When we make decisions and experience things, we often describe them as being our own, ours. However, when we think about why we made those decisions and why we experience things we come to realize that we are influenced by society to make decisions for us. There are many external societal factors that influence our beliefs and values which in turn affect how and why we make decisions. My family, friends, and society in general have heavily influenced the way I have lived my life and the person that I am today.
I was birthed into this world on January 24, 2002 in the city of San Jose, California, eyes wide open, ready to be shaped and molded into the individual that society wanted me to become. Immediately I was given the ascribed status of a girl. A quick glance was all it took to confirm what then became my gender and that was that. With this social label my parents, in result, treated me according to society’s view of how a girl should be treated. This included pink and purple everything, dolls and dollhouses. It wasn’t until I got a little older and would play with my cousins that that stereotype began to change. I grew up surrounded by a lot of family mainly because my culture is very family-oriented, but also because my family was so large in number.
Most of my first cousins, especially those close to my age, were male. Because many of my cousins who I played with as a child were male, I started to participate in more boy activities. For example, playing in the dirt and mud, playing basketball, and playing video games. I do not recall my parents or family ever saying anything about me participating in these activities however, I do remember an occurrence when I was in kindergarten in art class. The art teacher had assigned us an art project where we were to paint a picture for our dads for Father’s Day. I decided to paint flowers for my dad because at the time he liked to garden and had all kinds of vegetables and flowers growing in our backyard. When I had told the art teacher what I was going to paint she told me to paint something else, like a car. At the time I didn’t understand why I couldn’t paint flowers for my dad when I knew that he would like it, but that didn’t matter because flowers are girly and not meant for boys. This was just the first of my experiences with society’s gender roles.
I am the youngest and only girl out of three other siblings. However, they are all half-siblings. I have two older brothers from my father and one older brother from my mother. Because of this, and because of the large age gap between my brothers and I, I never experienced that close sibling relationship with them. Being not only the youngest, but also the only girl had a huge influence on who I am today. My dad had only ever had sons, so he, in a way, treated me like another son.
He wanted me to play all kinds of sports like my brothers did. I was never an athletic person, and still am not, so I never played any sports that my brothers played like football and baseball. My dad also was rougher with me because he didn’t want me to be soft. Because of this I was called a baby or wimp if I cried over little things. My mom however, always defended saying that it was okay for me to cry though her reasoning was because I’m a girl and you must be more careful around me because I am not as tough as a boy.
Growing up in the Bay Area the community that I was surrounded by was extremely diverse much like here in Sacramento, if not more so. There was a great mix of people from different cultures, religions, and backgrounds. The neighborhood that I grew up in specifically was inhabited mostly by middle class families, my own included. Being around people of the same or similar social class and economic backgrounds caused less discrimination and prejudice toward people when it came to social statuses and salaries. Being raised in this community also encouraged diversity especially in race and ethnicities, so even at a young age, seeing people of different skin colors participating in various cultural practices became a norm.
Though I am half African American and half Chamorro, I was raised predominantly by my maternal side of the family. My mother and my mother’s side of the family being Pacific Islanders, I grew up with their beliefs, norms, and values solely because that was what I grew up with. As a Pacific Islander, more specifically a Chamorro/Guamanian, our culture is centered around a very social lifestyle. Our culture is also extremely family-oriented and that includes both immediate and extended family members, so as I was raised, family was taught to be one of the most important values in life.
Another important value that was taught is storytelling. Passing down stories through generations was taught to be important in order to keep the culture alive. Because Pacific Islanders are not a very common race compared to others based on population sizes, there is often prejudice towards Pacific Islanders since there is such little common knowledge about us. Pacific Islanders as a group are often generalized to all be Hawaiian or the same as Hawaiians when that is not the case. At a young age when people would ask me where I am from and I would tell them that I am from Guam, they would be confused, which even at a young age I understood because it is a very small island on the other side of the globe, and I wouldn’t expect them to know.
It was often difficult to feel involved or connected with classmates and groups in school because of the race being so underrepresented. In turn, I embrace my ethnicity and culture as much as possible and will be sure to pass those values on to my future children. One way I embrace my culture right now is through cultural dancing. I have danced with a local Polynesian dance group since I was nine years old. In the group we perform Hula, Tahitian, and other Polynesian dances. Hula and Tahitian dancing are often sexualized because of the movement of the hips and the type of attire worn, especially by women, when dancing and performing.
When I would tell people that I danced Hula and Tahitian, many times guys would say things like, Oh, so you can move your hips? Society portrays the Hula Girl in a way to attract tourists or a public relations campaign. As a result, sometimes people don’t take the performances seriously or do not recognize the significance of the dance. This is just another example of the lack of common knowledge of Pacific Island cultures.
Another value that Pacific Islanders have is practicing religion. There is no one religion that is enforced specifically however, Catholicism is predominantly practiced within the race. My father is not a very religious person and that was just how he was raised, but my mother was raised in a very Catholic home. Consequently, I was raised in a Catholic family. My maternal grandmother often pushes Catholicism on me and my other cousins. If someone were to ask me right now what religion I follow, I would tell them Catholicism but only because that is the only religion that I was taught about or practiced.
As I have grown older and have been more educated on different religions and on how different people view religion, my belief about certain practices and their purpose has faltered. I believe in God, but many of the beliefs and rules of the Catholic faith I have begun to question. Religion is very complicated. As I am growing and truly finding what I believe in, I begin to question who is right? Who is wrong? Is there a right or a wrong? Overall, my religion is something that I am continuing to question every day and will continue to change as I discover myself and my true beliefs.
Sexuality and my sexual orientation were not something that I ever really thought a lot about. Growing up I knew that I was attracted to the opposite sex. It wasn’t until I got older, around middle school, when I was properly educated about the different sexual orientations. At that time, it was starting to become more common for people around my age to discover their sexuality. Becoming more educated on the various sexual orientations, my orientation did not change however, I became more open to a possible change. All my life thus far I have only ever been attracted to the opposite sex, heterosexual, but I cannot say that I will never be attracted to someone of the opposite sex or someone of a different gender identity.
The way that society and the people in my life have defined race and ethnicity, social class, and gender have greatly affected how my life has developed thus far. They have shifted the way I view my roles as a mixed race, middle class, female. The things that I have experienced and learned have affected and will continue to affect the way I live the rest of my life. Society has a huge impact on our lives and will continue to change and shape the way we live throughout time. Our experiences in the social world are what make us who we are.
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