As an immigrant to this country I’ve always found comfort in knowing who I am and where I come from. Having a solid identity has helped me navigate in a culture that was new and multilayered. Even before having my children I was concerned with the issues of identity and belonging in a country that often labels as foreign people who have no other land to call home.
I worried that my children would experience an environment that although they felt as their own, could be hostile and insisting they didn’t belong. My children are the reason why I became fascinated with multiculturalism and the more I learned, the more I understood the need to have a good sense of identity and belonging even before people can tell you otherwise.
My favorite Oscar de la Renta quote illustrates very well the way I feel: “My great strength is knowing who I am and where I come from— my island.” Like de la Renta, having a solid sense of identity and belonging have carry me through the hardships of the immigrant experience as I’ve found comfort in my identity in moments where not belonging and seeming “weird” shook me or made me feel isolated.
Even in those moments in which my identity and belonging to a certain group, community, or even my country, became the focus of negativity and/or mockery, I found strength in knowing my truth, my group, my community and my people. That’s exactly the strength I want my children to have; an identity as solid as a skyscraper foundation that while the building might be shaken by strong winds, it supports it to continues to stand tall.
I know that my children are growing up in a very different reality than the one I grow up in. The country I grew up in had a single dominant culture, symbols, cuisine and music that we were all proud of. As a nation we had many points of connection that brought us together. My children were born in a different country and in a different time; the world has gone global and identities are shifting and causing tension.
What I know About Identity And Belonging
There are two definitions of identity that, in my opinion, are close to what it really means. The Merriam-Webster defines it as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual”; while the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “who a person is, or the qualities of a person or group that make them different from others”. Both of these definitions describe how identity can live not only in an individual, but in a group, country or region.
To me, identity is a the core of our human experience and is much more than our culture, country of origin and race. While those 3 elements definitely shape the way we identify ourselves, identity and belonging are rooted in things that are much more important and allow us to connect with people at a deeper level.
That’s why I define identity as a person’s deep sense of self, love of its own unique qualities and pride of his/her own story and background. That identity provides a profound sense of belonging in our own skin, in our family, in our community, and in our country. As a mom raising kids in a multicultural environment, I want my children to have the necessary tools to appreciate and respect the identity of others, while being grounded on their own.
7 Truths About Identity And Belonging I Want My Kids To Know
- You are an important member of our family. You are loved and accepted just the way you are. You are not perfect and we don’t want you to be, you are YOU and that’s awesome! You BELONG here, and you will always do. When any of the following truths challenge you, refer back to this one to remember who you are.
- When I look at you, I see beauty. From the tip of your toes, your smile, your skin color, your hair, to the tip of your forehead, everything about you is unique. There is only one you, and that’s a great reason to celebrate.
- You also belong to a rich culture with hundreds of years in the making. While some elements within that cultural experience might seem strange to others, you know very well its traditions, its music and its food, and that provides you with different elements to be yourself in a multicultural world.
- You have a birth right to claim the land you were born your own, to love it despite the struggles and beyond its flaws.
- As a multicultural person, you are allowed to identify yourself with any one of the elements that conform your existence. You don’t have to disclose all of them at all times, nor you have to omit them if you feel like mentioning them.
- You, and only you, are in charge of your spirituality. You may choose any religion you want, or none at all, knowing that’s one of the most personal choices you’ll make that will shape you and become part of your identity.
- You may choose who to love, without regards of background, ethnicity, race or gender. You may follow your heart to where it takes you without thinking in fulfilling any societal expectation, other than your own.
Multiculturalism, Diversity & Inclusion Expert | Author | Speaker