Greens Farms Academy is a PreK-12, coed school in Westport, CT

The Importance of Understanding Cultural Identity

By Giavanna Bravo-Ibanez ’21

I boast about my 23andMe results. As we can assume, I am 100% Giavanna Bravo, yet seeing the bursts of color, representing the origins of my DNA on five continents has forced me to see my identity in a new light. Prior to spitting in a test tube, I was well versed in my Italian and Hispanic heritage helping my mother prepare for La Festa dei sette pesci every Christmas Eve and hearing my father’s stories of life in Monterrey, Mexico. When I received an email indicating that my results were ready, I was greeted by a mix of familiarities and a host of unknowns. My Italian, Mexican, and Spanish DNA were no surprise, the Ashkenazi Jewish, Arab, and West African ancestry certainly were. While the percentages are low, I feel they are a poignant addition to my identity as a global citizen. In daily conversation, I enjoy sharing the facts of my DNA as it has created beautiful confidence in my being. Had this occurred 10 years ago, I would have been ashamed.

Since birth, my appearance was a wonder to many. My naturally dark olive skin and jet-black hair were a contrast to my schoolmate’s fair complexions. In the woods of Easton, my neighbor once referred to me as a “beautiful darkie,” while my elementary school peers called me out for being black, this clearly not being the case. Having a name that no one could spell or pronounce instead of being named Paige, Katie, or Lucy, also heightened the challenge.

I trained myself to say, “I’m southern Italian and Sicilian, that’s why I’m so dark.” If questions followed, I would say my name with an Italian accent and proceed with my day. I introduced myself as “Giavanna Bravo” instead of “Giavanna Bravo-Ibanez,” hoping that no one would suggest otherwise. When it came time to begin studying a language, I took French, in hopes that if someone started speaking to me in Spanish, I would just look like another Fairfield County “gringa.”

I hid in French class, distancing myself away from the lisps of my Spaniard ancestors and cries of mariachi in the streets my father’s hometown. I drowned my wardrobe in Vineyard Vines apparel and Adidas sneakers, trying to relate to my peers. The guilt I felt with my heritage carried on for seven years and ended when I learned to culturally communicate. 

At the height of Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, I was introduced to Joaquin while working on a resolution regarding Catalonia in the Special Political and Decolonization committee at Harvard Model United Nations. Joaquin, being a student in Venezuela, had the true experience of life in this nation behind the headlines I read every morning prior. Being invested in politics, I was filled with questions, wanting to know the nitty-gritty details of its effect on citizens, the chance of a refugee crisis, and what he will do. Despite having political curiosities built inside me, I let my confusion with my Hispanic identity guide my interrogation. Understanding the cultural differences between Joaquin and I, forced me to become fond of a culture that was unfamiliar yet contingent with my ancestors. While we don’t share pride in the same country, hearing someone prideful of their Hispanic heritage taught me to be confident of my own. Finding relations and productive conversations about my identity has given me the courage to write Ibanez on my papers, say that I’m Mexican, and play the loudest Spanish music from my car.

Our conversation inspired me to seek further cultural connections. I am lucky to have experiences that have allowed me to seek wisdom in other’s differences. Through my experiences as GFA’s Student Ambassador to News Decoder, a member of Model United Nations, and the editor of B@BEL, I have been able to tap into a global network of students that have enlightened me to the root of social conflict in societies similar and different to my own.

In the wake of a time in history where we are discussing the difference in identity and experience, understanding the underlying issue whether it be police brutality, discrimination, or immigration, we must go beyond news headlines. Understanding the experience of a minority in the U.S and in the world is going beyond the statistics of an issue by seeking personal stories. It is best to seek out the wisdom and experience of others before relying on your go-to resource and the judgment of others. Being properly informed is the best way to contribute to issues on all scales whether global, national, or local. Whether you see someone speaking out, a personal essay, or a podcast, I encourage you to absorb the information and understand how it impacts your perspective. As a GFA community, I hope that we touch upon the topics of equity and inclusion by stepping out of our personal intuition and tapping into the experiences of our peers, faculty, and the world beyond our walls.