I Am Ms. Two-Faced

Art by AJ Mallon | Bullis

By Vanessa Schor | WIS

When I describe myself as two-faced, I do not mean it as it usually is intended; a liar or someone who conceals the full truth. Though to some extent, I believe that statement is true, I mean it as someone who has two faces or sides to them. I am multifaceted. There are multiple aspects to me that you do not see when you first look at me. I am like a sculpture. You must observe me from various angles and take the time to see me at every perspective. Only in this way will you fully understand me.

Often when people look at me, however, they don’t think twice. She’s just a white girl; they must think to themselves as they observe me. She’s just like the rest of them. I see the shock on their faces when I tell them that there is more to me than that. It’s almost incredulous to them. Often they don’t believe me. To me, it almost feels like a pathetic excuse a white person has produced to prove they have some amount of culture in their life. I know in my heart, my identity is valid. The stigma surrounding it has always been my enemy. It makes me doubt myself every single day.

This constant battle with my environment and the raging self-doubt is something I have dealt with throughout my life. My appearance leads others to believe that I share a collective experience with most of white America. I do not deny the privileges that my appearance and the color of my skin have given me throughout my life. I do not deny the opportunities I have despite that. However, there’s a hidden struggle beneath the surface that most don’t see.

What most people don’t realize when they see me is that I am Mexican-American, and I am Jewish. I have a cultural experience that separates me from everyone else. Though this is true, and it brings joy to my life every day, it leaves me with internal conflict as well.

I go to synagogue every Saturday for services, and I only recently completed my religious education. I made friends there, and I enjoyed myself in that environment. However, even with that, I never felt like I fit in entirely. Everyone else there was either wholly Jewish or just a blend of white Christian and Jewish. No one there was a blend of two distinct cultures except for me. Though for the most part, I was able to keep that part of me separate from my religious school experience on occasion or two, it came up. I will never forget the looks people gave me. Though I believe there was nothing malicious behind those stares, I knew in their heads that they were making the distinction between me and everyone else. I felt the separation they had made. It is a feeling I have learned to dislike.

My mother’s family is entirely Mexican. I grew up watching my mother make rice and beans for me in the kitchen and her listening to Selena or Ricky Martin. There is a part of me that stands tall when people ask me whether I am Latina. When I visit my family, most of them only speak Spanish to me. They all look Latinx, with their olive skin and dark hair. However, I do not have the same experience that most Latinx people do. Even my mother, who has lived in the United States her whole life, still must experience microaggressions. She is continuously belittled and must be made less because of how the world and her environment perceives her. I am grateful that I have not faced that struggle. Somehow, that lack of experience makes me feel like I do not deserve to claim that part of my identity.

Throughout my entire life, I have never felt as though I entirely fit into either community. I am too Mexican to be genuinely Jewish but too Jewish or white to be genuinely Latinx. I have never felt wholly connected to either environment. This experience left me feeling isolated but mostly just confused. Who am I in these environments? What am I supposed to be? Am I worthy enough to call myself either of these things if I am struggling to connect in either environment?

I’ve come to learn that despite what I have experienced; my environment does not define me, I define myself within my environment.

Perception is everything.

I no longer perceive myself as the black sheep though others may still see me that way. I know the value of my differences. Those differences do not make me any less Jewish or Latinx. I am a Jewish Latinx woman, I now say. I hold an experience that others do not, and that is not a bad thing, it is special.

Despite this personal breakthrough on my part, I know that there are so many people out there who experience this same conflict on different scales: a division in their identity. Moreover, the reason they feel this way is because of the way our society has built itself.

Stereotypes, perceptions, assumptions. These are the real enemy. Within every one of our heads, there is a little voice. This voice builds on our past experiences and uses them to understand the world around us. It has an innocent and honest origin in our survival as human beings. However, in our society today, it has become the thing that changes how we perceive each other and understand each other (though not always true understanding). It can even change the way we see ourselves, leading to that little seed of self-doubt.

Stereotypes bombard students every day. Those who are part of groups that have been negatively stereotyped tend to face different struggles than those who have not been stereotyped in this way. It often goes unnoticed, especially in environments where a white race dominates how unconscious bias negatively affects students of color or students who belong to minority groups.

The prejudice we hold against others often becomes internalized. Within our community, this happens to everyone. I do not deny that I have some preconceptions. However, I am working on unpacking them and giving them less power within me. The problem is when we let those prejudices take control. When people who have power internalize their bias against a group or several groups of people and use that against them, a severe problem begins to unfold.

I encourage not only you but your friends and your colleagues to think to yourselves, what privileges do I have? What is easier for me that may not be as easy for others because of my way of life or the way others perceive me? In what ways have these preconceived notions affected the way I interact with people in my environment?

Take a moment. Because out there, more people like me exist. The reason why they struggle, why they doubt themselves and their identity is because of how the world tells them they should be. We cannot put people into boxes. No one ever fills the quota you have convinced yourself exists for every identity. No man has to be a certain level of masculine to be a man. No mixed-race person is too white or too black to own their identity. No bisexual person is any less gay because they like men more than they like women and vice versa. The more time we take to think about how we perceive the world and how that affects those around us, the easier it will be for others to be comfortable being themselves. In that way, we can let everyone around us, including ourselves, shine bright.