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A Hispanic Heritage Month Reflection: Unpacking Dual Identity in the College Age

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at OSU chapter.

With Hispanic Heritage Month coming to a close on Oct. 15, it’s time to look back at what this month of celebration has brought us and what we can take away from it. College is a time grounded in growth and connection with others, but arriving on campus often comes with leaving family and a piece of your community at home. Assimilating into the world of campus is inevitable, yet also raises questions about what this means for identities beyond college and into our adult lives. 

At the beginning of this month, I sat down to watch movies with Hispanic representation that I admire endlessly, which is when I began to wonder—how many other Hispanic students are doing the same thing? How many people are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in their dorm room instead of with other community members? Living on campus, I will carry a myriad of memories for a lifetime, but I can also put my relationship with dual identity into perspective. 

What is Dual Identity?

The concept of dual identity has been around for centuries and is not going away anytime soon. Its prevalence in the lives of generations can still be felt today as many continue to deal with it daily. Dual identity is defined as identifying with multiple cultural groups, typically a person’s ethnoracial group and the nationality they belong to. Belonging to multiple cultural groups can create a foggy sense of identity as there is often a feeling of not fully belonging to either group. 

College often heightens this sense of disconnect as many students are apart from their families and communities for the first time in their lives. Some might feel out of place, and some might assimilate quickly and feel guilt. There is not one correct way to feel—dual identity affects everyone differently. 

Identity denial and life beyond college

One important aspect to look at, however, is what this means for identities beyond college. Universities are often referred to as microcosms of reality, so the way we respond now could be essential for shaping the way we adapt in our adult lives post-graduation. While there may not be a secret code waiting to be unraveled, this doesn’t mean that there are no ways to cope with dual identity. One of the biggest drivers in creating the struggles of dual identity stems from outside sources in a concept known as identity denial

Identity denial occurs when a person is denied membership to any cultural group of which they are a part. Often, this is what causes people of mixed backgrounds to feel excluded from one or both sides of their identities. While it is difficult to deal with identity denial from others, it is important to remember that identity is inherently self-established. Self-autonomy and actualization are key factors to reclaim your identity, as identity is ultimately self-chosen and not formulated by others. Understandably, this is easier said than done, so it is vital to remember that relationships with this idea are journeys that take time.

Reconnecting with identity

Keeping a strong community, even if it’s not in person, is a great support when feeling as though you may be becoming disconnected. Having a few people who share the same experiences as you—and just get it—is essential for those with dual identities. This is, of course, in conjunction with having a support group with individuals who are from different backgrounds than you. When it comes to dual identity, the more awareness brought to it, the better. In the microcosm that is college, understanding and empathy are our greatest tools. If you haven’t joined a student organization on campus, this may be the perfect way to get connected.

Ultimately, the journey of identity is different for everyone. Dealing with dual identity can feel draining over time and may even feel elevated in a college setting, so it is important to remember why we have identities in the first place. It is a way to have authority over ourselves—to build our sense of self. It isn’t something to take for granted, despite the inherent struggles that can grow from dual identity. There is always someone else out there coping with the same things, watching movies in their dorm room during a time of community celebration. The more we familiarize ourselves with dual identity, understand how it works and learn how to cope with it, the more we can feel confident and connected with ourselves and our community.

Zoe Velez is an English major and media production minor at the Ohio State University with a love for storytelling, music, and pop culture. When she isn't writing, she loves going to every concert possible, baking, and watching movies-- especially a good romcom.