In the following essay, I reflect upon and analyze the different types of identity we are faced with in the world, and our journeys that help us to build onto that. Identity is complex, and it is certainly not concrete. There will always be pre-conceived ideas about ourselves due to the history and nature of our world, but then it is up to ourselves to deal with those ideas as we wish, and form the identity that we want others to find true about ourselves. This essay speaks on my own experience in identity, and how I have chosen to make sense of it.
We are brought into this world looking outward. The first specks of light gleaming into our eyes, the first bits of sound from the outside world entering our ears. Life is absorbed into us. We observe people, situations, social interactions, our surroundings. As we grow older, we begin to look inward. There comes a time where with everything we’ve collected and stored in our brain, we begin to connect it to this “self” that we discover. We are never-ending puzzles, and we pick up the pieces to it as we go along the way. But what happens when the pieces don’t fit in? When people hand us pieces, and tell us, “This is who you are, this is who you are supposed to be...this is what the world thinks of you,” then what happens then? Do the pieces stay as parts of us anyway? Building your identity is a constant battle between what you think of yourself, and other people’s judgement and expectations. It is up to us to fight for what we believe ourselves to be, so that one day, the rest of the world can see us for who we truly are.
One thing for me that I have found has shaped much of my identity is the people I surround myself by, that I converse and build relationships with- my friends. As I began to cultivate just a few strong friendships, I found myself learning life lessons that I otherwise would not have learned until much later. I know what a good relationship looks like, what a bad relationship looks like. I know how I should be treated, and the situations I may find myself in in the future. It all gives me time to think about life deeply now, and make the best of it when the time comes to make the real decisions that will impact my identity. But with all of the lessons I have learned, all of the pieces I have collected, I found that I couldn’t just leave them all sitting around. It was time to start connecting them, time to start focussing inward, finding where they apply to myself. To be honest, this is something I have started very recently, coming into this new year.
In focussing inward, I find that there are a lot of things make up my identity. Being both white and Puerto Rican, it’s not particularly easy to claim the Puerto Rican part of my identity. Many times people are shocked, as if they can’t even believe that that is actually part of my identity. “How could you possibly be Puerto Rican?,” I’ll hear them say. As if I didn’t already have trouble claiming that part of my identity, due to more personal reasons, people’s disbelief made it a lot easier to just ignore that side of me. Growing up, however, I realize that it is a part of me, and I share experiences with other people who are in the same position that I am. In a New York Times article written by Wesley Morris on self identity, he says, ‘‘Self-identified’’ means ‘‘I’ve seen myself and not because of anything you did.’’ It certainly takes time and dedication to tear down everyone else’s ideas about you, and although they will still remain there because we’ve been so conditioned to listen to them, we know the truth about ourselves.
It just wouldn’t be true to say, however, that the way that we self-identify is all that identity is. Identity is a lot more complex than that. I have decided that there are mainly three different types of identity: self, or private identity, public identity, and perceived identity. Public identity and perceived identity are not one in the same. Public identity is the information that we choose to share with others, the parts of our private identity which we are willing enough to be open about. Perceived identity is how others choose to view that information, and the identity that they wind up forming for you. It can be difficult to think about, that there are so many ways to view identity, but that’s a huge part of what life’s all about. We’re all on this journey together.
Sometimes when everything gets confusing, and all of the pieces of my life are scattered all over the place, I’ll go back to a time of peace. Around eleven o'clock at night, the moon shining full and bright behind some clouds. Even a few stars scattered through the otherwise pitch-black sky. I can hear the ocean’s waves crashing in the distance, a familiar, soothing sound. Smaller waves crash onto the shore, creeping up to my toes and swallowing my ankles whole, until eventually the cold water recedes back into the depths. I get chills up my spine that make the strands of hair on my arm stand up. I look up at the moon and feel it looking back at me; and in that moment, I feel as one with the world, and both me and the world know who I am.