am comfortable with that. Something I am not comfortable with is the expectations of men. 

    Men and boys will expect you to be vulnerable and open to whatever they want from you. I have never been taken advantage of, but I know many girls who have, and I have been made to feel very uncomfortable just walking to the store...walking in to buy bread and having men say things like, “You look good, let me get your number.” They can be 20 years older than me and the conversation is not friendly but sexual and flirtatious. I feel really uncomfortable when I'm by myself in public because I feel unprotected. I know a lot of girls who have been victims of assault. I have learned not to trust men, to always be careful and safe, and to not let peer pressure make you do something you don't want to do. Make sure you're always aware of your surroundings and with people you know will keep you safe.

    A lot of people are going to have expectations of you. It is important to know who you are and not to let anyone change you. Sometimes being mixed, being a female, and being a teenager has been hard, but I'm continuing to learn about my own identity and to figure out the people, things, and situations that make me comfortable.

The author's comments:

I am a senior in highschool who has been reflecting on my life as I get ready to close this chapter.

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