What’s in the box?

Off the Beat

I love making lists, I love creating spreadsheets and I especially love filling boxes. Honestly, one time, I went an entire month waking up in the morning and planning out an hour-by-hour schedule for me to follow just so that each hour-shaped box in my mental calendar was filled. I even made sure to give myself hourlong blocks for mini UC Berkeley breakdowns, which happened most often at 6 p.m. in between club meetings.

Categorizing things, even time, brings me comfort. I feel like I naturally have a predisposition to want to put everything I come across into a box, a labeled category. This is simple enough in theory but messy in practice, especially when I tried to put myself in a box.

Before coming to Berkeley, I never felt the need to try and label myself or figure out which boxes I fit in and which ones I don’t. Sure, I was worried that I wouldn’t find a tight-knit community straight away and would end up sad and alone — what freshman doesn’t? Adding salt to the wound was the fact that my sense-of-belonging-safety net, my family, happened to be more than 5,000 miles away at home in Amsterdam.

As a freshman at this school, I would watch with mild envy as my floormates discussed the student groups they were joining and how lucky they felt to be able to find a pre-existing community of people that shared their sense of identity.

Sure, I’ve spent two and a half years at UC Berkeley, but I spent the first two months of my life in India, the next seven years in the Caribbean and I have been living for the last 14 years in the Netherlands. Regardless of the groups I came across, I never let myself engage with any of these communities. I never felt like those aspects of my identity were valid enough to claim.

I didn’t really know which facet of my identity was most appropriate to claim. Should I try and mold myself to better fit the Indian and Indo-American community? Would I find more solace in a community of European students? Would I feel more at home by connecting back to my childhood through the Caribbean community? I started feeling increasingly untethered. What I thought was a struggle to find community was actually just a full-blown identity crisis that took me by surprise.

I was overwhelmed, disoriented and unsure of what it meant to be “me” anymore, so I went back to what I knew to previously be comfortable. I divvied up the different parts of my identity into boxes. The problem was I found it increasingly difficult to commit to the boxes laid out in front of me.

I never felt like I could fit in all of them at the same time, but I practically ached when I tried to claim one without the other. Yes, the woman of color box was nice and all-encompassing, and the Indian box seemed appropriate, but what of the European box? Was I allowed to have two feet in one box with one hand in another? What did it mean to inhabit all of those at the same time? Is there a dissonance to claim the identity of my ancestors and that of their colonial oppressors in the same breath? I tried compartmentalizing and just matching the right facet of myself to the situation, but climbing from one box to another, as daily interactions went on, was exhausting.

I don’t remember the exact day I stepped away from my identity boxes, but it was a good one. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was stuck between multiple identity boxes or ignoring some altogether. The multiplicities of my identity exist in concurrence with one another — a blissful blend of my culture, upbringing and contemporary influences.

I realized that the identity boxes I fabricated in my head were nothing more than the shitty boxes made up of flimsy and aged cardboard — they’d been sitting in my attic for too long. I shouldn’t be surprised that these dated containers weren’t sturdy enough to hold the strength of my nuance or complexity anymore.

Today, I am more at peace with who I am. I love how much space my body takes up in the world. I’m working on reclaiming my space and figuring out how I can supercede any simple three-dimensional box I previously tried to contain myself in.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.