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Intersection of identities and cultural competence

| Thursday, December 6, 2018

The moment that I arrived on Notre Dame’s campus, I had a strong feeling that I would explore and learn a lot more about different cultures of people from multiple backgrounds. From being more aware of my own identity to making friends with people from completely different backgrounds and immersing in cultural associations and activities, I have become more and more aware of cultural competence and how it has positively impacted and shaped my perspective.

To begin with, I realize that my sex, race and major have intersected and conflicted with one another. For as long as I can remember, I have been aware of “being an Asian girl in a white world” and my parents conveyed to me at an early age that I was a weak girl. There was no doubt that I was conspicuously different. I grew up keenly aware of my difference in relation to my brother and later those who lived in their white neighborhoods. In other words, my identity was highly visible and it was a persistent dimension of my lived experience. When I applied to colleges with a business major, I confronted the fact that women are underestimated in the business field. To date, there has been a huge gender disparity between the number of startups, particularly in the tech industry. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, in her TED Talk “Why we have too few women leaders,” looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions. We can all easily reel off names like Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk, Gates, Jobs, Branson, Dell and Cuban. In contrast, a list of today’s top 25 entrepreneurs compiled by Ranker features only two women: Oprah Winfrey and Vera Wang. Thus, it is inevitable that a conflict between my gender and the business major exists. It is obvious that not all identities are the same and they are weighted. With that being said, I am proud of being an Asian girl and I believe that hard work will pay off regardless of who I am, where I am from and what my gender is. I have been constantly aware of the conflict but I have turned it — my supposed weakness or burden — into my strength and intrinsic motivation. There is no elevator to success, so I need to take every step to my destination. I always remind myself that if being an Asian girl is a disadvantage, then I need to study while others are sleeping, work while others are loafing, prepare while others are playing and take actions for my dream while others are wishing. My life has not been easy and that is interesting because I will not take everything for granted. In conclusion, I embrace my conflicting identities.

Not only have I explored other cultures, I have enriched my own culture as well. I have a friendship with a black girl who is from Florida. Thanks to her, I have learned to respect a different culture, from her political view, to her holidays, cuisine, attire, hair and body image. There are things I may find them unfamiliar or weird at first, but gradually I will understand that those are a part of her culture and her identities. I have learned to respect every aspect of her and to become a supportive friend. In addition, I have found a group of friends who love me because of my identities, not in spite of them. They help me embrace who I am and stand by me as I learn more about the history of other ethnic groups. In addition, as a Vietnamese girl, I have further explored Asian culture to a larger extent through Asian American Association, Taiwanese Student Association and Vietnamese Student Association. I always want to discover what I have not known about Asian culture, especially countries other than Vietnam, and compare my existent ways of thinking with others’.

Culture does not only limit to ethnicity. It can also refer to such characteristics as age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, income level, education, geographical location or profession. Cultural competence means to be respectful and responsive to beliefs, practice, cultural and linguistic needs of diverse population groups. It is the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures. Thus, cultural competence is very important because it shapes our positive perceptions and helps us become a better individual with a better understanding of the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her TED Talk about “The danger of a single story,” talks about how we need to be so careful about going off of one story with regards to a whole culture or a person within that culture. I think this is so important because if we never ask questions, respectfully, and if we never reach out to others from other cultures, we are naturally going to make assumptions about a culture or person based off of our limited knowledge.

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

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