Hi APC! My name is Nya Etienne, and I hail from the D(M)V, but currently live in New York City and am a freshman NYU. ✨
I plan on co-majoring in Journalism and (hopefully) Media, Culture, and Communication. Through my passions for storytelling, social justice, & sustainable fashion, the goal of my work will always be to voice underrepresented experiences and issues.
As an 18-year-old Haitian-American girl, growing comfortable within my skin has been something I struggled with for a long time. For years, I yearned to look, talk, act, think–BE someone else. Anyone but me. But now I am finally growing to love the individual I am, and out of this love, I have come to terms with the things about myself I can’t change. That serenity is what inspired me to write my college essay about the importance of intersectionality. Not in activism–though that is crucial–but in my existence.
Hope you enjoy. 🖤
My Existence Is Intersectional – A College Essay
Originally Posted On My Blog, nyaetienne.tumblr.com
There has never been a day in my life where I haven’t felt a sense of otherness.
Perhaps my distinct “Haitianness” makes me seem foreign to Americans, or my “Americanness” makes me seem foreign to Haitians. Depending on the environment I’m in, I must always tone down either (if not both) of these identities in order to appeal to my audience.
When I am surrounded by my father’s side of the family, I immediately feel as if I am not Haitian enough. The long, unrecognizable Creole words are caught in the air, clogging my ears as conversations are happening all around me that I can’t understand. The least-subtle comments are made by my Mamá Giselle, whose husky, heavily-accented voice rings out clearly in the crowd of relatives squeezed into her tiny sitting parlor. In her disapproving voice, she partly blames me for not knowing Creole, and places the rest of the blame on her son–my father.
My father immigrated from Haiti to the United States alone as a young boy and lived with his grandmother, Mamá Teté. Mamá Teté didn’t speak a lick of English, so in her small apartment, my father was isolated by Haitian culture–completely the opposite of how I was raised. By the time Mamá Giselle joined him, however, my father was a teenager, who had fully embraced the black hip-hop culture of the 80s. He’ll never admit it, and neither will Mamá Giselle, but his assimilation and marriage to an American woman are why my sister and I were raised speaking English, and with less exposure to Haitian culture. His decision to do this, whether consciously or subconsciously, has often made me feel less deserving of my Haitian identity.
Despite this, my Haitianness is still very obvious to my mother’s Southern family. While my maternal grandmother’s words aren’t foreign to my ears, her comments about my sister and me make me feel foreign. When my father isn’t there, she and my Southern family will make jokes around the crowded card table about how loud, arrogant, or rude Caribbeans are. Though I try not to take it to heart, these comments still sting. It’s almost as if I am being stereotyped as loud, arrogant, or rude by my own family.
Though often I feel torn between two sides of my identity, I still find connections between these two seemingly distinct worlds. My Mamá Giselle will never be able to understand that Grandma Mae’s church sings songs that are “sorrowful” rather than upbeat because Southern Pentecostal hymns date back to a time when slaves used music to express their hope for freedom. My Grandma Mae will never understand why Mamá Giselle keeps her air conditioning off, even during the height of summer, because she misses her homeland so much that the heat reminds her of the familiar tropical weather.
But despite their differences, and despite my otherness, I am loved. These feelings of missing part of myself, or being a mix of two completely different things, now have a name: intersectionality. I am now proud to wear my intersectionality like a badge, and use it to help me at school, in my community, and on social media. Acceptance of my intersectionality made me feel comfortable with myself in situations where I am othered; whether it be at the elitist Harvard Model Congress, diverse ACLU Summer Institute, or the familiarity of my school.
I can no longer be ashamed of my otherness. My family has come to terms with my split heritage, and so have I. I have grown to love it.