September 4, 2008

Intern Intro!

New Intern – Blayne L.

It’s a new school year, and the Intercultural Affairs Office has a new intern: ME! My name is Blayne Lopes, and I am a junior psychology and sociology major. I’ve decided to spend the next few months of my life doing a very difficult task – actually thinking, writing, and exploring issues of race and racism in my own personal life. Not easy. Not for everyone. But, for me, I know this is how I will grow as an advocate for diversity and social justice.

Not easy. Not for everyone. Let me explain. I grew up in a predominantly Cape Verdean community. Though technically a biracial kid (dad: Panamanian; Mom: Capverdean), I was raised mostly with Capverdean influence and culture. It is in my blood, many of my neighbors and classmates are Capverdean, and there has always been a personal connection for me. I love the conche shell and rhumbas of CV music. I can never turn down Kuskus, jagacida, cachupa, Galina gizado, or the pasteles (all traditional Capverdean Cuisine). Capverdean is who I am. It is how I identify, and this was as real to me as peanut butter is to jelly.

Until, I came to college.

One day, I was conversing with some friends over dinner about our ethnic backgrounds. We represented all different shades of “brown” – Puerto Rican, Honduran, Bajan, and Capverdean. When I told my friends that I was Capverdean, I was immediately asked if I could speak Kriole -- the national language of Cape Verde. When I told them I could not, questions of my “authenticity” were brought up.

“You’re not a REAL Capverdean; you cannot even speak the language!”

I did not know how to respond. I was shocked! I began to think: What do they mean I’m not Capverdean? Who do they think they are?

I grew defensive and started trying to prove I was Capverdean by rambling off facts that I knew, but I only became increasingly more hurt. Do I have the right to identify myself as Capverdean? What does that even mean?

After that incident, I was often scared to tell people that I was Capverdean. Almost a year has gone by since that conversation, and I still reflect on my reactions and feelings. How do I define myself? Who gets to define me?

Being Black is who I am; it’s not what I am trying to be!” –Carlton “Fresh Prince of BelAir” As I heard those words the anger, the hurt, and the confusion I felt that day was released instantaneously like a popped balloon. Simple words but yet they are so powerful. I point to that day as the day where I started to critically think about my identity. As much as Carlton reflected on being Black, I know that “Being Capverdean is who I AM; it’s not what I am trying to be!”

I look forward to the exploring issues of race and identity development this semester!

What is the moment you point to when you started to think about identity?