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Notre Dame and my identity crisis

| Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My friends back home still call me “white-washed” because I speak English without an accent and my skin tone is lighter than the coffee I drank this morning. I checked “white” in every application and standardized test I filled out until high school, because that was the closest thing I could relate to. I was never Mexican enough because of the opinions of what my peers deemed acceptable. When I visited friends’ houses, I would be offered a sandwich instead of the carne asada their moms made for dinner. I wanted to be accepted and to be just another Mexican. But at the same time, I rejected and feared the stigma of being Mexican. My life is a constant identity crisis. And after interacting with other PoC (People of Color) at Notre Dame, I have come to realize I am not an anomaly, and the “identity crisis” I face (somewhat a hyperbole) is not all that unique.

A high school mentor and teacher of mine both recommended I used my mother’s Hispanic last name for college applications because it would give me the upper hand. It sounded logical coming from those with a lot of authority in the matter, but it was never really who I was. Throughout high school, I was referred to as an inner-city student because the high school I attended was in the middle of the “ghetto” and nearly half of my peers live below the poverty line. My best friends were first generation citizens, some of them even born in Mexico. Even though I never really identified as Hispanic until high school — or Latino until college — I was always considered a person of color, another statistic as far as my high school was concerned. Throughout my educational career, from kindergarten to high school, people who knew more than I did told me who I was and tried to label me as different until I began to believe it.

It’s absurd that silly labels determine how somebody feels about him or herself because society places specific identifiers by race and ethnicity. There’s a reason why ethnic parents constantly have to reinforce a sense of racial pride in their children. It is because society instills the idea that darker skin means inferiority. Even in the Latino community, darker skin is stigmatized and considered lesser by many of those of Spanish descent. Yes, Mexicans are terribly racist and prejudiced as well.

The point is, I didn’t care about race or ethnicity until I came to Notre Dame. As crazy as it sounds, blatant racism and prejudice were never a problem I have ever faced until I came here. I was content living my life as a Californian, where everybody is equally as accepting as one another. As vainly naïve as that sounds, Californians are all around accepting people, with the exception of our flourishing black sheep KKK population. There is knowledge as how to be culturally sensitive and interact with those of different creeds, genders and ethnicities without being raging racists or sexists, or whatever prejudice labels exist. I must reiterate, however, that there is a large population of Californians that do not fit the typical form. However, they remain a minority as far as I can tell. As I try to figure out the root of my aggressiveness in pursuing race relations at Notre Dame, it comes down to the people I am forced to interact with in my classes and activities everyday.

More often than not, I have found there to be more of a disconnection between those from the Midwest and inland states than those of the coastal areas and southern states. As a general observation, I have found them to have a more difficult time interacting with people of color, making them appear less culturally sensitive and more ignorant on ethnic issues. I am not trying to be stereotypical or assuming. This has merely been an overwhelming observation.

I am not quite sure why my articles still continue to get a rise out of members of the student body. At any other university my writings would be deemed tame at the most. Why do I feel like I’m in a scene of “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central L.A.” and a sniper is about to take me out any second for trying to “make it out of the hood?” I for one would love to live in a world where my opinion is not deemed invalid because another person is less educated about the struggles of minority communities. I don’t expect anybody to understand my life, only that they accept that these are my views and they are valid views, just as vapid, biased rebuttals are valid in their own sense.

As a “well-spoken token” friend of mine stated recently, “Not everybody was raised like I was,” and I need to understand that many individuals were raised in households where they are told that the opinions of people of color are fueled by a bitter past, when in reality they are fueled by an ignorant present.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Katrina Linden

Katrina Linden is a sophomore English and Latino Studies major living in Lewis Hall.

Contact Katrina