“The Born Identity: Ethnic & Cultural Identity in the U.S.” (April 2013)

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By Saffie Kamara

At the end of March, Districtly speaking concluded a  month-long discussion on ethnic and cultural identities in the United States. This forum included panelists who shared their stories as immigrants to the United States. Our panelists included, Clarita Jimenez, TV Producer, Associated Press, was originally from the Dominican Republic; Bobby Caina Calvan, Freelance Capitol Hill reporter, originally from Philippines; and Maxine Anderson, Senior BPM Architect, SAIS who was born and raised in Jamaica.

As an American citizen, Jimenez believed that immigrants have a strong work ethic as they arrive in the United States.

“Growing up me and my sister were told that America was the land of opportunity and sometimes you would meet people who were born in the U.S. that took it for granted,” said Jimenez.

According to our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, “America is the land of the free.” And for Calvan, America gave him the opportunity to be just that.

“Being American for me, meant that I was free to be whatever I wanted to be,” said Calvan.

Meanwhile, becoming an American citizen for Anderson was not something she took lightly.

“It took a long time for me to become a citizen because it was an emotionally hard decision to pledge allegiance to another country. It had nothing to do with being black, it was about me being who I was at the core,” Anderson.

Coming from a different country has different cultural meanings for many people. Anderson continued to explain her journey as she came to America still holding on to her identity.

“I did not come here as a Black woman, I came here as a Jamaican woman. It was never a rejection of my Blackness, it was the continuous embrace of my Jamaican heritage,” Anderson added.

Jimenez also explained that while her friends identified themselves as Afro-Latinos, she was not going to give up her identity to fit in with the Black community.

“In America, there has always been the history of you’re either Black or White. When you are in the Dominican Republic, you are Dominican but when you migrate to the U.S., people see you just as black,” said Jimenez.

bornidentity3One audience member chimed in on the brewing discussing of labeling identities and said it was just another political way of classifying each other.

The town hall discussion transitioned into Brown and Black relations.

 “In the African American point of view, it is like Dominicans are in denial but on the other side, we see it as not wanting to lose our culture. We don’t want to give up speaking Spanish. That’s where that Black v. Brown tension lies,” said Jimenez.

One audience member shared their thoughts on the tension between races.

“When you see a person that doesn’t identify themselves as black then it becomes ‘If you are not us then you are them,’’’ said the audience member.

However according to another audience member, being a person of color called for the need to be unified.

“As a person of color, regardless of who the other color is, I identify with the other person of color. Let’s share that commonality,” said the audience member.

Calvan made a similar statement about being unified with people who looked the same as him.

“When you see someone wherever you go that looks like you, there is that instant connection,” said Calvan.

For Anderson, being connected had different meanings within her Jamaican culture.

“The American way of looking out for your neighbor is not the same way Jamaicans look out for their neighbors, but I have embraced it and appreciated it,” said Anderson.

bornidentity2As the forum continued, cultural stereotypes on television became the next topic at hand. The panelists shared their thoughts on the way their race was portrayed in Hollywood.

“Indians have had some success recently in getting their identity portrayed on television. For the other Asians, there has been a spotting record. Asian Americans have pretty much been 3rd string on TV shows. You never really quite understand them or know who they are,” said Calvan.

An audience member had one solution to diminishing the racial stereotypes in Hollywood.

 “We need to own our roles as a culture in Hollywood.”

As the town hall came to a close, panelists and audience members were offered ways to put the tensions between races, and stereotypes behind them. In the end, participants showed pride for their respective homelands while giving respect to America.

“I immigrated to this country at nine years old and went to school here. I still carry that spirit of an immigrant. If you give me an opportunity I will take it. That drive of an immigrant is a special thing,” said Jimenez.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Saffie Kamara is from Alexandria, Virginia. She is a graduating senior at George Mason University currently studying political and persuasive communication as well as economics. Currently, she is the Vice President of a women empowerment organization called My Natural GMU, and a staff writer for George Mason’s student newspaper, Broadside. After graduation, Saffie wants to start her career working on Capitol Hill.

Follow Saffie @JuscallmeSaff

 

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