February 5, 2018
Growing up I remember not really knowing “what I was”. Born in America to immigrant parents, I had an American citizenship but island blood. For as long as I can remember, instead of turkey and mashed potatoes for holiday meals, we had lumpia, pancit, curry goat and rice and peas. As I got older and began to really understand the question “What are you?”, I felt a mix of pride and confusion about my ethnicity and heritage. Was I black? African-American? Asian? Pacific Islander? Multiracial? Biracial? Like most children of mixed heritage, I resented the dreaded checkboxes, forcing me to declare allegiance to one or the other. Nearing 30 years of age, I have only recently begun to process how complex and deeply personal my racial and ethnic identity is.
My Filipino mother and Jamaican father met in the 1980s in Miami Beach. My mom was able to move to the states to become a nurse and my dad moved with his family after high school. As a young nurse, my mom would frequent reggae clubs with her friends and it was during one of these nights that she met my dad, a young business man who dabbled in DJing. From stories they tell me, there were no qualms about their relationship and they felt free to pursue a future together. (Although, as a biracial couple in the 80s-90s, I’m sure there is more to the story than they tell me but that’s for another blogpost for another day!) They married and two cultures that seemed worlds apart collided. I came along: Pale-skinned with slanted eyes, a head full of curly hair. My tiny body bursting with life and potential. Innocent and trusting, I knew what I was: loved and known.
“Mi soon come!” “Kumain tayo!” Languages, accents, and smells mostly foreign to my American-born and raised friends, filled my home. It wasn’t until I attended a large high school that I became vastly aware that I needed to choose. If I wanted to be accepted by people, I needed to choose. Who was I? My caramel colored skin and curly hair seemed to decide for me. Was that it? Was it about skin tone and hair? Surely, my ethnicity was deeper than that. In high school, I embraced my black side, my Jamaican side. (Side note, my Jamaican Grandma was adamant that she wasn’t black, she was mixed and her Jamaican heritage was filled with all sorts of different cultures and races. Another blogpost for another day!) I distanced myself from my Asian heritage in high school. I identified with it like someone who touts an interesting fact about themselves to draw people in. I didn’t appreciate the rich history and context that it gave me when understanding myself.
College was an culmination of years of musing about who I was. I joined the Jamaican American Student Association, the Filipino Student Association, the Black Student Union...all my people! But something was still off. I didn’t fit. I felt awkward. I often felt like an imposter. Was I lying to people, to myself? Who was I? I buried the ever-mounting confusion and said to myself that I would dig through the feelings and thoughts when I was older.
Well, I am older now and as a student affairs professional, my passion is to help college students understand themselves and the world around them. In my work and interactions with students, I have seen the gaps in my own understanding of myself. My racial and ethnic heritage has always been this fuzzy cloud of emotions and questions and assumptions and boxes and labels...much like college is for the students I work with! Unlike my college years, it is with joy that I internalize this glorious struggle of learning myself.
What am I? “Filimaican”. Proudly Jamaican, Filipino, black, Asian, loved and known.
It is with pride that I celebrate the immigrant, the minority, the indigenous, the struggling-to-choose, the didn’t-have-to-choose, the mixed, the complex.
Jillian Dinius is a first-generation graduate student at the University of Florida studying student affairs. She currently works in New Student and Family Programs helping support and mentor first-year students during their transition to college. Prior to working in her student affairs role, Jillian traveled to the state of Florida as an Admissions Officer, recruiting students and families to join the Gator Nation. Before that, she worked at a high schol which is where she developed her love for student development. During her down time, she enjoys zoning out to some good tunes, eating some good food, and spending time with some good people. You too? Drop her a note at [email protected]
Jillian Dinius works as a Graduate Assistant in Transition Programs at the University of Florida.
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