Visible minorities and immigrant children – be yourselves and proud of it!

by , under Enrique

A sentence can change your life. 

I will share with you one of the greatest moments in my life. It happened when I was in elementary school in Los Angeles, California. My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Dean Arnold, offered me a sentence that changed my life. He said:  “You don’t have to be like a [white] American since you weren’t born here. Be yourself.”

I felt a huge weight off my shoulders the minute he told me to celebrate who I am and on my own terms.

I don’t know why Mr. Arnold felt compelled to tell me that I should be myself instead of adapting poorly to something else that would end up costing me my precious identity.

All children in Finland and in any country that respects human rights, irrespective if one or both of their parents are from another country, should be given the opportunity to be themselves. They should not only be allowed to celebrate their otherness without fear but encouraged to do so.

One important point, however, Mr. Arnold’s advice strengthened my sense of belonging in the U.S.


  1. Mark

    Hi Enrique

    While I understand the possible impact on a young mind of being told to ‘be yourself’ and how liberating that can be if one is bending this way and that so as to ‘fit in’, in the end, I’m not sure it’s really a solution.

    For a start – many people don’t know what ‘being themselves’ actually means, especially if they bridge cultures or communities in some way. As children, we like to copy and mimic all that is around it, moulding it and bending it to make us laugh or to show our talents. But is there really a ‘core’ to any of our identity?

    That is my biggest beef with nationalism, that’s it’s built on the notion that a ‘national’ identity is somehow a ‘core’ identity, when in reality, it doesn’t amount to much more than the accident of geography, language, the arbitrary choice of a flag and its choice of colours, and a national anthem, and an arbitrary border. I mean, are the colours of blue and white really so essentially different to the colours of blue and yellow, for instance? It seems so childish sometimes, like team games. They are okay, but when we are striving towards throwing off superstitions and fairy tales, surely the notion of ‘national identity’ is one of the biggest?

    It seems to me that we are all too eager to pin our ‘colours’ to the mast of national identities in the race to ‘belong’ to our local tribes. But surely we are into the era of the metatribe, and we have to start putting away childish things?

    Isn’t it more important for the world’s advancement that we see our nationality for what it is, the arbitrary colours and flavours of a geographical accident and to recognise the far deeper and more abiding traits of human behaviour, a matter we actually share in common with ALL peoples? Why would we mourn for nationalism as our CORE identity, when the fact of becoming a member of ‘the human race’ actually opens up far greater possibilities, both in terms of getting a ‘truer’ picture of our social selves, and in terms of fashioning a world of peace and beneficial activity?

    It’s liberating to be told you don’t have to ‘be’ anything, much less being told to ‘be yourself’, as if that was any less mysterious than trying to ‘be a Finn’ or any other kind of person.