Sunday, October 28, 2018

I Dare You: Reflections on Identity by Emily Rivera

Who am I? There is no string of words that I can use to define myself, but I think that is the best definition.  How can one define what is always growing, continuously re-shaping, changing in such a way as to defy category or logic?  Over the past three months of college I have come to define myself as an individual capable of learning, re-thinking past behaviors and changing my future. Harriet Lauler, authors Gloria Anzadua and Alan Watts and bloggers Kelsey Picciano and Morgan Parker have challenged, enlarged, and resolved my sense of personal identity.

In the movie The Last Word Harriet Lauler says, “This is saying good morning, and what does that really mean?  Please don’t have a nice day.   Have a day that matters.  Have a day that’s true.  Have a day that’s direct.  Have a day that’s honest.  A nice day, mmm-mmm.  You’ll be miserable. [...] Have a day that means something” (Pellington).  This strong, independent woman goes after what she wants while challenging others to reach their true potential.  She dares the people around her to be themselves and to take a leap toward something they have always wanted but never had the courage to grab.  She understands that “wonder is not a disease” (Watts 3) but the cure. All my life I have been afraid to go after what I truly yearned for out of fear of making a horrible mistake. Just like Kelsey Picciano in “Forging a Whitmanic, Post-Traditional, Bisexual Identity,” I felt empty due to my lack of accepting myself, which further prevented me from being who I am.  I would hesitate to speak when it truly mattered and stay in situations I knew I should get out of.  I felt like my tongue had “become dry [from] the wilderness [...] and [I had] forgotten speech” (Anzadula 3).  Paralyzed in my state of silence, I felt out of place not only due to my own hands holding me by the throat, but from my unexplored culture.  My mom, a single mother, raised me, and although I admire her courage of walking away from someone who did not and could not provide what she needed, I never learned of my Puerto Rican roots.  I am a latina who cannot speak Spanish, a latina who cannot cook arroz con frijoles, a latina who cannot cherish those sobremesas. You would never guess the amount of times someone said, “No sabes tu lengua? ¡Qué vergüenza!” I hated every second of not being able to be my entire self. I blamed myself. I did not feel good enough to make my dad stay. 

In my senior year of high school this perception that I was the problem started to change.  Out of my curiosity for psychology, I learned about cognitive behavioral theory. It explains how a thought leads to an emotion which causes a behavior. For example, let’s say the boyfriend left the toilet seat up after numerous times of my asking him to remember to put it down. It causes me to think, “He does not respect me or care about my feelings.” Upset and mad, I later lash out at him for the possibly incorrect conclusion I drew from the evidence. If I could think differently about the situation, I would act and feel differently. Instead of deciding that he does not care, I could realize that mistakes happen. Since it does matter to me, I could tell him how well loved I feel when he does put the seat down, that even little things that he does for me mean so much. By sharing a positive experience of his behavior and taking responsibility for my own, I initiate rather than react in a submissive role.  Learning this theory helped me realize we have to be honest with the people around us because most relational issues are due to misconceptions of what is expected. In order to have better relations it is necessary to have the courage to freely talk to our loved ones about our emotions and thoughts. It also helped me understand that it was not really my fault that the man who was supposed to be my father did not understand responsibility and commitment. If he does not know me, I cannot blame myself for his ignorant choice.

Even though cognitive behavioral theory helped me get over my problems with my biological father, I have not yet applied this method to my lost culture. I not only have to live with that, but I also have to live with being the only one of my kind. All of my siblings are only half of me, which has made me feel out of place. Just like Gloria Anzadua, I could not identify with the standards in my life; I was on my own in a house that did not feel like a home. Reading about Gloria's struggle taught me that I have to embrace myself as who I am, so that I can become who I want to be. I have to create my place in the world instead of waiting for it to be thrust upon me; I need to have the courage to say you are wrong and not falter under my own weight. That form of family is not necessarily blood, but the people who push you to do better in life and love you no matter what.

All these events occurring in my life can be viewed as a problem that can never be solved, but in my eyes, they are lessons faced and learned. They are moments in my life that made me who I am today. I may have a terrible biological father, but I have an amazing stepfather who loves me and cares about me, and without the hardships faced from that, I would not have been able to appreciate and return that love as much as I can and do now. I may not have grown up with my culture, but that does not mean I have to live without it. As humans, we fight for what we want, and if you do not get it, you did not want it badly enough to sacrifice and push yourself to success. There is so much to gain from everything. Let us appreciate different points of views on moments in life and let them help us grow as individual instead of tearing each other down. There is so much pain and pleasure in one moment that you just have to choose which one you will embrace. The mind is your only limit; how much are you holding yourself back?

With my new self-confidence, I realized that “many of my views did not align with [others] ... but this does not make my views wrong” (Picciano 2). I have a very different mindset compared to some of my peers. I take every moment given to me and make it a positive. One cannot control everything. This is not a bad thing; it is what makes life interesting. There is no need to dwell on a mistake, mishap, or conflict. Learn the lesson, solve the problem, and move on. Every second you spend upset about the past is a second you cannot get back. It is understandable that we have to accept our feelings before we move past them, and maybe I am being too harsh, but one cannot live in the past forever.

Even with this hard-won resolve, I kept asking myself why I still was unable to be defined. Reading Alan Watts helped me realize that “we need a new experience, a new feeling of what it is to be I. Just as sight is more than all things seen, the foundation or ground of our existence and our awareness cannot be understood in terms of things that are known” (Watts 6-8).  I now understood that I cannot follow others onto a path and call it my own, that I cannot tell someone to point me in the direction I should be going in my life, that I have to buckle down and make a choice, and that it is okay if it is the wrong one, because the best part is we can always start anew. If we do not like where we are, we have to have the courage to make the change.  Being an undecided major in college you get either one of two things: you need to figure out what you are doing with your life as soon as possible or not stress about finding your career path because it will find you. I just need to experience as much as possible so that I can learn what my place is and what it is not. Alan Watts says, “He doesn't want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game” (Watts 9).  If I knew too soon what I wanted with my life, the game would not only get boring, but I would not have the chance to grow past the first layer of who I am if it was easily given to me. The most important lesson to take away from this is to engulf yourself in things that scare you, be afraid, but do not let it stop you from taking a chance on yourself. You do not need to find yourself, but to create yourself (Sivan).  

I may not know who I am entirely, but I do know parts of my identity.  I have “overcome the tradition of silence” (Anzadua 8); I have grown from pain and learned to embrace myself as well as every moment given to me. I have to create, not follow, and I need to take chances to reach places I have never explored. Reading Morgan Parker’s blogpost, “Invisible Girl, made me realize even more about who I am and who I want to be. Her words touched parts of me that I did not even know existed. She says, “She speaks not for the ears of others, but for the indulgence and dignity in hearing her own voice. She speaks the statements, she speaks the movements, she speaks for all the empty throats of the woman whose voices were drowned out by the heavy lull of time’s ignorance. She is a powerful force beckoning us towards a greater purpose yet still forcing us to find it on our own” (Parker 1). The respect for herself and for others is enchanting. Although I have much self-respect, I have had my moments of weakness. I may be viewed by my peers as a “woman who is strong, independent, and selfish in the best way” (Parker 2), but I let a man take this all away from me. This semester I got involved with a player whose charming smile lured and led me on to believe we had something real only to discover he kept cheating on me with three different girls. I avoided my torturing experience of disappointment, anger, and hatred. These feelings hit me hard when they surfaced.  I felt like everything that was not being felt grabbed me by the throat and choked all the emotions out of me that I was trying to hide. Still, it was better to blame myself for his wrong doings than actually put blame where it was due. I knew that I was seeing what I wanted to see instead of who he actually was, but I did not yet “learn to listen without fear to the voice inside [me] instead of smothering it” (Freidan 11). If I wasn’t so caught up in trying to win someone not worth winning, I would have realized that I do not need to prove I matter to someone who does not even care about me. This moment gave me clarity to trust myself in the face of adversity: “This is how we keep our tongues untamed and our feet planted in the ground. We must walk [...] with eyes wide open, a heart impenetrable and arms outstretched with fingers to grasp only what [we] want and palms to cast off that which [we do] not” (Parker 2-4). We make that choice. We choose who we become. One should not falter due to fear of speaking up for oneself.

Who exactly am I? I am a girl with a big heart, a girl who is not ashamed of who she has become, a girl who puts herself out of her comfort zone at the slim chance of finding something amazing, a girl who is passionate about the expression of emotions from others, a girl who became a woman. If someone was to paint who I am, I would be the crease in a trumpet player’s forehead as they slip into a dancing melody; the wonder in a child’s eye when they see something for the first time that they love; the strokes of a brush from a painter who has no idea what tomorrow will hold but continues in the belief that something magical may happen; the hope in a mother’s eye when they see the doctor walking toward them with news on her dying son; the tipity-taps from dancers who slide to the beat of their souls instead of the music; the gust of wind rippling under a bird’s wings in flight; the pushing and pulling of the ocean under a boat heading towards its new destination; the warmth you feel in the arms of a person you love. I am a sunrise and a sunset at the same time, bleeding colors that have not been invented yet. I am a mistake, yet I am a lesson. I am everything, yet I am still nothing. I may not entirely know who I am, but I do know that when you are born into a world you don't fit in; it is because you were born to help create a new one. Dare to change, dare to create, dare to destroy, dare to be who you are. Never be ashamed of your past because it is beautiful as you are beautiful. You may not see the value in yourself, but you do have it. You have to work for it; be courageous enough to face your fears hidden in the deepest corners of your mind. Be courageous enough to find out who you are, and once you are able to do that, refuse to settle for anyone who does not see, accept, or embrace the beautiful being that you are and have become because you worked too hard to let anything else happen otherwise. Never stop working, never stop learning, never stop daring. 

Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” (n.d.): n. pag. 1987. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.

Freidan, Betty. “Women Are People, Too!” Good Housekeeping. N.p., 09 Aug. 2010. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.

Parker, Morgan. "Invisible Woman", Taking Giant Steps, N.p., 9 Sept.2016. Web.

Pellington, Mark, director. The Last Word. Performances by Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, and Philip Baker Hall, Bleecker Street and Myriad Pictures, 2017.

Picciano, Kelsey. "Forging a Whitmanic, Post-Traditional, Bisexual Identity", Taking Giant Steps, N.p., 28 Jan. 2016. Web.

Watts, Alan. "Inside Information." The Book. ABACUS ed. London: Sphere, 1973. N. pag. Print.

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