It’s not all about fancy job titles and material wealth — sometimes “making it” is found within.
– SRI RAIN STEWART
Identity can become very complicated in the United States. The longer your family has been here, the more likely it is that your sense of culture will change, and in some cases, even disappear. The U.S. is, after all, a land of immigrants and its original indigenous peoples. America prides itself as the place to follow your dreams, build a better life, and become successful.
What exactly is success, though? In America we often equate it with our finances, career, and education. But to me, it’s more than that. It’s internal shifts, changes in perspective fueled by constant learning and unlearning, and invaluable relationships. Of course, external accomplishments still count, but they’re secondary.
My perspective is due largely to my multicultural upbringing. I had experiences, and a lack thereof, growing up that I didn’t fully understand until I became an adult and took some relevant classes in college. I began to better understand the nuances of identity and how differently it can play out in your everyday life, especially when people instinctively seek to categorize you (which many do) but aren’t sure how to.
I grew up in an American family that still holds onto various aspects of the different cultures that flow through our bloodline. Both of my parents are New York City natives, and my father is half Indo-Guadeloupean with both African and European ancestry. My mother is Black, Native American, Puerto Rican, Filipino, Irish, German, English, and Scottish. I’ve navigated life as ambiguous; no one can ever pinpoint “what” I am.
If you really want to understand my cultural background, just come to my parents’ house for our dinners and summer BBQs. My dad cooks staple Caribbean dishes, like curry chicken, oxtail, and pelau, while my mom makes a full-blown Irish meal of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day, following the tradition of her great grandmother. Religiously, I grew up with a Buddhist-convert mother and Catholic father. So additionally, I now had this complex religious upbringing. For as long as I can remember I chanted and attended Buddhist meetings while also attending Catholic school and receiving the sacraments.
Through my multicultural background and the myriad of perspectives it’s exposed me to, I’ve come to see success as subjective, and something rooted more in doing the right thing and feeling good from within, rather than accomplishments perceived from the outside world. This realization, however, took some time. Over the years I’ve had to break out of the confusion I’ve felt about identity. Picking one culture didn’t feel right, and I’ve embraced them all, celebrating my identity as a Black Indigenous Person Of Color (BIPOC).
When you realize you’re a multi-faceted person with a unique history and special purpose in the world, that’s success. Embracing who you are with no shame or awkwardness, and radically accepting that you may not fit into a mold society expects — that’s success, too. The rest of life’s joys will follow.