INTRODUCTION: This article is part of a series titled “In My Own Defense”
This series has served as a writing exercise “of sorts” that can allow me to work through feelings of shame that still remain. As is typical with a child’s-eye-view of the world, I perceived life as if it revolved around me. This self-centered viewpoint, made it difficult, to varying degrees, for me to see others’ perspectives. As a sensitive child, I tended to take all the bullying and ostracism of my childhood personally. By the time I reached high school graduation, all I wanted to do is put as much space (physically and chronologically) from this experience as I could. I remember leaving for college with huge hopes. However, it quickly became apparent that this would require a significant amount of effort on my own part. It’s only in the last decade of my life, that I’ve taken time to look back at these experiences without feelings of self-blame and hatred welling up inside me. I’ve learned to accept the fact that there are those from my past who may never see me beyond an outdated set of preconceived notions. In a way, this series represents the final step in the long process of healing, forgiveness, and acceptance.
In the wound-licking phase, I simply began to work through the unresolved hurt instead of burying it…
This process started in my later 30’s when I first sought out a therapist because I felt “Stuck”. It took a while to understand the nature of this stuckness & what was holding me back. Until this point, my life was like an invisible minefield. There were some things – things that reminded me of events I was trying to forget – that became excruciating. It was all too much, so I spent time going through the motions and checked out on the basement sofa watching t.v. like a mindless blob. Or I would nap, my other favorite maladaptive coping tool. I began to see a therapist, I completed a DBT course, worked on the relationship with my sister and slowly, I somehow felt safe in the world. In time, this healing allowed me to gain some clarity by viewing directly things that had previously been too I was empowered with a solution the problem that involved action on my part.
However, more needed to be done. Feelings of shame and invalidation had plagued me. That is, until my mother recommended I read this book….
PART ONE: The Consequences of being an “Other” (i.e. biracial / mixed race)…
ME = “One of those things that is not like the other”
I usually call my mother once every two weeks just to see how she’s doing. At some point in the conversation, I am usually provided an update on the “local gossip”. During one of these conversations, my mother mentioned an old classmate of mine: May-lee Chai. She was a senior in high school while I was a freshman. We didn’t know each other well and I only remember as one of the many faces I passed by in the halls between classes. At any rate, she asked me if I heard about that book she had written: “Hapa Girl: A Memoir”. She said bought a copy and urged me to read it, since she felt it might “resonate” with my own childhood experiences….
When I first read it, I remember reflecting on my childhood from a new perspective. Until this point I thought it was “all my fault”. This book helped me to contextualize my experiences. There were forces much larger than me at work…
So where do I start? How can I begin to adequately describe my own experience of being biracial? How have I dealt with the idea that I’m not perceived as I am? What is it like to live between world’s? What follows are random thoughts, in no particular order….
In the video above, the narrator describes the twins as “black and white”. Based on phenotype characteristics that each girl carries, they are so labeled. It amazes me, how people are so quick to forget that the meatsuits we wear, don’t accurately reflect what dwells within us. In reality, there are four abstract constructs which together are effective in developing a basic understanding of a biracial individual’s experience of race. Together they explain what it is like to live within an unclear “in-between” space. These constructs are: (1) genotype; (2) phenotype; (3) identity; & (4) culture. Understanding how they converge within an individual’s life can help quite a bit in explaining their racial identity. They are useful in understanding the diversity of experiences amongst biracial experiences, as well as the issue of colorism…
FACTORS 1 & 2: Genotype vs. Phenotype…
Genotype refers to the DNA you carry within you. You get half from your mother and half from your father. For example, at geneaology.com they studies of populations around the world. When individuals are isolated historically these populations tend to share genes for traits that are conducive to survival in that area. When you submit a test at genealogy.com, they tell you what subsets of the human population are present in your genes.
Phenotype has to do with your physical features, how do you look? What is the color of your skin, your face shape, and hair color? The point is, you can have the same set of parents, but inherit different subsets. Therefore, two genetically biracial individuals can have very different appearances.
Critical Point #1 – regarding these two factors, I have a genotype / phenotype mismatch problem. This means I am not what I am. Due to the random qualities that define my meat suit, I am classified within a preconceived ideas that do not relate to my own lived experience of self…
FACTOR 3: What is Identity?
The DSM-5 Manual defines Identity as follows: “[the] experience of oneself as unique with clear boundaries between self and others; stability of self-esteem and accuracy of self appraisal; capacity for, and ability to regulate, a range of emotional experience.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p823). As a biracial individual the experience of how others see us diverges from the inner knowing of who they are. Regarding how others’ experience, I feel as if I’m a man inside a monkey suit wearing upon my being the preconceived notions of others. I wait for somebody to see within to the real me, but it happens rarely. R.D. Laing (1990), summarizes this experience succinctly in his book “The Divided Self”. In contrast, the description of our inner sense of self is best described in my old course textbook (Corsini & Wedding, 2013).
Critical Point #2: “The usual sense of the self as being who we ‘really are’ and as being continuous and consistent over time seems to be an illusory construction of imprecise awareness….similar to the ‘flicker fusion phenomenon’ by which photographs projected successively on a movie screen…we suffer from a case of mistaken identity. We are not who, or even what, we thought we were. What we take to be our real self is merely an illusory construct” (Wedding & Corsini, 2013, p467).
FACTOR 4: What is culture?
Culture provides another set of mental programs relevant to a society (Chung & Bemak, 2002). It consists of a shared system of meanings within society that define modes of expression and communication, (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). It influences how we view the world around us and sets the normative standards for behavior (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). As a form of “mental programming” (Chung & Bemak, 2002, p282), it defines our value systems and preferred ways of thinking and feeling.
Critical Factor #3: I was given two diverging, (and frequently oppositional) cultural perspectives. Nobody fully understood this and I was largely left on my own to feel my way in the dark…
Before I continue with this random train of thought, I must apologize. I’ve made a promise to stop intellectualizing, yet do this a bit in here. There’s a reason for it – bear with me….
While working on my master’s degree, I was working and had little time for anything else. On the back burner, I placed everything unnecessary and “survival” became my priority. I remember reading various articles for homework assignments and being “highly intrigued” by the information I was taking in. It held information that was interesting personally as well as professionally. As I work through this blog, I continue digging through files of things I’ve save, with the intention of “bloggging on it” when time would allow. Here I am about a year later – finally getting around to it.
“individuals who live at the juncture between two cultures and can lay a claim to belonging to both cultures, either by being of mixed racial heritage or born in one culture and raised in a second, should be considered marginal people. Park suggested that marginality leads to psychological conflict, a divided self, and disjointed person” (LaFromboise, et al, 1993, p. 395)
I have these piles of folders divided into subject categories. Inside them are copies of assorted notes, assignments, and articles that I’ve printed with ideas jotted in the margins. The quote above does an excellent job of describing succinctly, how I’ve felt as a biracial individual with a broad-based culturally diverse perspective of the world. The Sesame Street video below describes my experiences as an individual who lives between worlds. I am both my mother and father, yet I am also like neither of them….
ME = Three of these kids belong together. Three of these kids are kind of the same. But one of these kids (i.e. me) is doing his own thing
“The Psychological Impact of Biculturalism”
So without boring you to death, I want to quickly review this article titled: “They Psychological Impact of Biculturalism”, as a jumping off point. This article begins by describing what individual’s need to be culturally competent to function in a society.
“In order to be culturally competent, an individual would have to (a) possess a strong personal identity, (b) have knowledge of and facility with the beliefs and values of the culture, (c) display sensitivity to the affective processes of the culture, (d) communicate clearly in the language of the given cultural group, (e) perform socially sanctioned behavior, (f) maintain active social relations within the cultural group, and (g) negotiate the institutional structures of that culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 395).
This article the provides an overview of different models utilized in research, to describe the varied transitions that occur between an immigrant and the country he has chosen to reside in. What follows is a “quick and dirty” overview….
ASSIMILATION: “The underlying assumption of all assimilation models is that a member of one culture loses his or her original cultural identity as he or she acquires a new identity in a second culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 396).
ACCULTURATION: “assimilation approach emphasizes that individuals, their offspring, or their cultural group will eventually become full members of the majority group’s culture and lose identification with their culture of origin. By contrast, the acculturation model implies that the individual, while becoming a competent participant in the majority culture, will always be identified as a member of the minority culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 397).
ALTERNATION: “The alternation model of second-culture acquisition assumes that it is possible for an individual to know and understand two different cultures. It also supposes that an individual can alter his or her behavior to fit a particular social context.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 400).
MULTICULTURAL: “The multicultural model promotes a pluralistic approach to understanding the relationship between two or more cultures. This model addresses the feasibility of cultures maintaining distinct identities while individuals from one culture work with those of other cultures to serve common national or economic needs. In this model it is recognized that it may not be geographic or social isolation per se that is the critical factor in sustaining cultural diversity but the manner of multifaceted and multidimensional institutional sharing between cultures. Berry (1986) claimed that a multicultural society encourages all groups to (a) maintain and develop their group identities, (b) develop other-group acceptance and tolerance, (c) engage in intergroup contact and sharing, and (d) learn each other’s language.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 401).
FUSHION: “The fusion model of second-culture acquisition represents the assumptions behind the melting pot theory. This model suggests that cultures sharing an economic, political, or geographic space will fuse together until they are indistinguishable to form a new culture. The respectful sharing of institutional structures will produce a new common culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 402).
So what’s the need for this list of terms? Why is it necessary?
I simply include it to indicate that the issues that can potentially arise for individuals living in a foreign country are to great to list. For that matter, there is a high degree of variability amongst immigrants who are trying to make a life in a new country. Factors such as socioeconomic status, education level, language familiarity, ethnic pride, and local race relations can all have a huge impact an individual’s experience.
My mother and her sister are an excellent example of this…
My mom is from the Philippines and is the youngest of two children. Her sister Rebecca is just 18 months older. Consequently they’ve always had a very competitive relationship. My mom is describes her older sister is much more popular and much more successful in school. She on the other hand had just a few friends and was very shy. To top this off she kind of had an inferiority complex next to her sister and was never really good in school and didn’t quite catch up to her until about seven to grade. This sense of insecurity and competition also spilled into the issue of appearance. My mother always described her sister as the prettier one. Her sister was always faired skinned and curvy and this made my mother jealous. My mother on the other hand past the paper bag test and your mother I was giving her a hard time about being skinny and was constantly instituting various plans to help her gain weight – all of which never worked. As a kid, I always found my mother’s insecurity strange, living in a “mostly-white” midwest town. All my classmates were obsessed with tanning in the summer and could never ever be thin enough. From this vantage point, it seemed strange to me that anybody would complain about being thin and tan…
However, I’m most struck by how my mother & her sister went about building lives in a new country.
My mother was always the “good girl” and very “values oriented” and in this respect, quiet a bit like her mother. On the other hand, her sister was a bit rebellious and more socially adept. She was always popular and much more knowledgeable socially. Its interesting to now my mothers traditionalism played out in her life and how my aunts rebelliousness played in her own. These two divergent characteristics affected their experiences as immigrants living in a new country. My mother was alone in the midwest. There were only a handful of non-whites so I was never exposed to Filipino culture. In contrast, her sister lived in Texas and employed several Filipino women. So my cousin was exposed to her mother’s culture, visited the Philippines several times, and speaks Tagalog. However my mother’s traditionalism caused her to remain reluctant to understanding what it is like to be an an American Teenager. This meant that I was not allowed to wear makeup, shave my legs, or wear bikini-style underwear, much less date. When you consider the fact that I already had few friends and was bullied constantly, this made things very difficult. I had no social guidance whatsoever. I was the oldest firstborn of all the cousins and as a result I was kind a like the guinea pig. My mother decided to raise me according to her own values that she knew and made them a priority. It probably wasn’t until my sister came around that she some understanding of what was needed to help the child survive socially school. So, I was isolated, overprotected and held to social standards that made fitting in difficult. My sister was given opportunities to experience things that I didn’t at her age. While five years younger, she was able to date first, given spending money first, and allowed to be out with friends late – all before me. Oftentimes, what would happen is they bought her a car and then would think, oh we never got one for Kathleen, lets do that….
So what point am I trying to make here???
I am frustrated with the lack of understanding in my family. I talk to my mother, and she talks about how I know nothing about her culture and am basically American. While this may be true in many respects, I blame this fact on my mother who has refused to speak Tagalog in front of me. It is, however, the case that she held me to standards that were her cultures and not my own. As somebody who was already bullied and ostracized quiet a bit, I needed guidance. Yet I got nothing. I sometimes I sacrificed my childhood and years of social development, so my mother could have her “peace of mind”. I will never forget when I told my sister about how I had to wear granny panties to P.E. She laughed and said, “OMG! There’s no way I would allow that to happen!!!” And in that comment is the problem. She didn’t have any idea how different they were with her and how she had chances for normalcy I never did. You see, the problem is the experiences that come together to influence a biracial’s experiences can vary greatly from person to person.
My sister & cousin don’t have a genotype / phenotype mismatch problem, they are “meat-suit matching”.
“I don’t count” due to the random qualities that define my meat-suit. My identity feels a farce, and I had to “act as if” I was what others deemed even though this was a lie.
My sister & cousin were allowed the opportunity to live as a normal American Teenagers.
I was cloistered way like a nun. I had no friends & was ostracized. My different-ness stood out like a sore thumb in my small homogeneous town.
The final thought I’d like to make comes from a few articles by Maria Root, who describes racial identity development for individuals of mixed race. There are a few points she makes about racial identity development amongst biracial siblings that are worth noting:
“Siblings of racially mixed heritage…often identify themselves differently from one another” (Root, 1998, p. 237).
“Phenotype does not determine how people identify themselves” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
“Identity can change over the lifetime” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
“A monoracial framework is usually the guide for interpretation of behavior.” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
An Ecological Model of Identity
“The identity [options} are (a) accept the monoracial identity society assigns, (2) actively choose a monoracial identity (congruent with the identity society would assign), (3) define self as biracial or multiracial, (4) develop a “new race” identity.” (Root, 2003, p. 115).
Ecological Models of identity focus on the social and individual factors that influence Identity development. “This model of identity development acknowledges that there are many different ways people of mixed heritage may identify themselves.” (Root, 1993, p. 240). Mixed race individuals frequently see themselves in a way that diverges significantly from how others tend to. Root, (2003 & 1998), discusses the following concepts in her ecological model of racial identity:
MACRO LENS: Gender; Social Class; Race Relations; Sexual Orientation.
MIDDLE LENS: Family Socialization Influences; Temperament; Community Relationships.
PHENOTYPE: Is a factor that influences many of the factors in the middle lens significantly
A Stage Model of Identity
“Typical behaviors of person’s of mixed heritage are…interpreted as signs of poor adjustment. Some of these behaviors stem from ways of sorting out the meaning of race…from a mixed perspective….negative adjustment is not [related to] being mixed…but rather conflict rising in the family and environment and the lack of guidance in resolving developmental crises…” (Root, 2003, p. 113).
Root begins discussing early stage models of racial identity development by reviewing the two primary stages which seem to encompass (1) a desire to adapt to a new culture, (2) response to inherent inequity and racism in American culture.
INITIAL STAGE: “internalization of white reference group that necessarily is accompanied by devalued messages of [minority group] values and culture.” (Root, 2003 p. 114).
TRAUMATIC EVENT: “Awakens the individual to the lack of equity and fairness…There is a retreat and immersion into the racial group of origin to gain support and…as part of the process of undoing the harm of internalized racism.” (Root, 2003, p. 114).
Next, Root provides the following summary of stages that biracial children progress through as they address the idea of “what they are”
“In the first stage, the awareness of race and ethnicity was not necessarily attached to ethnic background….In [the] second stage, people choose a racial identity; their cognitive capacity [in childhood] usually allows a single identtity. The third stage is driven by dissonance between the chosen identity and the incomplete mismatch with ethnic and racial identity.” (Root, 2003, p. 115).
Finally, common questions that arise
“Who am I?” (Idenitity)
Where do I fit in?” (Is there a place in the world I fit with?
Where is my social role?” (“What cultural standard?)
Who is in charge of my life?” (Who tells me what I am?)
“Where am I going?” (what goals?)
<h5><span style=”font-size: 45pt;”>Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities. I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons. Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”</h5></span>
Benet‐Martínez, V., & Haritatos, J. (2005). Bicultural identity integration (BII): Components and psychosocial antecedents. Journal of personality, 73(4), 1015-1050.
LaFromboise, T., Coleman, H. L., & Gerton, J. (1993). Psychological impact of biculturalism: evidence and theory. Psychological bulletin, 114(3), 395-412.
Root, M. P. P. (2003). Multiracial Families and Children: Implications for Educational Research and Practice. In J. A. Banks and C. A. McGee Banks (eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (second edition), pp. 110-124. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Root, M. P. (1998). Experiences and processes affecting racial identity development: Preliminary results from the Biracial Sibling Project. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4(3), 237-247.
Part Two: Exploratory Paper from MCC 638 “Social & Cultural Issues”
The purpose of this paper is to closely examine my personal worldview and sociocultural background. In doing so, the goal will be to understand how this influences my future clinical judgment and client interactions. I will begin by utilizing the Addressing Model, (Hays, 2008), to provide a biographical overview of my sociocultural history. The paper will then conclude with a series of interview-style questions, to help reflect and explore my life history in detail. Any personal understanding of my values, cultural identities, and areas of privilege that come from this activity will be used to direct future growth throughout this program.
According to our textbook, a bias is simply a “tendency to think, act, or feel in a particular way.” (Hays, 2008, p24). Personal biases emerge as a result of our upbringing and sociocultural background, (Hays, 2008). Our life history provides us a worldview, value system, identity and cultural background that produce the very biases we carry into therapeutic relationships, (Hays, 2008). In light of this fact, a cultural self-assessment is the first step toward developing greater multicultural competency as a counselor. I start this self-assessment by utilizing the Addressing Model to provide a rough overview of my sociocultural history. I then move on to a series of interview questions, which can help to shed light on areas of privilege, as well as value systems, and identities.
Utilizing the Addressing Model
Age and Generational Influences
My Parent’s Generation. My mother was born in 1938 and my father was born in 1941. They are members of the “silent generation”, born just prior to the baby boom (Martin, 2004). Their earliest years of life occurred while the world was at war. My mother, from the Philippines, grew up in the middle of war. My dad, an American, was ignorant of war altogether. They were both raised to work hard, get an education, and pursue the American Dream. For my mother’s family this meant gathering resources to put both of their two daughters through medical school and then help them to emigrate to the states. For my father’s family, this meant raising their sons in a strict household, expecting them to work hard, and then put themselves to school. In the end, they all did so, earning advanced degrees.
My Generation. I was born in 1969, and grew up in a small college town in South Dakota. Unlike many of my generation, I was spared from having to experience divorce first-hand. With divorce rates, at the time, soaring to 50% in my childhood (Amato & Cheadle, 2005), I was fortunate to have such a realistically positive view of marriage. The experience of witnessing everyone in my extended family enjoying long and happy marriages, has caused me to place a high value in the commitment of marriage and family.
Nonetheless, I am typical of many women in generation in being skeptical of the idea of “having it all”; a popular notion existing in westernized cultures in the aftermath feminist movement (Genz, 2010). While very appreciative of the strides made, I’ve witnessed many women struggle to keep up with home and work life in frustration. Many women in my generation have chosen to put off family, or opt out all together, (Genz, 2010). Still others, such as myself, have chosen to put off career pursuits in favor of focusing on my family life, (Genz, 2010).
Fortunately, I have no physical disabilities or health issues whatsoever. I’ve had the privilege of ignorance that comes with living in a healthy body, and never having to think about living with disability. (Hays, 2008). Nonetheless, I’ve found plenty of opportunity in my life to learn about living with disability. As a hospital tech I have had a great deal of opportunity to work with disabled individuals. As the mother to a son with a congenital defect, I’ve gained insight into experience of raising a child with special needs. I’ve developed an awareness of what it is to deal with physical disability on a daily basis. In fact, I’ve felt a great deal of satisfaction from these experiences, and wish to explore this area as a potential career path.
Religion and Spiritual Orientation
My religious background is complicated, by the fact that my family isn’t unified in its religious beliefs. My father is an atheist, my mother is devoutly catholic, and my sister considers herself a “born-again” evangelical Christian. As an agnostic, I can see everyone’s point of view and respect each one, as right for that person. I don’t feel it is right for anyone to impose my religious beliefs on others. Nonetheless, I do find the other members of my family disagreeing on matters quite often. My sister and mother disagree with the others beliefs on the grounds that it goes against their own. My father refuses to talk about it altogether and this annoys my mother and sister.
Ethnic & Racial Identity
“The ecological model of racial identity development acknowledges that there are many different ways people of mixed racial heritage may identify themselves….These identities do not necessarily coincide with how other persons identify them. Thus the private identity may be different from the public identity assumed or validated by others.” (Root, 1998, p240).
I am a biracial individual, born to a Filipino mother and White father. A book written about my hometown, by author May-Lee Chai, titled “Hapa Girl” (2007), provides a good depiction of my childhood environment overall. Also biracial, she was a senior in high school when I was a freshman and endured much of what I did growing up.
My racial identity can be best described as a personal knowledge I hold within. It isn’t reflected in my phenotypic appearance and consequently is rarely acknowledged in my interaction with others. (Root, 1998). As a result, my identity as biracial is held with pride despite often being refuted and criticized by others. Additionally, because I’ve never been to the Philippines, it isn’t based on any cultural heritage. (Root, 1998) While purely American, from a cultural perspective, I claim both my Asian and American heritage from an identity viewpoint.
The socioeconomic status of my family of origin is solidly upper middle class. In contrast, my family of procreation would most likely be somewhere in the lower middle class. My husband comes a working class background, and had a rough home life. Adding to this, until recently, I’ve put off career pursuits in favor of family. As a result, I have experienced some downward mobility, in a matter of speaking. By marrying someone of a different socioeconomic class, I’m aware of the huge cultural divide between my husband’s family and my own. I feel comfortable in both worlds, yet my husband doesn’t enjoy being around my extended family, (despite getting along with my parents). A quote from a book titled “Reading Classes” by Barbara Jensen (2012) sums up my husband’s experiences well:
“I knew I wasn’t middle class like some others in the movement, and I believed I wasn’t as smart as they were. I knew my brain worked okay, but they knew more, lots more, and I wanted what they had. They often referred to authors I had never read or even heard of. They used words I didn’t understand, and they often talked about their college experiences, worldly travel, orchestral music, and other things with which I had little opportunity and experience. They appeared to all understand one another, but sometimes I just pretended I understood, and then I felt ashamed of both not knowing and pretending.” (Jensen, 2012, p18)
Sexual Orientation & Gender
Sexual Orientation & Cisgender Status. Regarding the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity, I happen to be a cisgendered heterosexual. Being cisgender, I have moved through life with a body that matches my gender of identification, (Levy, 2013). Being a heterosexual, I have a sexual preference that is deemed acceptable by all facets of our society (Levy, 2013). I have never felt the need to think about my sexual orientation or gender identity to the extent I have my racial identity. Any thought I do give to such matters has been purely political in nature, since I’ve always been very supportive of LGBT rights. Having said this, I do feel simply believing in equal rights isn’t enough With ignorance, can come a lack of awareness of things such as subtleties of interaction and the imposition of our biases that can indeed be felt as discriminatory, regardless of their intention, (Hays, 2008)
Being Female. While being a female certainly implies a second-class status, it must be noted that the degree to which this is experience varies by culture. Fortunately, my sociocultural background has been one which values and empowers women. Having said this, it would be fruitful to learn about the implications of being female in cultures other than my own, as a matter of perspective.
Indigenous Heritage & National Origin.
On the one hand, I’m an American living in the United States and have no experience living in another country. I am neither an immigrant nor of indigenous heritage. On the other hand, with a mother who emigrated from the Philippines, I’ve witnessed a bit of what it is like to balance the influences of two competing cultures. Described best as a biculturalism, (LaFramboise, et al, 1993), raising a family in a foreign culture was certainly problematic for my mom. From my perspective, the cultural gap that resulted did require time to work through. Having not occurred until well into my own adulthood, I have a relationship with my mother today, which is very different from that of my childhood.
Cultural Self-Assessment Interview
In this portion of the paper, I move on to a series of self-assessment interview questions. It is my intention to answer each within the Addressing Model framework. I will consider how each question applies to my sociocultural history as described within this model.
Social Expectation & Identity.
“When I was born what were the social expectations for a person of my identity?” (Ajuoga, 2014). My biggest struggles with social expectations associated with identity, are in the areas of: (1) gender roles, (2) race identity, (3) socioeconomic class, and (4) religious affiliation. Other addressing components such as disability, sexual orientation, and indigenous heritage, have been of little concern. I will address these areas of struggle in turn, leaving female gender roles issues, for later.
Racial & Ethnic Identity. As mentioned already, I have experienced a great deal of confusion regarding my ethnic identity. My own biracial identity has been largely met with messages of disapproval, with others needing to inform me what they believe is the correct one (Root, 1998). It has taken some time, to sort through this issue as I’ve learned to let go of the idea that validation from others is ever a realistic expectation, (LaFramboise, et al, 1993).
Religious Identity. While my mother’s family is devoutly catholic, my father’s family is predominantly agnostic and atheistic. The competing perspectives from this interfaith family background yielded an array of contradictory expectations (McCarthy, 2007). As my sister and I matured, our chosen routes diverged greatly. I came to identify myself as agnostic, while my sister has joined an evangelical church and embraced those ideals. The biggest issues in our family have come as we’ve tried to maintain a sense of integrity while also respecting others’ beliefs (McCarthy, 2007).
Socioeconomic Identity. Maria Root discusses, in her work on mixed race identity, that individuals from such backgrounds can often develop negative biases against one side of their family as result of negative treatment, (Root, 1998). Within my father’s extended family I have experienced just this growing up. The ignorance and ethnocentrism they display, alongside the pride, and unwillingness to see any other perspective has been the source of much pain. As a byproduct of this experience, I’ve developed a negative bias against their upper middle class socioeconomic ideals (Root, 1998). It’s only in my adulthood, that I’ve been aware of how much I rejected this component of my identity, while embracing husband’s working class background instead, (Root, 1998). Coming to terms with this will be essential in my growth as a counselor (Hays, 2008).
Norms, Values & Gender Roles.
“When I was a teenager, what were the norms, values, and gender roles supported within my family, by my peers, in my culture and in the dominant culture” (Ajouga, 2014)” Overall, a great deal of conflict exists with norms, values, and gender role expectations in my extended family. Additional conflicts were present between my familial and environmental norms and values growing up.
In an article an on biculturalism mentioned in our textbook, there is a discussion of the impact of living between cultures (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). This article mentions feelings of psychological discomfort as the initial result of a dual identity-based consciousness that can have potential benefits in the long run, (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). Having many conflicting identities, values and belief systems has resulted in much of this discomfort as well as many fruitful life lessons.
Gender roles. Within my family, gender roles brought about much confusion as a child. Conflicting messages existed as a result of complex familial generational and cultural gaps. My dad’s family came from a traditional background, with the belief that women were supposed to stay at home. In contrast, my mother’s family was very forward thinking. Since my maternal grandparents were both teachers, it was very important their daughters go to school. Having two daughters finish medical school was a source of great pride.
These competing perspectives left me with a conflicting and contradictory array of familial gender-based role expectations. Against this backdrop, was the generational influence of being born in the aftermath of the feminist movement, (Genz, 2010). Not feeling the need to having it all, I have instead discovered a path that has worked for me.
Norms and Values. While there were many conflicting norms and values within my extended family, this wasn’t really the biggest issue in the context of day-to-day life as a child. The greatest source of conflict existed between the values and norms my parents held me to in contrast to with what was expected in my hometown. Norms and values regarding: (1) relationships and dating, (2) parental roles, (3) rules of emotional expression, as well as (4) appearance and demeanor stand at the forefront as most problematic.
In keeping with her cultural background, my mother assumed the role of matriarch, and was largely responsible for setting parental limits. My dad, busy at work most of the time, didn’t want to interfere. As a result, my mothers cultural belief systems were the standard we complied with at home. Naturally unbeknownst to them, this key factor resulted in an array of problems throughout my childhood, when it came to fitting in (Chai, 2004; Fortune, 2012).
For example, regarding the issue of appearance, my mother didn’t allow me to shave my legs or wear makeup, and I was bullied endlessly for it. In the arena of dating, I was absolutely forbidden from even considering it until college, because that’s how it was for her growing up, (Fortune, 2012). Added difficulties resulted from differences in parenting role expectations between my mom’s culture and my hometown environment, (Root, 1998). Cultural differences such as these, caused many parents and teachers to misunderstand my mother. They often thought poorly of her parenting style, because it was so different from what they knew. This added to my difficulties in trying fitting in.
“How was my view of the world shaped by the social movements of my teen years?” (Ajouga, 2014) With a population that was mostly white, middle class, and well educated, my hometown had a very ethnocentric feel to it (Chai, 2004). At school, a large portion of my classmates came from families that called this town home for several generations (Chai, 2004).. This gave many of my classmates the benefit of a large social network, as well as consistent socialization, on how to follow the values and norms of the local culture (Chai, 2004). Without this knowledge base or support system, fitting in was difficult, and I was bullied throughout much of my childhood, (Chai, 2004). As per Brene Brown’s work on shame, my personal view of the world was based on an underlying identity of shame as she defines it:
“The definition of shame that emerged from the research is, an intensely painful experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance, and belonging.” (Brown, 2006, p45)
“When I was a young adult, what educational opportunities were available to me? And now?” (Ajouga, 2014) While I did enter college with many opportunities for learning, my ability to make the most of them limited by my problematic childhood history. Nonetheless, having been born into an upper-middle class environment to two highly educated parents, provided me with many privileges I failed to appreciate at the time, (Hays, 2008). Today, after having come to terms with my past through counseling, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make the most of these privileges and pursue this degree.
“What generational roles make up my core identity (eg., auntie, father, adult child, grandparent)?” (Ajouga, 2014). Key generational roles which are strongly associated with my identity, include my roles as a daughter and mother. In fact, I hold my role as parent before any others in my life. Having nearly lost my oldest after several open heart surgeries and then suffering a miscarriage before giving birth to my youngest, I value my time with my kids greatly. It’s been my goal in life to learn the lessons from my parents, and be there in ways they were not able to. Making sacrifices for my kids, showering them with affection and cherishing our time together are key priorities in my daily life.
Regarding my role as daughter, while I’m not as close to them as I’d wish, I do strongly identify with my duties to them. As the oldest child with a background in health care, its expected that I be there to care for them when they age. I plan on trying my best to live up to this expectation as a show if respect and love, knowing action and not words work best a communicating such things with them.
In completing this assignment, I’m actually surprised at how much I learned about myself. Rereading my personal history has been quite enlightening, as a much-needed perspective within to contextualize the outcome of my life. It’s cleared while my complex sociocultural history yielded much stress as a child, its also provided me with wonderful opportunities for personal growth. Inspired by this fact, I am committed to a lifelong process of learning as a counselor and plan to use these insights as I worked completing my degree.