This piece was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of the Hillel College Guide Magazine. Read the full issue and sign up for your FREE copy of the next issue at hillel.org/magazine.
I was born Jewish, raised Jewish, went to a Jewish summer camp and had a bat mitzvah. Then, like other young Jewish people you may know, I sort of fell off the Jewish geography map — but not for the reasons you might suspect.
Jewish youth groups weren’t my scene, and most of my friends were people who did not identify with the Jewish faith or culture. In high school, I actually felt more in tune with my Hispanic side than my Jewish one. I was Jew-ish, but I never felt particularly in tune with my Judaism.
Yes, you read that correctly. I am Hispanic. I probably don’t look like what you were picturing. You’re not the only one to be surprised. I fielded a lot of questions growing up, questions like: “You mean, you’re half Jewish?” Nope, full Jewish, I told them. Both sides. “So you’re Sephardic, then?” Again, nope. Full Ashkenazi.
People didn’t know where to place me, and neither did I. I’m a double minority: a hispana among Jews, a judía to the Hispanic/Latino population. For a long time, I honestly felt like an outsider among both groups. So I decided — wrongly — that these parts of me had to be kept separate, shielding part of my identity when coming into contact with either Hispanics or Jewish people.
I became a chameleon. I was never ashamed of who I was. But it was just easier to assume one identity or the other. I felt like I was hiding from the world, hiding from myself. I wasn’t embracing every part of myself. I was only showing one side of myself for fear of making other people uncomfortable. And the result was so unsatisfying. Imagine if only half of an orchestra played a symphony while the other half of the musicians sat silently on stage. As a listener, you might still enjoy the experience to an extent, but you’d be missing so much music. Your experience would feel incomplete at best.
That incomplete feeling, of stifling my own sound, didn’t suddenly disappear when I went to college. But in my freshman year, I threw myself headfirst into Jewish life, even serving on the student board at Hillel. Slowly but surely, I felt more Jewish, and learned more about my Hispanic side as well. The more I learned, the more comfortable I felt with myself — my whole self. I started engaging people, and the more people I talked to, the more confident I became.
I had finally embraced my identity. I’m still a double minority, but I don’t feel the need to hide one side of myself. I am all of me, from my Argentine accent in Spanish to my curly hair. In this globalized society, I came to realize there are fewer people who identify as “just Jewish.” People fall into multiple categories. I’m not alone. I know this because I continue to meet people like me or who feel as I once did.
Finding your identity is hard. Accepting it can be even harder. But I’ve learned that you don’t need to hide parts of yourself to reassure other people. Many people will actually be interested and excited to find out how multifaceted you are. Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.
Emily Goldstein is a sophomore at Texas A&M University.