Albanez: Exploring my mixed-race identity at NU has been invaluable experience

Andrea Albanez, Op-Ed Contributor

In 2011, The New York Times published an article about how many young Americans were no longer defining themselves as one single race, but rather beginning to cast themselves under multiple races or calling themselves “mixed-race.” According to the article, “the crop of students moving through college right now includes the largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States.”

I identify as a mixed-race American. I encompass an array of nationalities that define who I am biologically: Filipino from my mother’s side and Mexican, Portuguese, French and German from my father’s side. I have met many students and peers just within my first year at Northwestern that share this commonality of mixed-race background along with me. Yet though identifying as mixed is so common now, how a mixed-race individual can identify themselves in society is still a difficult feat to overcome.

As I am a makeup of 5 different races, I myself have only identified closely with two out of my five races: Filipino and Mexican, which makes up 75 percent of my overall racial identity. This is prominently because my parents shared those two ethnicities’ cultures and practices more so than those of French, Portuguese and German, which they had lesser affinities with. Because of this, I have solely defined Filipino and Mexican as my ethnicities. Yet even so, I still do not feel as strong of a connection to my ethnicities as I wish or hope to be.

Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I was constantly the minority, whether I cared to acknowledge it personally or had my parents remind me of it. This created a barrier for me in having a deeper connection to my ethnicities overall. If I had grown up surrounded by others who were Filipino, Mexican, or mixed-race like myself, maybe this disparity would not have formed. Because I did not have friends or close peers who shared my common racial background, or who were also of mixed race, I would always blend in with the crowd I was surrounded by when growing up. I never explored my own racial cultures.

Since joining the Northwestern community, though, I have been able to delve into my cultural and racial backgrounds in a way I could not access before. Taking Spanish courses, I am developing a bridge between the language barrier that had previously been a barrier between me and my Mexican culture. Taking an Asian American studies course my first quarter, I developed a basis to understand the formation of the Asian American identity and the continuous discourses about Filipino and other Asian Americans during World War II. After joining Kaibigan, the Filipino Students Association, I found a community where I can feel comfortable talking about my identity and background without judgment or questioning, as many fellow Kaibigans are also mixed-race or not even Filipino at all. As a group, we are trying to learn more about our culture and what it means to be Filipino for ourselves while developing an open and inclusive community for dialogue and relationships.

I have now developed a passion for wanting to learn more about my ethnicities and racial background because of the opportunities present at NU. I encourage everyone who has similar backgrounds or curiosities to explore them. So many cultural clubs are present on campus and joining one can open you up to an enormous community of peers and experiences of culture. I became Kaibigan’s secretary on the executive board and by doing so, I have become more involved in promoting our community’s agenda and have made friends with others who want to learn more about and are proud of their Filipino heritage. In addition, the courses offered on campus can open an avenue for you to gain an intellectual understanding of your racial background that opens up your understanding of your background and race even more.

So far, as I am developing my understanding of my mixed-race identity, I have found that becoming entrenched in my ethnicities’ cultures and embracing them is vital to my understanding of myself overall. And just as I have defined my ethnicities as Filipino and Mexican, I also need to have the mindset of embracing the other 25 perfect of my racial background while simultaneously going deeper into learning about the cultures of all of my races. As I have already started these steps on campus since entering NU in the fall, I hope to continue to develop my racial identity in a way that defines me amongst my peers and to myself. Not only do I want to be recognized as a leader and active student on campus, I want to be seen as a person that is shaped and strengthened by her different ethnicities as well. And I hope to others who have felt this sense of loss in their racial identity as well, they can find assurance that others are on their same journey too.

Andrea Albanez is a Communication freshman. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.