My junior year at North Carolina State University, I took a sociology class on Human Behavior. I remember it very well because it was one of the few classes where I ended up running into quite a few people I already knew, and I even made a few more friends. It was a most excellent course even though it was easy to fall into a mindset of disliking the professor. She was, we could say, very interesting.
One time, as we walked into class, we were told to pull out a blank sheet of paper and number it one through twenty. I immediately thought we were about to take a quiz–I wasn’t always the best at keeping up with the day-to-day readings. I was more of a “weekend-catch-up” reader kind of student. But it wasn’t a quiz that we were taking. It was an exercise and the exercise was to write, within one minute, in order of most important to less important, all the ways we described ourselves. So we would use one-word descriptions and labels of ourselves, starting with those terms that described us the most–hopefully the exercise makes sense.
So the time for the exercise began and the very first word I wrote down was “Christian.” Above all, whether out of conviction or not, I couldn’t put any other word before “Christian,” after all, my faith, I would like to believe, is the cornerstone and foundation of all else that I believe in and that describes me. So that was easy. Word One: Christian.
However, even though at a glance this may have seemed like a very easy exercise to accomplish, identifying the next few words became progressively difficult. I don’t fully remember which order the rest of the words ended up in, but I do know that it became a pretty gut-wrenching exercise as it went on.
The reason why the exercise ended up being so complicated and hard to continue, was because I was, and I continue to be today, a complicated and diverse mixture of so many things and so many constant, never-ending arguments inside my mind.
I don’t know if this is something everyone deals with at some point, or always. I don’t know if this is a struggle the average person endures. But it is a struggle I endure every day of my life. Any attempt at introspection is immediately challenged by preconceived and newly conceived notions of who I am, who I was, the person I am to be, and the person whom I want to be.
I am a Christian. My faith and the religion which comes from it is by far the most important and fundamental way I describe myself. Nothing will ever change. But what comes next? I am a Mexican, because I was born in Mexico City to a Mexican mother. Or am I a Puerto Rican, because I was raised there for ten years and was born to a Puerto Rican father? Or am I an American, because I am a citizen of the United States of America and an enlisted soldier in the Army of these United States? And, if I were to choose one, does that mean I immediately betray the other? Does that mean I have to carry the grudges, the history, the pain and the suffering, of my people with me? Who is my people? Do I have a people?
Does nationality really matter in the end, for those who claim to be citizens of God’s Kingdom? Does my Christianity override the place and cultures of my birth? And if it does override it, why does everything around me make me hold onto it even more?
But if I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus the Anointed One, and nothing else, does that make me a traitor to my culture, my home, my ancestors, and, or, my language? Should I even feel attachment for any of this?
By now, you are probably regretting reading this. If you have ever wondered what an exploded mind looks like on a word processor, then congratulations. You have witnessed it first hand. I wished my struggle for identity ended there. But my mind and the world we live in, doesn’t allow me to rest. Waking up each morning simply means another identity, another label, another self, will try today to claim the number two (maybe the number one) slot in my list. Will I feel like soldier first tomorrow? And a humanitarian second on Saturday? Will I feel like the most patriotic American tonight–and then wake up on Friday to feel like I need to be more true and loyal to my Latin American cultures?
I have tried to find comfort in literature. I have tried to find advice and counsel in the writings and the words of others. But even the authors and writers with best intentions, end up causing more strife and grief within me. Bless you Octavio Paz–but curse your books. Bless you St. Paul and if I weren’t a Christian I would curse some of what you wrote–but I know better.
I don’t know how many other people live like this–at least, mentally and psychologically. Maybe this is the curse of being multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. Maybe this is the curse of being Mexican, American, and Puerto Rican all at once, with African and Mediterranean blood flowing through your veins. Maybe this is the struggle of being a Christian who wants to hold onto my earthly cultures and nationality. Maybe so. But it is no exaggeration. There are days that I wish I was an existentialist or a nihilist, so I simply wouldn’t have to care. But I can’t stop caring. This is my struggle. This is my mark of Cain. Maybe one day I will learn the purpose of it.
The more I live, the more I realize that people around me actually know less and less of me. Maybe this is why I blog–to slowly, post by post, allow others to see the person within.