Who am I?
Award of Merit for Voice: 2010
I am Latoya, and I am like an orange. When you open me up, you will see the many layers that are hidden within me.
While I was sitting down with a piece of paper and a blue pen, I pondered to myself the question of what I could base this story on. There are so many things that have happened to me that have helped me to find who I am, and what I am, and who I want to become. I have so many dreams and goals that I do want to accomplish in my lifetime. I know that they are going to be hard because of the culture that I am and the way that I look; however, through experiences, stories, and examples in my life, I also know that I can reach the unreachable stars that are shinning above me every night, the stars that always reflect off my skin. I see the dreams that float above me every day, and because of my culture and the way that I was raised, I know that I can find more about who I am, until I become who I want to be.
Who am I in relation to my culture? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I am different from my culture, meaning that I have been raised differently than most people who are of my race. I am a Black American, and I think that is a huge part of who I am and what I am; however, I realize that I am not like all black people. I was raised in an upper class neighborhood where every family had beautiful flowers blooming and all I could ever see were reds that looked like blood that came streaming down my arm when I would get hurt, yellows that were as light as the sun and its rays, and whites that were as pure as the clouds that were changing up in the blue sky. It was beautiful, and mesmerizing to look at. It was like waking up to a world of imagination, a dream world that was only established in my mind. Everyone around my family had very expensive and fast cars that went racing down the black and yellow-lined roads. In a way I was jealous of that world that I never could touch or hold. My family members were the poor ones who didn’t have the beautiful flowers blooming outside. At the time I thought that there was no world of imagination held outside my front door. Also, the car that my family had didn’t race down the road; it actually puttered and made a gun shot noise at the rear of the car. It was embarrassing. We were the other side of the neighborhood that was more dark and mysterious. Our house was like the haunted house full of black clouds and weeds growing up so high that it felt as though you were trapped in a jungle or a crazy untamed forest. It was a strange life growing up being different in so many ways; however, it has made me who I am today.
In relation to my culture, I am a world filled with colors that display my passions and desires. I am a world that is filled with imagination and mysteriousness. I am strength to my foundation like my dark home that I look at now as a world filled with images and magic. As I slowly realize that I am like all the things that I described, I know that I am going to find where I am positioned at in my culture.
Who am I in relation to how I was raised? While I was sitting down on the hard carpeted floor in the living room, my father just stared with this look of anger flamed on the outer surface of his flesh. My sisters and I were patiently waiting for him to start his lecture, which we knew was going to last for three hours with no breaks in between. We were all aware of the fear that was floating above us, pointing and laughing at our dismay. He took his glasses off and whipped away the sweat streaming down his eyes and began to stare at us again. I thought to myself that I would rather take the spanking than sit there waiting. His mouth slowly began to become unglued, and words started to shoot out at us in anger. He kept asking us questions about why we had done what we had. I never thought that it was so dreadful that we did not defend ourselves and our race to our friends when they were making fun of us because we were different from them. I felt the cold breeze of bitterness flow into the room, and my dad stopped talking again. He began to rise from the couch and into the kitchen to cool off. I remember being scared because he never had acted like this before that I could remember. I was worried that he was going to hold against us what we had done for the rest of our lives. I did not feel that it would be fair if he did so. He entered back into the room, and sat back down on the couch, and we awaited the punishment that was coming to us. As he fixed his glasses and sat up straight, he pulled out a magazine featuring Tiger Woods. He began to talk about all his wonderful accomplishments that Woods has made in his career in golf. He told us that golf was never looked at as a sport that black males could play because it was dominantly played by white males; to hear how much that fact would change our culture was interesting, but confusing to me. What did this story about Tiger Woods’ accomplishments have to do with my life? I sat there on the hard carpet and just listened to all the wonderful people whose culture I share, people like Harriet Tubman, who helped free hundreds of slaves from bondage; Rosa Parks, who demanded to be treated as an equal and did not move off a bus seat for a white male; and all the other people who have been a part of my culture and who have helped us to become better and to be looked at with respect. They changed and helped my life too. I wanted to be like those people who changed how people view our race and culture. I wanted to be apart of that change. As I sat there next to my sisters, I thought to myself, “How can I do that?” I answered myself by thinking that I could be an example to other people who are trying to find out where they belong in our culture. After hearing the many stories that my father told us that night, I wanted to try continuously to reach my dreams and goals, because at that moment I knew that I could get there, just like everyone else could. My father and mother raised me to believe that I am just like everyone else and that I am not so different from my friends. I was raised to understand that I am a black woman and that I can be someone important to the society that I live in. I will never forget those stories, because it helped me to see the potential that I truly have.
Who am I in relation to finding myself? Growing up in a neighborhood that did not have a real diverse culture within it was hard. I never really knew who I was growing up. I knew that I was different from my friends. They were as light as a dove flying thorough the sky, and I was like a dark crow, screeching for someone to hear me and help me because I was lost. I always felt that I was out of place because I looked different. I will never forget the first time that I found out who I was in my culture. I was walking home from my friend’s house after playing a rough, loud, and angry game of tag. I whooshed away my blonde hair and whipped away the dust from my beautiful blue eyes that sparkled when the sun would reflect off of them. I raced into my house and ran as hard as I could to the bathroom. After flushing the toilet, I went to the sink and washed my hands, figuring that I would wash my face, too, because it was all sweaty. I whipped my face away with a hand towel and looked at myself in the mirror. I did not think anything about what I looked like until I looked harder at myself. I opened my eyes and noticed that my blue eyes were not blue; they were brown like the soils of the earth. I noticed that my hair was not blonde: it was black like the night sky. And then I looked at my skin and I began to pinch it as though I could peel it off. But I realized that I could not. “Who is that?” I asked myself and then ran down the stairs to my mother with tears streaming down my face. My mother was so confused about why I was crying. I asked her, “I do not know who that is in the mirror!” She then asked me who I saw, and I told her that I saw someone with brown skin, black hair, and brown eyes. She laughed and said that the person in the mirror was me. I said to her, “I do not look like that. I have blonde hair and blue eyes!” She laughed some more at my naive way of thinking and then started to explain to me that I was a black girl. I did not understand what that was and asked her what that meant. She sat me down and started to tell me about my culture. I listened and started to understand that I was different. The beginning of finding me was to find who I was and what culture I was. That was the day I began to see that black little girl as not just someone else, but myself.
There were a lot of experiences that I had to go through to find out who I was within my culture and within how I was raised. I cannot say that I have found all the many layers that I have yet; however, I can say that I am trying hard to see them. It is still hard at times to see who I am because the society that I live in. I do not see a lot of people who look like me; however, when I reflect on it, I like having the opportunity to work harder to find me within the society than to just already have it. I hope to say one day that I have all of my layers within my hands and that I am willing to give you a slice of the juiciness that is within my orange, if you are willing to find out too.