What is Bicultural Identity?
I’ve had quite a few individuals approach me and tell me that they were pleasantly surprised to realize that they were bicultural. I’m always a bit saddened, but mostly glad, to hear this announcement. On one end, I’m pleased that readers are looking at my stories here and identifying with with my husband’s personal struggle or our mixed relationship, but on the other end, I’m thinking…why didn’t you think you were bicultural? It’s not that individuals should always choose to identify this way if their life is composed of dual identities, but the issue is that there seems to be this pressure to identify as one or another…or simply float around in this weird space where you’re the odd man out…you’re labeled “different” or “not quite one of us”.
Sadly, the terms ‘bicultural‘ and ‘multicultural‘ seem misunderstood and far too seldom used. I actually had no idea how prominent they were until I started blogging and meeting others who identified in this way. I chose the word ‘bicultural’ for my blog title because it was fitting for our family and the issues that we have faced. Put simply, his Mexican heritage and my Anglo heritage didn’t seem to mix between anyone in our lives but ourselves. At home it was a happy mish mash of cultural mingling, but out in the “real” world and among our families, we were two entirely different species.
I started writing about our experiences here on Bicultural Mom and discovered an entire community online of families that couldn’t explain ‘multicultural’ and ‘bicultural’ to their in-laws, co-workers and friends. It seems that these words are virtually unknown in most of the country…a land still to be discovered. Try explaining to your mother that you’re having both ham and tamales for Christmas and see what kind of answer you get…I can bet people will feel an instant need to separate your mixed traditions or pressure you to choose one over the other.
In terms of our comfort with intermingling cultures, America is still very much in it’s infancy. Let’s face it America, we still have a long way to go. I mean, we obviously have check box syndrome and a affinity for categorizing by color, origin, language, education and level of acculturation…should I continue? I think you get the point.
Americans seem to object to mixed identity an awful lot and I’m sure that has quite an impact on the way that many choose to identify. It’s a little challenging to claim both sides when society demands a single choice. Would you want to defend your identity at every turn? I think not. Yet, some do battle social perceptions with relish. They embrace the beautiful and enriching world where multiple identities can be balanced and appreciated with true equality. This is something that I realized while exploring my husband’s identity. Through his lens of self-discovery and mixed identity, I uncovered my own desires to declare my personal identity. Watching my husband evolve toward the firm identity that he now holds was quite a learning experience and one that we should all be so lucky to witness. Despite his best efforts to identify on his terms though, it seems that road blocks are a constant for those who claim a mixed identity.
Apposed to the false reality of many though, the truth is that more of us are bicultural than we might like to think. Mixed heritage and identity is nothing new to many Latinos, who define themselves in a multitude of ways. Identity is a constant and flowing boundary in much of Latin America, where individuals often identify by cultural and social mixes from region to region. Interestingly though, North Americans experience much of the same. We have regional dialects, pockets of isolated and evolving cultures and intersecting social climates, and yet it’s strange how we somehow often ignore or explain away our historically mixed identity as a nation. One has to wonder why and I’m sure that we could brainstorm all kinds of responses, but I’ll leave that discussion for another post. What I’m really wondering though, is why do we accept this intermingling of cultures when it comes to food, music or fashion, but skin color, language, etc. are somehow seen as finite and described with the most exclusive terms?
What do you think? Why are we so hesitant to identify as mixed? Why do others feel justified in dictating your personal identity?