Nia Quiñonez-Kurnick

If you know me, you know that I’m a total film buff.  Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is one of my favorite films of all time. There is a line in the film that has significantly resonated with me. The line comes at a pivotal part of the movie when Marie Antoinette struggles to please both her Austrian family and the people of France. Marie Antoinette asks, “Am I to be Austrian or the Dauphine of France?” To which her advisor answers, “You must be both.”

This line has always caught my attention because as a mixed person, I usually feel like I need to be two things at once. My Dad is Afro-Ecuadorian. My Mom is a White Jewish American. I was born in Chile and raised in Ecuador. I can express all of this to you just as easily in Spanish as I can in English. You can see why, when people ask me “what are you?” it’s hard for me to come up with a coherent answer. I am all those things at once.  

Kermit the Frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green.” What he’s really saying is “it’s not easy being me.” I have felt like that a lot in my life. In fact, sometimes, I still feel this way. Sometimes, when I’m with my Ecuadorian family, I’m a little too American. Often, when I’m with my American family, I’m the only Black person in the room. In that circumstance, other people treat me like I’m exotic. They may mean it as a compliment, but it actually makes me feel not human. 

For anyone in the audience who has gone through or is going through something similar, I eventually found ways to ease my confusion and discomfort.  

Over the years, I’ve learned to adapt. One skill that I find very useful is code-switching. When I’m with my Ecuadorian family I make sure to not slip in a word or two of English, so I don’t remind them that I’m different in some ways. It makes it easier for me and for them. I speak differently with my friends than I do with my teachers. I taught myself to code-switch in both Spanish and English as a means to get along in the world.   

I’m not alone in thinking about my own identity. We all do it. I’ve been working on these questions of identity for as long as I can remember. I’ve been lucky to be involved in diversity conferences and workshops that have helped me explore my identity. It feels amazing to be able to talk openly with other people who have the same questions as I do.  It’s such an important way for me to connect to other people.

The questions I have asked myself about my identity are both a privilege and a challenge. This will be true for the rest of my life. Though it comes with hardships, I look forward to embracing it. Just like Marie Antoinette, if I must be more than one thing at once, I will figure out a way to do it, and do it with finesse.