It seems like some people think that there’s an easy way to fit an individual in a box based on a whole host of labels. There isn’t.
More often than not, I’ve seen bigotry manifest as a way to knock down a person at a fundamental level by saying they’re “not gay enough” or “not black enough.” It’s as if they can’t be something because they don’t seem to fit into a certain label; they aren’t allowed to talk about certain experiences.
But labels shouldn’t be shorthand for understanding who I am or who anyone else is, and they are not useful for that supposed purpose.
First of all, it can be difficult to explain what your labels even are, since many people have conflicting opinions on what they mean and whether they fit them.
For instance, because I was born in Santiago de Chile to Chilean parents, I identify under the banner of “Latino.” It’s easy for those who don’t know where Chile is to understand that label, and groups on campus that use the label like Chicano Latino Student Services or Latinx Student Union can, in turn, be more inclusive.
In the U.S., though, that overarching label isn’t very popular.
Most Hispanic adults prefer to be known by their family’s country of origin instead of a pan-ethnic label, according to a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center.
To an extent, I can understand why that might be the case. Just because two areas of a continent generally have a population that speaks the same language means little across the lives of millions of people with differing histories and cultures.
On top of this, Latino is an ethnicity, not a race, so the overlapping layers of racism and colorism that nonwhite Latinos face is something I don’t directly experience as a white Latino, as explained by NPR.
Do I still fit under the label of Latino? Is it appropriate or accurate to put so many individuals with such different experiences under the same label?
To gain some perspective, I spoke with Kiana Liu, a freshman film and television production major, about her native Hawaiian identity. Liu classified having Hawaiian identity into three categories: blood quantum, hānai (i.e. adoption into a Hawaiian family) or being “Hawaiian at heart.”
“I don’t mean someone that moves to Hawai’i just to live in ‘paradise’ or demands that they get the ‘kama’āina’ discount for living in Hawai’i,” Liu clarified.“‘Kama’āina’ means native-born, so if you moved from somewhere else to be in Hawai’i you are not ‘kama’āina.’”
There are also certain cultural factors that are expected to come with certain identities, language being an example that’s particularly hard to deal with. For instance, as a Chilean immigrant in the U.S., one expectation of me is that I speak Spanish as well as I speak English.
While I am comfortable with most of my abilities, and I continue to push myself toward being bilingual, it’s still very much a second language for me. It’s a difficult task for someone who’s lived almost their entire life in the U.S. When I have conversations with close family members or friends who’ve grown up in Chile their whole lives, that’s when calling myself Chilean feels disingenuous.
“There is definitely a better way of understanding identity because I feel labels add a target on your back for hate,” said Liu. “There is so much judgment for being a Hawaiian in knowing the language, culture and stories. Other Hawaiians even judge each other for not knowing things.”
Coming to terms with my identity will be a life-long process as I learn more about my culture and myself. One of the healthier steps is blocking out malicious attacks on your identity instead of buckling to every minute detail needed to fit someone else’s idea of who you are and what your experiences have been.
So long as we learn from one another in an open and non-accusatory dialogue, we can move past one-dimensional labels and fully realize the humans in front of us.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email email@example.com.