Breathing Culturally: Exploring Social Identities (Part II)
by Jorge Burmicky
Last week, I wrote about social identities and how they interact with each other in the context of Waco. I talked about owning these identities and allowing them to inform our engagement with our surroundings. Today, I will spend more time exploring my perceptions of living in a city that attracts people from diverse backgrounds and various walks of life while acknowledging my own personal biases and limited experiences.
First off, as I previously mentioned in Part I, I moved to Waco because of a job at Baylor. What I did not know is that Waco/Central Texas would offer me an education of a lifetime. I certainly wasn’t aware of the true extent of the so called “Southern Hospitality” and the genuine desire many people have to be helpful and charitable towards residents of their own community. At the same time, I have also learned (generally speaking) a lot about the intersections of religion, race, and politics in the South (or more specifically, Texas). For some, this is perceived as a touchy subject not welcomed for conversation. For others, this subject affects their daily lives (positively and negatively) and they don’t necessarily get to “choose” whether to engage with it or not. It is simply a part of their day-to-day.
Personally, I experience certain privileges and disadvantages because of my various, interwoven social identities. More specifically, because I am a male, I hardly ever worry about my personal safety or fear of being harassed at night, which is quite different for my female counterparts. Additionally, because of my religious affiliation (Christian), I had a very easy time looking for a church when I moved to Waco; there are literally dozens of options to meet my needs as a member of the majority religion group. As a Baylor staff member, I also have access to Baylor athletic events for free (except for football) and the many perks that come with working for one of the largest employers in the city. These are just a few examples of how my social identities affect my daily life.
Conversely, I also experience certain disadvantages. As a non US citizen, I often hear people’s disdain towards immigrant communities (particularly, the Latino community) and hundreds of myths about life as an immigrant in this country. As an educator, I often hear students (and adults) argue strongly about their political views on immigration not knowing a single fact about the complexity of the system. For example, people assume that I can easily obtain US citizenship simply because I have a job and have lived here for many years, but in reality, whether I choose to pursue it or not, I am still years away from even being eligible for citizenship, which shocks people. As a result, I have made it a priority to share the real complexities of our immigration system, especially living in a city with a fairly diverse population and a visible Latino presence.
However, how does this apply to living in Waco? First off, I would say it is incredibly important to be aware of your very own identities (i.e. religion, race/ethnicity, gender, etc.) that inform your perceptions of the community around you, particularly a diverse and complex one like Waco. Lastly, I have truly enjoyed not only learning about myself in the context of Waco/Baylor but about other people’s stories and what makes them a citizen of this community. Yes, it is complex, but it is also rich and life-giving, which makes our journey in Waco all the worthwhile!
Jorge Burmicky currently works at Baylor University in the department of Campus Living & Learning. He’s passionate about college student development and contemporary issues in higher education, particularly access and retention of underrepresented students. He is married to Monica who works at McLennan Community College as the director of TRIO Student Support Services. They are expecting their first born (baby girl!) in June and couldn’t be more excited about it!
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