The horn from the short bus of the private school I attended honked twice. I wasn’t quite ready, yet, so like I always do when I’m running late to school I waved my hand outside the front door to indicate I would be coming.

I quickly laced up my sneakers then looked into the mirror to see my fly, parted in the middle, feathered hair. I snatched the last piece of bacon moms cooked and chowed it down, then grabbed my backpack and took a deep breath right before I walked through the front door. The distance from the front door to the door of the school bus was short. However, this distance was 50 feet of shame, anxiety, embarrassment and isolation.

As I made my way through the front gate it began; my homies also on their way to school, but to a public school, started clowning on me, “Hey, you think you’re white? Why do you go to that white school? You ain’t smarter than us! Haha, Antonio thinks he’s white? Are you going to get a white girlfriend now? Why you wearing white clothes?” I kept my head down and quickly dashed onto the school bus. I glanced at the driver and she acts as if she saw and heard nothing. I exhale. The other black and brown kids on the bus look at me in silence but with solidarity; they know this feeling all too well. We don’t talk about it. Instead, we quickly start clowning each other and start smacking each other upside the head.

In this white private institution, we are only noticed if we do something opposite of whiteness.

We arrive at school and as we’re dropped off another dreadful distance awaits us; in sync, we all take a deep breath and look down as we make our way to our homeroom classes. This is another walk of shame, but a stark contrast from our earlier pickup in the ‘hood. We pass our white counterparts who are dressed in polo’s, chino khakis, penny loafers, boat shoes and authentic Reeboks. None of whom wore cheap knock-offs. They were dropped off in Beemers, Benzes, and Lexuses. No one clowns us or acknowledges us. We aren’t noticed. We are non-existent. In this white private institution, we are only noticed if we do something opposite of whiteness, like speak our native tongue from the hood or when we display our hood fashion by flaunting our loud style, wearing flamboyant colors with our parachute pants, MC Hammer pants or a Prince bandana. We are also only noticed if we are a high-level athlete, attractive or contain exotic features. Then it feels like everyone wants to be your friend because then we are looked upon as an exception to their preconceived stereotype of us.

antonio2My able-bodied athleticism, being a cis-gendered male, and being attractive were my privileges. Because of this, I felt as if white folks viewed me as a specimen and the exception to my culture. Because there were so few of us (POC) I quickly embraced this exceptionalism and convinced myself that I belonged and that I was finally accepted into the white standard. In high-school, I was blind and unaware that this exceptionalism manifested into a double headed snake called tokenism. With this dreadful golden ticket, tokenism allowed me to tell my story and share the violence in my ‘hood and the stories around gangs, drugs, and prostitution. With these lamentations from the ‘hood and my privileges, my white peers became intrigued and my life and image quickly became romanticized. This became the birth of my popularity in the white institution.

In the ‘hood, my homies noticed that I talked a little differently. I had a different vocabulary and my sentence structure was more complete. I didn’t use as many non-verbals anymore. I got accused of talking white and becoming different. I was no longer a Chicano in their eyes. I was a Chicano who wanted to be white. So, they identified me as a Chihonky. I tried the new language I learned from the private white institution with the homies, but soon find out it only alienated me.

At school, I noticed something different, while engaging my white counterparts, my hood language was accepted, however only for subtle mockery. I’m consistently spoken to with a Mexican accent and with my hood slang; even my yearbooks were signed with my hood language. Unaware of this racism, I was blind and thought it was cool. I embraced the tokenism even closer to my hurting spirit because somehow I believed it to be genuine.

In both my ‘hood and at my private institution, I noticed my navigation in both spaces becoming more intense and challenging. I soon felt a deep emptiness in my spirit which was birthed from a place of confusion. I was so lost. I became so caught up in the routine of navigating different paradigms that I began to lose myself. I realized in this dichotomy that I found myself in, that I had no safe spaces or anyone to unpack my experiences or feelings to. To be honest I didn’t even know what I was feeling or why I felt the way I did. I repeatedly asked myself “Who in the fuck am I?” I hated that feeling. I was not Chicano enough for the homies and, regardless of my athleticism, I was not white enough for my peers at school. So, I decided to keep my language from the ‘hood in the ‘hood. Likewise, at school, I decide to keep my vocabulary and “proper” English at school.

Over the years, in white institutions and in the spaces in-between, I developed the art of code switching and shape-shifting.

This decision only proved to be wretched. By the time I was in high school and in college, I questioned my authenticity as a Chicano and my authenticity as an academic attending a white institution. While only navigating in a continuous and looped brave space, from the pain and doubt in my identity over the years, I developed a skill set called code switching. I noticed my ability to change my language to whatever culture I found myself in. This code switching transcended beyond language into my demeanor. Over the years, in white institutions and in the spaces in-between, I developed the art of code switching and shape-shifting. Into my young adult life, this developed at such a high functioning level that I found myself with friends and in groups of friends on every spectrum ranging from academia, athletes, gangstas, dope dealers, theologians, radicals, evangelicals, scientists, white progressives, and conservatives.

This pain is my lost identity. More often than not I still find myself in a darkness where I question and challenge my authenticity.

Despite my ability to code switch and shapeshift, which was forged unintentionally in the in-between spaces throughout my journey in white institutions, I can still recognize the pain and cost these gifts carry. This pain is my lost identity. More often than not I still find myself in a darkness where I question and challenge my authenticity. Even when I teach and speak on issues around racial capitalism, spirituality, and the balance of the divine masculine and the divine feminism, I have overwhelming moments of insecurity where I feel I am not worthy enough. I have no linear set of values or a clear foundation from where I stand. I continuously recognize that I am no longer a singular soul who is boxed into their culture and identity. My reality along with my identity is countercultural to the several cultures I occupy. Living and breathing in the in-between and brave spaces provided me with a distinct world view. Over the years into my adulthood, I slowly gained confidence. I realized in any arena how invaluable my perception and data of other cultures became. I see power in my experiences and believe I can leverage my story to build bridges in the gaps of our racialized society.

I have become a non-linear pluralistic soul who can pollinate a wide spectrum of spaces from the consciousness I developed from losing my identity. My spirit acknowledges there are more of us in this “sacred universe of disorder;” and there is a consciousness developed in the marginal spaces. Fully accepting my legitimacy from the margins, my confidence blossoms. I repeatedly ask myself the question “what is the nature of we who survived” and continue to survive in the white institutions. In this moment, the universe quickly speaks to me and says we are the bridge builders, the code-switchers, shape-shifters, speakers of truth to power.

We stand and struggle in solidarity with those who are divided by a wall, those who are water protectors, those who are fleeing oppression, the abolitionists, the sacred and broken and those who are in resistance to the current power structures we find ourselves in.

My spirit guides and my ancestors, the ones before me, whisper to me and say gently, “We are the radicals forged by the white institution, equipped to dismantle the white institution and the powers that be.” We don’t have or need the master’s tools because Audre Lorde tells us this would be impossible, so We developed our own.

3 replies on “Losing Myself: Growing up in the Hood While Navigating White Institutions

  1. Very well expressed, them institutions​ were good in many ways. Love your self, like you mean it. I find myself self reflecting quite often, it allows me to grow. Keep up the writing,
    And God bless you and your family.


  2. I grew up black and poor, but in Kansas. I talk like a white girl, I am told because I don’t use lots of slang. I use to try to defend my speech, but as I grew older, I learned to let it go. I am black and you can see it in my actions and the things I work hard to accomplish. I became a teacher, who taught in the schools with the highest level of free lunches. I always worked to help those less fortunate, black or white or brown. ” if my sassinessness upsets you” than you have a problem, not me.

    Liked by 1 person

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