87.5 F
Charlotte Amalie
Friday, August 12, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSOMETIMES LABELS DON'T FIT

SOMETIMES LABELS DON'T FIT

Good evening, we the class of 1999 are your hope and your future. Our destiny has been designed by our teachers here at Antilles, our parents and our friends. But now we are truly about to make our own futures, and on our own terms.
Recently, on an eleventh-hour trip to visit a prospective university in the States, I found myself mildly alarmed at the racial and ethnic politics of college life. While, I was told, people of different backgrounds and heritages did intermingle, for the most part everyone stayed within their own group, whether it was Caucasian, Asian or Hispanic. "Cultural differences" made this the best option. Cultural differences. How could this be right? My life in the Virgin Islands has always been one blended with a mixture of faces, musical styles and histories. Our diversity is something we cherish and enjoy, not tiptoe around. Confused, I wasn't sure where I fit into the picture: I never bothered to give myself an ethnic label before, to assign myself specifically to the black faces or to the white ones. I was simply "Westra" to anyone who cared.
Bunking with an African-American girl, I found myself labeled categorically as black, despite the English heritage bequeathed to me by my mother. It was strange to be seen in such a definitive light by people that did not even know me and I conjectured if some part of me would have to disappear in order for such statements to be true.
Worried, I started off for another school and soon found myself amidst the same sort of problem, defined by the people surrounding me, their skin color and the world's need for labels. Late one afternoon, after I had finished my requisite please-come-to-our-school barbecue dinner, I walked back up the sprawling campus with three of my tablemates. Our discussion wandered from the President's indiscretions and our own college dilemmas, to our favorite movies. Finally, the aimless chatter turned to our families.
Blinking carefully, her hazel eyes curious, one of the two girls turned to me. "Are you mixed?" she asked. The words tumbled out as if she had been afraid of losing her nerve and I could feel her curiosity shoot out in front of me like the air out of a balloon. Mixed? Mixed with what? Suddenly it dawned on me. My parents! This was touchy ground; race is not the stuff of conversations with strangers.
I looked at her silently, studying her own blondish ringlets, tawny skin and hazel eyes. I decided to risk it. "My dad is black and my mom is white." The words were simple ones, yet strangely hard to say. "What about you?" I countered.
She smiled and seemed slightly relieved. "Me too. My mom is from Ireland and my father is from Georgia. I'm pretty mixed up."
The guy next to us laughed, his glasses wiggling on his nose and long brown hair shaking. "I'm partially Cherokee Indian," he offered.
We had fallen into the trap of instantaneous perceptions and snap judgments. Reality had fooled us and we had been ambushed by our preconceptions. Two black girls, a white girl and guy had been transformed by a single stroll into four tapestries of textured English, Irish, Creole, Native American, Scottish, Caribbean, French and African pasts. The old labels were trite and phony. There was so much to us, both individually and together. Our humanity was astounding.
Surely, the coming years of college will be ones ripe with new identities and new friends. Hopefully, we will meet people who will challenge our ways of thinking and force us to question our ethics and principles. People who take us beyond our ordinary realms of understanding and move us to wonder. Yet there is no way that these people could possibly exist solely of one ethnic, racial, religious or socio-economic background. They probably won't even all be straight. To appreciate, to get to know them, these mystery friends and quiet lessons, we must be willing to transcend any inadvertent prejudices, to ignore whatever "popular opinion" might be, and to relinquish all hold on the labels we hide in our hearts. We must accept the challenge of openness and the threat of vulnerability. It is only then that we, whatever our stage in life, may live truly.
To my classmates I say, our lives are now our own. No more parents there to aid in every decision or hold our hands. This is our chance to be all that we can imagine, all that we transform from dream to reality, all that we thirst desperately for. Now is the time to suck the marrow out of life!
Editors' note: Westra will be attending Princeton University this fall on a full four-year scholarship.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more
Good evening, we the class of 1999 are your hope and your future. Our destiny has been designed by our teachers here at Antilles, our parents and our friends. But now we are truly about to make our own futures, and on our own terms.
Recently, on an eleventh-hour trip to visit a prospective university in the States, I found myself mildly alarmed at the racial and ethnic politics of college life. While, I was told, people of different backgrounds and heritages did intermingle, for the most part everyone stayed within their own group, whether it was Caucasian, Asian or Hispanic. "Cultural differences" made this the best option. Cultural differences. How could this be right? My life in the Virgin Islands has always been one blended with a mixture of faces, musical styles and histories. Our diversity is something we cherish and enjoy, not tiptoe around. Confused, I wasn't sure where I fit into the picture: I never bothered to give myself an ethnic label before, to assign myself specifically to the black faces or to the white ones. I was simply "Westra" to anyone who cared.
Bunking with an African-American girl, I found myself labeled categorically as black, despite the English heritage bequeathed to me by my mother. It was strange to be seen in such a definitive light by people that did not even know me and I conjectured if some part of me would have to disappear in order for such statements to be true.
Worried, I started off for another school and soon found myself amidst the same sort of problem, defined by the people surrounding me, their skin color and the world's need for labels. Late one afternoon, after I had finished my requisite please-come-to-our-school barbecue dinner, I walked back up the sprawling campus with three of my tablemates. Our discussion wandered from the President's indiscretions and our own college dilemmas, to our favorite movies. Finally, the aimless chatter turned to our families.
Blinking carefully, her hazel eyes curious, one of the two girls turned to me. "Are you mixed?" she asked. The words tumbled out as if she had been afraid of losing her nerve and I could feel her curiosity shoot out in front of me like the air out of a balloon. Mixed? Mixed with what? Suddenly it dawned on me. My parents! This was touchy ground; race is not the stuff of conversations with strangers.
I looked at her silently, studying her own blondish ringlets, tawny skin and hazel eyes. I decided to risk it. "My dad is black and my mom is white." The words were simple ones, yet strangely hard to say. "What about you?" I countered.
She smiled and seemed slightly relieved. "Me too. My mom is from Ireland and my father is from Georgia. I'm pretty mixed up."
The guy next to us laughed, his glasses wiggling on his nose and long brown hair shaking. "I'm partially Cherokee Indian," he offered.
We had fallen into the trap of instantaneous perceptions and snap judgments. Reality had fooled us and we had been ambushed by our preconceptions. Two black girls, a white girl and guy had been transformed by a single stroll into four tapestries of textured English, Irish, Creole, Native American, Scottish, Caribbean, French and African pasts. The old labels were trite and phony. There was so much to us, both individually and together. Our humanity was astounding.
Surely, the coming years of college will be ones ripe with new identities and new friends. Hopefully, we will meet people who will challenge our ways of thinking and force us to question our ethics and principles. People who take us beyond our ordinary realms of understanding and move us to wonder. Yet there is no way that these people could possibly exist solely of one ethnic, racial, religious or socio-economic background. They probably won't even all be straight. To appreciate, to get to know them, these mystery friends and quiet lessons, we must be willing to transcend any inadvertent prejudices, to ignore whatever "popular opinion" might be, and to relinquish all hold on the labels we hide in our hearts. We must accept the challenge of openness and the threat of vulnerability. It is only then that we, whatever our stage in life, may live truly.
To my classmates I say, our lives are now our own. No more parents there to aid in every decision or hold our hands. This is our chance to be all that we can imagine, all that we transform from dream to reality, all that we thirst desperately for. Now is the time to suck the marrow out of life!
Editors' note: Westra will be attending Princeton University this fall on a full four-year scholarship.