Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Determining identity in a diversified lifestyle

By Stephanie Ambroise

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This is part two of a two part editorial.

I was recently at a student-faculty mixer for the psychology department where they had different professors talk about important research that’s going on in psychology today. One of the professors spoke about adoption and how it shapes identity. Now — I wasn’t adopted, but it made me wonder about how some people form their identity, especially those who live in a culture different from the place where they were born.

I am a Haitian-American female; my mother is Haitian and so is my sister. I am very much in touch with my culture, and everyone who knows me will tell you I have a lot of Haitian pride. When I am at home, about 75 percent of the time, I speak Haitian Creole with my mother and my sister. I eat rice about 95 percent of the time. We talk about Haitian politics, and how it affects us as Haitians, and what we can do about helping our country. Haiti is very much my home, and it is near and dear to my heart.

I have lived most of my life in the United States. For seven of the most important years of my life, I lived in Stoughton, Massachusetts. I completed my middle school and high school years there, meeting some of the most important and influential people of my life. Some of them are Haitian, but most of them are not. I lived in a very mostly white society, and while there was some diversity, I struggled to find people I could speak to about my culture. This was not a big problem, though, because once I went home, I was surrounded again by that culture. This did not change the fact, though, that for about six or more hours of my day, I was surrounded solely by American culture.

I remember when I first learned that not everyone ate rice every day. I had been walking with a white friend of mine talking about culture. I told her about how I ate rice every day, and she said she almost never ate rice. I was flabbergasted. To this day, I can still remember the shock at finding out that not everyone ate rice on a frequent basis. What did she eat? I couldn’t even fathom anything else as a meal if there was no rice involved. The entire idea shocked me, and I can look back at that memory fondly and think of how cultures can clash even with things as simple as what people eat.

But Stoughton is the place I think of when people ask me where I grew up. It’s the place that I lived in when I decided the type of people I wanted to be friends with and who I wanted to be. While my school was very diverse, it was still predominantly white. I took things from my own culture and the American culture I was surrounded by and incorporated them into my personal identity. I listen to a variety of music spanning numerous genres, and if someone was to peruse my iTunes, they would find anything from Linkin Park to Enya to BoA to Alan Cave to Corneille to Kyo to Yelle to A.R. Tahman. I decided that I have this whole world of culture at my disposal, and I wanted to incorporate as much of it as I could into my being. There comes a problem with this when interacting with others.

If I were to go home, I would be able to converse normally with my family in either English or Haitian Creole and act with the same mannerisms known to the Haitian Community. This community, however, would notice the difference in my actions as opposed to the actions of someone who was both born and raised in Haiti. If I were hanging out with a group of white Americans, it would be easy to talk to them. But I would also need to use a limited discourse because some of them wouldn’t understand certain aspects of my culture. Some of the sayings in Haitian Creole don’t translate very well into English, and some of my mannerisms don’t translate well into American culture.

There are also things I decide to pull from other cultures into my identity, as well as aspects that derive from the music I listen to, but these would not be understood by either culture with which I identify. While having an eclectic personality opens my eyes to other cultures and discourses, it simultaneously limits my ability to communicate with specific cultures. In a sense, it’s like being a jack of all trades, where you know a little bit about everything, but you’re not truly great at any one thing.

I consider this in regards to children who are adopted transracially. The child is going to grow up in a culture that is not entirely their own. If a child of African-American descent is raised by a Caucasian family, then there is a point where they learn the discourse of both their family but also of their African-American culture. While I am not adopted, I have been raised in both a Haitian-American culture and in an American, predominantly white culture. The formation of identity, for me, originated from pulling things together from different cultures to form my own personal identity.

The formation of identity thus doesn’t stem only from the culture you are raised in but also by the part of whatever culture you choose to assimilate to. The process is difficult, especially when living in a society which ascribes stereotypes to certain races and other aspects of identity. The formation of identity for the most part, is entirely a personal choice. One either chooses to assimilate to what society tells them they ought to be, or they choose which part of their culture they want to express as their personal identity.

Stephanie Ambroise is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]

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