This I Believe

Kieran - South Richmond Hill, New York
Entered on November 21, 2006
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: tolerance

I was at my Catholic elementary school, filling out a form for diocesan testing, that I came upon a section called Ethnicity. I was instructed to select one category. I looked over each of the choices to determine which was most applicable to me. I knew and considered myself an Indo-Caribbean American, and I looked for a choice that remotely identified me as that. But I found none. I raised my hand and asked my teacher what I should put. He said I should fill in the circle labeled “American Indian/Pacific Islander”. I pondered about his answer for a moment. Why did I have to put that choice down? I was not a Native American, and my parents are not Pacific Islanders. Why was I supposed to select that category?

For the first time I realized that there are set limitations to one’s ethnicity. I then questioned: Why should one’s cultural upbringing be limited to just one or the other? Why can’t I be recognized as an Indo-Caribbean American? Why do I have to choose between five categories whenever I complete applications? This I believe is wrong.

I consider myself to be an Indo-Caribbean American. When broken down, it refers to a person who is of Indian, Caribbean, and American descent. Though not directly from India, I consider myself Indian as my great-grandfather emigrated from India to Guyana, making me not far removed from the Indian heritage. My parents and grandparents are from Guyana, with close ties to the West Indies. I have learned about Guyana and the West Indies through their stories, experiences, food, and way of life. Living in the community of South Richmond Hill, New York, which is a predominantly West-Indian and Indian community, promotes my pride in both aspects of my culture. I love to watch my Hindi movies and listen to Indian music, and at the same time, I can enjoy the Soca and Chutney music of the West Indies, and savor the spiciness of their food. However I was born and raised in America, adding a whole new facet to my cultural being. I am an American; I consider this land my home and respect all that it entails. I like my pizza, my baseball, and I am cognizant of the many opportunities that are available to me here.

Yet I am not respected for who I consider myself to be. Friends expect me to say that I am one or the other. But most importantly, our society needs to change its way of categorizing and “labeling” people. Those five or six choices that are so common on most applications set boundaries and limitations that take away from the diversity of Americans. Considering myself an Indo-Caribbean American, I feel, makes me a more cultured person. Yet these choices do not include people like me. If society is not prepared to include people like me, then this official system of categorizing and “labeling” people should be eliminated.