By Sally Camara

No one knows who you are or will ever know who you are until you decide to peel back your skin layer by layer exposing the true inner core. Usually this moment of first revealing oneself begins with a name and progresses until the parties involved decide to form a connection, whether it be as miniscule as acquaintances or intimate as a romantic relationship. Regardless of the status, there comes a time when sharing information about yourself seems senseless because you do not relate to everything you’ve known about yourself, thereby igniting an exploration into self-identity, how much access people have to it, and how authentic it is to your current self.

When I was younger, I had two names which granted me two identities: my birth and family name. One, I share with friends and strangers, the other is exclusively for family. With one, I can freely live by my own standards, and with the other I am more reserved and sheltered. Usually, this is a popular thing among Ivorians, so I’ve always been used to it. I like to think of Sally as the American version of myself and Adja as the Ivorian. I have always felt a connection to both names but recently, in light of deep self-reflection, it seems like those names do not belong to me anymore. A name comes with memories and qualities associated with it- for example, times I remember being with my family I’ve been Adja, and times at school I’ve been Sally. For the most part they’ve been separate. Lately, however, it seems like they’re crashing into one another and to say the least- it’s been overwhelming. Adja is expected to maintain a 4.0 GPA, get into an Ivy League, and become a biologist or doctor, while Sally wants to graduate college, work in a writer’s room, own a dog and cat named Loc and Bantu respectively, and travel the world. However, with Sally struggling to obtain opportunities in her majors that could finally propel her to freedom, she’s seeming more like a failure- and that’s not a trait I identify with at all. Being left with no other option, I’m forced to connect back with Adja- the identity made outside my will. But where does that leave room to be one’s authentic self? The freedom to create oneself and feel it’s honest?

Personally, negative traits aren’t made for me. I don’t identify with failure, so Sally isn’t a mask I feel comfortable putting on. And the passions of Adja are not my own, therefore that hat doesn’t fit either, forcing me to position myself with two identities that have now become unfamiliar. Now, when I share how I feel or some other personal information it feels like reciting lines from a script. Are those really my words? Is this who I am? Do I identify with her? In tandem with her interests,I created this Sally character who is a people-pleaser, comedian, activist, and martyr. I created a persona and wore it so often that it became skin, eventually letting others believe it was my DNA too. Imposter syndrome. The only way to cope with pressure is to form a completely new identity- cutting off people’s access to the real one: the one that does make mistakes, that does fail, and has imperfections. I’ll start off with a blank slate, where the only thing written is the character of my higher-conscious self. Sally seemed too raw, it was no longer fun being her- and I did not want anybody to see her anyway. So, why not introduce a fake name to strangers and people who may not know the real me? This new identity will be associated with the version of myself I have always fantasized about. Then, once comfortability is established, I’ll share my real name and get back to peeling those layers. It seemed like the perfect plan. I was going to rename myself Crystal. I didn’t go through with it, but I thought it was ingenious.

You might think you see in this story someone who’s protecting their true identity with a false one, or being shameful about who they are but what’s resting in the clouds is the capability and capacity to reimagine ourselves into being and the opportunity to write our own origin story. It is a chance to break free from the shameful past that gets muddled with the present, or simply set a future in stone. It is the choice to create an identity- one you feel is truly authentic to your core being, and with it be selective on who gets to experience it.

Our character is important to how we live, and it’s important to know the former if we are set to do anything of importance. As people figuring out the rest of their lives together in college, we are exposed to different personalities and interests, our relationships to family and friends change, and it’s the ultimate time in our lives when we are left on our own. This newfound independence gives us a choice to forge our own path or follow the ones pre-determined by family. It is the time when we have to figure out what we stand for, who we want to be, but most importantly- who we are. This is a proclamation to say, it is okay to not identify with the person your family wants you to be, or the one you had thought you were. It is okay to be someone new if you do not subscribe to who you were. It is okay to keep your name but decide to shed the old identity. This is a proclamation for you to decide who you want to be in life, ensure it is authentic to your whole being, and to protect it.

Photo courtesy of stephanie.alifano_art on Instagram.

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