Both my Hispanic and Asian identities equally define me and have influenced who I am today.Nicole Mejias
As a Filipino and Puerto Rican, Nicole has struggled with her intersectional identity and sense of belonging. Today, Nicole has reclaimed her identity and has been inspired to create a Hispanic and Latinx community at Microsoft’s new Atlanta site.
I have many fond childhood memories of visiting Puerto Rico. I remember all the family gatherings at my great-grandmother’s house, visiting the local swimming hole near my grandmother’s town of Arecibo, spending time with family under the palm trees in Palmas del Mar, and kayaking in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time getting to know my Hispanic roots. My Puerto Rican grandparents stayed at our home in New Jersey and immersed us in their culture—through food, music, and stories. These experiences helped me learn about my Hispanic identity.
It wasn’t until my family moved to Georgia that I got connected more to my Filipino roots. In 2000, most of my Filipino family moved from New Jersey and New York to Georgia, or what I like to call “the mass migration.” Every weekend, my family would gather at someone’s house to eat, socialize, play, and just spend time with each other, which exposed me to family members and elders who taught me more about my Filipino side. My experience strengthened my identity as an Asian, which helped me finally feel “whole” because I had grown strong connections to both sides of my cultural identity.
But when I left for college, my identity became fragmented. I noticed that people’s body language or behavior changed toward me after I told them I didn’t speak Spanish. At times, others looked at me and made assumptions about where I’m from, but I didn’t fit the picture in their minds. My experience with exclusionary behavior from others ultimately led me to actively avoid certain spaces. It made me question whether I was Hispanic enough.
Looking back, I realize that I let these experiences hold power over my self-identity for too long. After joining Microsoft, I attended a conference and made a visit to the Pulse Memorial with a colleague, Zach, who also has an intersectional identity. During the site visit, we had a heartfelt discussion about identity. He reinforced that my layers of intersectionality mean that I don’t have to fit into only one identity—both my Hispanic and Asian identities equally define me and have influenced who I am today. Just because my life’s circumstances, culture, and upbringing are different from some others in my communities, it doesn’t make me any less of my identity.
That’s when I started my journey to piece my identity back together. At work, I wanted to form a community that was open and welcoming to help others find where they belong. I built a group for the Hispanic and Latinx employees at the Microsoft site in Atlanta to give them that opportunity to connect with others and find a sense of community. It’s been so exciting to see our employees and allies come together to welcome and support each other.
To this day, the most important thing I’ve learned is that the only person who defines me is myself. And that is enough. I don’t feel the need to pressure myself to prove anything about my identity. Now, I refer to my identity as a compass—I was born and raised in the North, I live in the South, and I have family from the East and West. This is who I am, and it’s a part of my experience and family history.
I always have a picture of my family in the back of my mind. They mean the most to me, and I’m grateful for every experience that has helped me learn and embrace my intersectional identity. I am truly proud to be Hispanic and Asian.