By Emily Rae Simon
When my mother was young, it was everybody's favorite game to try and guess her ethnicity.
Sicilian, French, Native American.
When the reality was, she wasn't even positive. As an adoptee in the vastly diverse city of Los Angeles, there was no sure way of understanding what exactly the formula had been of my mother's beautifully ambiguous genetic makeup.
And it was, coincidentally, nobody's goddamn business but her own. This constant pressure to be able to accurately identify her ethnic background is a prime example of how we, as humans, always feel the inherent need to categorize one another simply by our explanation for a physical attribute.
Throughout my entire adulthood, I had always paid close attention to how and why marginalization has affected my own life. This attentiveness was sparked during my first week in college at a private Midwestern university. After the first few days of classes as a freshman, I was immediately approached by a representative of a program dedicated to students of color, first-generation students, and any other category of student that seemed to need an “extra push”.
Being the daughter of an immigrant and also a first-generation college student, I was the apparent target audience for this program, and already had a meeting set up with a mentor without even having knowledge of what the program was. Upon the meeting, a very nice woman of color (also a college student) introduced herself as a mentor for this program, and explained how I have been chosen because of my status as a minority and that her only goal was to make sure I would succeed in college – just like everybody else.
Personally, I had a major issue with this.
Understanding that this program would be highly beneficial for many other students, I found it really unsettling that I was assumed at-risk or underequipped for higher education, simply because of my familial background and citizenship status. It was quite discouraging as a hopeful, energetic student to be ultimately told that you are expected to struggle for reasons that are completely out of your control.
Living in a city as diverse as Chicago, marginalization is apparent everywhere, even if seemingly invisible. One person can represent so many different parts of our world, inhabiting different cultures, values, gender performance and physical traits – creating a unique human experience for anyone willing to embrace what many Americans deem “minority.” I am proud of who I am, and of how I have developed into this citizen of the world. I have a long way to go in order to fully understand where I came from, but I am here now and do not plan to let stereotype reinforcement get in the way of my successes. The mainstream no longer runs our modern Western society – it is up to us to prove ethnocentrism to be outdated and inappropriate at this time of revolution.
We are millennials, hear us roar.
Merci de votre ècoute, et Joyeux Fêtes !