Sarena Straughter: My Unique Identity
Sarena Straughter has been immersed in the full gamut of cultural, political and educational identity, but now, as a college senior, she is focused on her uniqueness.
I grew up in the Bay Area with my atheist single mother and Guatemalan adoptive sister, but following the halal rules of my distant Muslim father. I’m not sure my background could be more diverse. But it’s not my labels that define me… it’s my experiences. At first, these experiences centered around trying to “fit in” as a girl of color in the schools I attended in Silicon Valley.
For elementary school, I attended a public double-immersion school where Spanish was the primary language and most of the kids were Latinx. As part of a monolingual English-speaking family, it was a difficult adjustment. In high school, I attended a fairly conservative Jewish private school, serving as a symbolic black and culturally Muslim scholarship holder. In both settings, I complied, speaking fluent Spanish, learning Latin in high school, and taking Jewish studies classes where anti-Islamic sentiment sometimes crept into the discussions. I learned about cultural, religious, and linguistic differences at these schools, but I also desperately wanted a college environment where I could be authentic myself.
So I moved 3,000 miles from home to attend Howard University, a historically black college in DC, hoping to escape the racial and religious tension I felt earlier and finally fit in. . At Howard however, I was introduced to new dimensions of racism, even within the black community, including colorism, texturism, featurism, and the reality of being biracial.
In my personal and professional circles, I have become more aware of myself as a biracial black woman, the privileges I receive from it, and my relationship to the world.
Since finding my footing at Howard, I now intentionally push myself outside of the spaces where black women traditionally exist — whether it’s surfing the Pacific Ocean at home, translating texts into Latin and Greek old or flying small planes over Mount Hamilton.
As I contemplate my next educational decision – choosing between law schools on the east or west coast – one thing is certain. I no longer worry about who I am not, but rather proud of who I am and how my uniqueness contributes to the places where I live and learn.
With Perspective, I am Sarena Straughter.
Sarena Straughter grew up in Sunnyvale. She is president of the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Association at Howard.