I am a first-generation American, as my mom and dad are immigrants from Mexico and Iran respectively. Being born and raised in the U.S. gave me limited opportunities to really connect with either of my cultures. I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood and attended a predominantly Hispanic elementary, middle, and high school. Though I do not feel like a complete stranger to my Mexican heritage, there is still an inner battle of identity and a distance between Mexican culture and I. Especially when in college, and attending a predominantly white institution (PWI), I do not identify with my white peers, but I also did not identify with my Latinx peers or my Middle Eastern peers all the time. But of course, college is the perfect opportunity to embrace who you are and learn more about yourself. With this context, I will admit that I have never met another Iranian individual who is not related to me.
During this year’s Power and Privilege Symposium, there was a workshop about the Islamic Republic of Iran and it was made by a student. I was astounded and a bit in disbelief. This was my opportunity to not only meet another Iranian but to learn more about the history of my culture beyond the anecdotes of my father. It was an empowering experience to learn about myself and the cultural roots of the many beliefs and behaviors of my father as well. It all makes sense now and I now feel less of a stranger to myself.
I think a feeling that resonates with many first-generation Americans is this feeling of an identity crisis. I was born in the U.S. but I don’t really feel that “U.S. culture” is my culture. At the same time, the culture of my parents does not feel like it is completely mine either. There is what I like to call the “floating middle” where there is no grounded identity. Some days, I feel super close to my cultures and some days I feel like a stranger to them. However, I do recognize the privilege I have in getting a post-secondary education and the many opportunities I have before me to learn more about myself. Just because it is difficult does not mean it is not worth the struggle. Whitman may seem intimidating, but the students here are very encouraging when it comes to educating yourself and educating others. I have taken advantage of this welcoming student culture and I hope that you are able to do so as well.