I am wrapping up my quarter teaching an Intro to Ethnic Studies course and the question of identity is a theme that I use to tie most of my weeks/ units for the class. What does it mean to call attention to your identity by race or ethnicity? Working at a small liberal arts college means that a great majority of my students cone from financially privileged backgrounds regardless of race and that quite the majority if them are white. Most of them are scared to talk about race. As many professors in my field know, race can almost become a "dirty" word for students. I find that many of them want to push against an attempt to define themselves by their racial or ethnic make up. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've heard "I am an athlete", "I am a student", "I am me." The desire to pull away and erase race becomes strong.
I feel in this case it is my job to show my students that it's ok to define yourself by your ethnic-racial identity. And I feel I must challenge them on why they feel that it's a bad thing to do so. This particular generation of young people seem to want to push us into a post-racial era, but the reality is the more they push for post-racial the more racialized our society is becoming; we are becoming more racist by ignoring race.
While apparently a bold statement I let my students know I define myself as a Chicana. I am clear that I am bi-racial, my nationality is American (from the US), but I am a Chicana. Proud of my Mexican American hybridization, proud of my personal and community history, proud of personal journey of political conciencia. I want or hope that my students understand that it is ok to take a stance on our identity. And while it does boil down to personal choices to say that we are athletes or daughters or students or teachers, there is nothing wrong with wanting to acknowledge our cultures/ culturas as well.