Combating cultural identity imposter syndrome

Illustration of Oski and a student
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Many of us are familiar with the concept of imposter syndrome. If you’re unfamiliar with the term it’s the feeling of self-doubt within one’s abilities despite past experiences and success. It’s a fairly common feeling a lot of us experience, especially as college students. The term is usually associated with a more academic setting but the baggage that comes with imposter syndrome has everything to do with one’s identity. This might be why I’ve dealt with my fair share of questioning my own in relation to where my ancestors come from. More specifically, the unbelonging I’ve felt within my very culture. As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close, it has drawn a bit of self-reflection on my end. So if you too are facing this sort of disconnection, below is a list of ways to combat these difficult emotions.

Distinct experiences

Coming from a predominantly Hispanic hometown, it was easy for me to feel out of place when most of my friends and peers were fluent in a language that I felt I should be too. Somewhat of a cultural pariah if you will. At least that’s how I felt at the moment. Despite these experiences within my hometown, once I got to UC Berkeley I learned that none of that mattered. Everyone lives their life in a distinct manner according to the path that they’re meant to follow. My fear of being called a fraud dwindled with the seasons as I became accustomed to the idea that we each have a different journey — a series of events that led us to where we are today. Whether you know your mother’s tongue or not does not amount to your worth or make you any less. 

Recognize your guilt 

When I say this I don’t mean you should feel guilty about anything at all. Rather recognize that such a sentiment is valid — not to mention drastically common especially in this context. Guilt is usually prevalent when you feel like you’re doing something wrong. Whether it’s deliberate or not, the complexity that resides with guilt can be overpowering. Feeling guilty, at least for me, was a product of my lack of fluency in Spanish. Not being fluent in Spanish led to many feelings of guilt which played a major role in how I saw myself as a Mexican-American. Recognizing this guilt allows for progression, otherwise known as acceptance. Accepting where this guilt stems from, thus, leads to a growing sense of comfortability within your own skin. 

You’re not alone

When it comes to culture, language seemingly plays a major role. It’s important to understand that it’s not everything. During the moment it certainly feels as though what you’re facing is the worst possible obstacle. Between the intensity of guilt to the lack of security of your identity, it can be tough to feel at ease. While in times of hardship it can feel as though your world is crumbling beneath your feet while those around you seem perfectly fine, I assure you that you are not alone. The confusion about identity is a tricky one to untangle — but perhaps we never will. Learning and growing are all we could ever do. 

Generally, imposter syndrome in both an academic and cultural scope is belittling, to say the least. Whether you’re going through this sort of feeling or one similar, I leave you with this: You are not alone. I hope this article serves as a good use for your journey moving past the feelings of guilt within your identity.

Contact Anyssa Torres at [email protected].