Written By Amara Payne (The George Washington University), Student Correspondent for CET Colombia, Spring 2022
As my time in Cali came to an end I found myself reflecting on how and why I’ve changed. Who I am now and who I was when I arrived in Colombia, and what parts of this beautiful country and culture would I take home with me. I came to this country with the assumption that it would be easy. I could fit in, disappear, and have a semester-long reprieve from the “what are you?” and the “no, but where are you really from?” questions that I receive almost daily. I would no longer have the burden of explaining to strangers who I am and where I come from. Now that I’m home It’s safe to say that everything was not easy, in fact, this might’ve been one of the hardest experiences I’ve been through in my life. However, the pressure came less from external factors and more from the ongoing internal struggle that I have with my own identity.
In Colombia, I experienced that social relations go almost exclusively off the color of your skin rather than your lineage, people don’t question you surrounding your heritage if you’re as light as I am, they simply assume. This was foreign to me because I was used to the questioning and strange looks. However, the longer that I stayed in Colombia, the more I realized that the majority of my questions were internal. And though, in my upbringing, my family worked to make sure that my Blackness felt solid and well defined, the fact that I am mixed and come from a multicultural heritage has always left me with questions of whether I will ever be enough of each to fit in on either side.
This internal line of questioning was something that gave me an intense sentiment of depersonalization. It’s very difficult to have your identity change wherever you go, and even more difficult to have to constantly reprocess how the world perceives you. This caused friction between my friends and myself, because while I’ll never fit into any box, something that I’ve always perceived as a nuisance, they’ll always be put into a box, being darker-skinned. This led to conflicts in understanding and communicating the way that I feel about my identity and the way that they feel about theirs, with frustrations building surrounding something neither of us has the power to change. The security that they have in their identity, wherever they go, is something that I’ve always longed for. Many of them are Black women who are always going to be perceived as such. The perception of my identity changes when I travel between my hometown of Nashville and to D.C. for school, not to mention between countries. This all leads to a lot of confusion, questioning, frustration and pain. I found that the struggle that I faced was a more intense form of the way that I felt growing up, not belonging anywhere, never being enough of anything.
However, now that I’ve left Colombia, and have been able to reflect, I can say that this experience has built me in ways that I never would have imagined. My sense of self is stronger than ever and the way that I perceive my identity has forever changed. Colombia was where I realized that I shouldn’t think of myself as two different people, two juxtaposed halves to a whole. All that I am, is constructed of both sides, I’m not a percentage of anything, I’m fully and wholly me.