Welcome back, friends, to the second installment of the new series “Wednesday Wake Up Call.” Today’s topic is one near & dear to my heart. It’s somewhat hard to share…as I spent the majority of my life feeling shameful, embarrassed, & angry with the Lord over this dirty lie about my identity.
“No way! No you aren’t! Stop joking.”
“Yes, yes I am…I’m not joking.”
“BUT, you don’t LOOK Puerto Rican? You’re very white. Your hair is reddish, you are freckly & you don’t even speak Spanish.”
“My Abuela is light complected with green eyes and she was born and raised IN Puerto Rico!”
This conversation has been a familiar one through my life. In fact, each time I wanted to proudly tell others “I am 50% Puerto Rican!” I could predict their reaction. It was never a nice one. Or one that added to my pride. Instead, it was a reaction that turned me away from opening up & made me feel embarrassed of my ethnicity.
Unless you personally know my family, you probably had the same reaction to the fact that I am as much Hispanic as I am Caucasian. Yes, I do not fit the Puerto Rican stereotype… my skin is fair, my hair is a mix of red/brown, my face is freckly, & no I do not speak Spanish though I wish I did.
I do not look the way that the world says I must look to be a real Puerto Rican.
In Kindergarten I remember swinging on the rusty red monkey bars of the Lincoln Trail Elementary playground, with my best friend Ciara. We were talking about our grandparents. As a child you naturally assume everyone else is just like you. When she told me that no, her grandparents did not speak Spanish, I was shocked.
What?! I thought everyone had an Abuela & Papi/Abuelo who did not grow up in the states, who spoke Spanish & spoke in English with the coolest accents. I thought everyone ate rice & beans (arroz con habichuealas) a few nights a week. I thought all the other kids got to eat pasteles, tostones, pernil, garlic salad, and arroz con gandules at their family get togethers. I thought everyone was mixed like me!
When I realized that everyone did not do these things, I felt such a sense of PRIDE. I felt unique, special & excited to be born into such a cool family that got to have the Spanish side from my mom & the country side from my dad.
How cool were we?!
And even better, when I told Ciara about this side of my family she also thought it was cool. We were five years old. There were no pre-judgements or sterotypes about what I was supposed to look like. There was no questioning over the validity of my claims. Only “That’s so awesome!”
As I got a little older, the reactions began to change. I was eager to tell friends, classmates, teammates about my Puerto Rican side, after all I saw it as being a huge part of my identity. Yet as children age it seems they become more & more influenced by stereotypes… their worldview changes.
I began to get adverse reactions to my pride. Mostly, people just didn’t believe I was telling the truth. I did not like being called a liar…especially when I was telling the truth. The more times that these negative reactions occurred, the more my embarrassment & shame grew.
Rather than being excited about the way God perfectly created me…I was angry.
I was mad that my Lord didn’t make my skin even just a few shades darker. I was mad at my freckles & reddish hair. I was mad that who I was on the inside did not match up with what I looked like on the outside.
I was jealous over the way my cousins & brothers looked. My oldest brother is fair skinned & blue eyed but with very dark hair. He also got much more color in the sun than I did. My other brother perfectly fits the P.R. stereotype with beautiful tan skin, super dark eyes, and a head full of dark, thick, curly hair. Most of my cousins also fit the stereotype…their skin tone seemed to take after our Abuelo while mine was lighter like my Abuela & my own mom.
That didn’t matter, however. Because each time I shared my identity with others I could not show them a family picture that proved Hispanics come in every color of the rainbow. Puerto Ricans, espeically, don’t look any one way. But people only know the stereotypes.
Sometimes my brothers & cousins would playfully tease me about being the whitest one, looking like I didn’t fit with the rest of the group, or calling me Molly Shenanigans because I must have been adopted from Ireland. It was all in fun, never mean. And I did laugh with them trying my best to hold back my tears.
Why didn’t I fit in?
Into my teenage years I struggled with self-worth. I was somewhat consumed with body image (not unlike most teenage girls) & I was extremely self-conscious over my pale skin. I wished my mom would let me go to the tanning bed so I could look darker. When the time came that I was allowed to go just a little bit before prom, I thought I had hit the jackpot.
I was going to be so dark. And so Spanish looking.
How dumb is that?!
Tanning didn’t do much to change my appearance and it certainly did not do anything positive for my health. It just made me fixate on how I looked even more. And actually, it separated me from the Lord because I continued to be resentful over the way I was created. Rather than praising Him for His handiwork I scoffed and declared, “you could have done better.”
At Western Kentucky University I had gained more confidence in what I looked like. I grew out of certain attitudes that go along with being a high school girl. I met the most incredible guy (who is now my husband!) who made me feel comfortable & beautiful in my own skin. And I realized how much I was sinning each time I cursed God for making me this way. My faith was growing & my attitude was changing.
I realized that my identity was never meant to lie in who the world said I was.
My identity was determined only in WHOSE I WAS.. I was a child of the King.
I still encountered adverse reactions to my ethnicity but I decided not to let it bother me. I was unique! I did not fit the stereotype and you know what?! That’s pretty darn cool. Instead of making me look like everyone else, God decided to make me different. That was a fact I could praise Him for.
I stopped listening to the world & starting listening to the One who created it.
I stopped caring about other people’s reactions & started focusing on my own confidence.
I stopped with the shame & embarrassment & reclaimed my pride & enthusiasm.
My identity did not belong to this world. My identity was not dictated by the world. No adverse or rude reaction could ever change my DNA. So why would I let them dictate my emotions?
Thankfully, I was in a state of confidence when one of my college friends exclaimed, “Well my boyfriend is a REAL Puerto Rican!!” She didn’t know how much but he did have the dark skin… the comment lit a fire in my belly & popped a few choice words into my head. In the past, tears would have formed in my eyes & my happiness would have been crushed. Embarrassment would have taken over.
INSTEAD, I was able to reply with, “Oh that’s cool! Well I am HALF Puerto Rican so I think that’s pretty real.”
And that was that.
I realized I had wasted over a decade of my life fixated on my identity “flaws” rather than focusing on growing my identity in Christ. I realized that all those years of reading the scripture about God’s perfect creation, He is the potter & we are the clay, I am fearfully made, created in God’s image…all those valuable nuggets of truth had gone in one ear & out the other. So what if I could quote the scripture? Head knowledge means NOTHING if it doesn’t translate into heart knowledge.
Head knowledge means NOTHING if it doesn’t translate into heart knowledge.
We all have our own stories with identity issues. Maybe yours is also over race or skin color. Maybe it has to do with your economical status or shame regarding brokeness in your family. Maybe someone tore down your intelligence or made you feel unworthy of their friendship.
Identity issues plague our world. And they seem to be the root of many sins.
Why do we continue to BELIEVE what the world says about us while ignoring what the BIBLE says about us?
Why do we allow Satan to play identity thief in this world?
Why do we tear other people down with our judgement, assumptions, & hurtful stereotypes?
Why are the opinions of the world ruling our opinions of ourselves?
In Christ we are…
RECONCILED TO GOD
FRIENDS OF GOD
A NEW CREATION
HEIRS TO THE KINGDOM
CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD
BEAUTIFUL IN THE EYES OF THE LORD
and the list goes on….
Friends, we must not only place our identity in THE ONE WE BELONG TO WHO IS CHRIST JESUS but we must also BUILD ONE ANOTHER UP. We must think before we speak, being careful to encourage others to feel pride in who they are…NOT shame.
We must spread the truth of our God to every set of ears on this Earth.
We must vow to defeat the identity thief, Satan. Kick him out of your minds. He has no place in our hearts. And we do not belong to Him.
The way we view ourselves greatly dictates our attitudes towards work, goals, ability, & willingness to do hard things for the Kingdom. If we don’t believe in our own worth then how can we ever trust God to use us to accomplish BIG THINGS?
You are loved, valued, chosen, & wanted. God created you perfectly for a reason.
So, who cares what the world says.
Lord, would you wake us up to our identity issues which drag us away from you? Give us your strength to defeat the identity thief. Encourage our hearts to believe we are who YOU say we are. Thank you for your perfect creation.