Response to “On Telling the Story” by Jorge Vinales (published in the 8.1, fall 2019 issue)
by Desislava Yordanova
I read your essay “On Telling the Story” and found myself being able to relate to your words. I decided to write to you and let you know how much of an impact your story had on me, and how you helped me to think about my own story of being an immigrant.
You included a quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that states, “The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” I, too, can relate to this. My parents immigrated to the United States when I was eleven months old and growing up I always showed different pieces of myself to different crowds. Similar to you, I felt as if I have multiple identities. My hardest question to answer is “Where are you from?” What goes on in my mind is: Do I tell them where I am from originally? Bulgaria, or do I say where I live currently? The thing, however, is that I have lived in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Virginia. I don’t associate with these states. A friend of mine told me to say where I’ve lived for the longest time, but I can’t do that because who I was when I lived there is not the person that I am now. This one simple question is the farthest from simple as I have to then either say “Virginia” because that is where I currently live, and deal with the stereotype of “Oh, she’s from the States,” which I am not, or “Bulgaria” as that is where my family is and the country that I hold dear to my heart.
Similar to you, I have felt discriminated against for my identities. My family has been discriminated against for being foreigners and speaking Bulgarian. I find that many do not understand that some things we can only describe in Bulgarian, while others in English, so, for being told not to speak our native language is taking away a huge piece of our identity. As you wrote about how you should pronounce your name, the English way or the Cuban way, I too have to take that into account, as it depends on who I am giving my name to, and how they will perceive me. Moreover, when you went back to Miami, I saw that you didn’t know how to act because you are Cuban, but you did create a new life for yourself, and here did you feel torn in half? Because the same is for me as I do not know who or what I associate to anymore, and this is difficult to describe to someone who is not an immigrant or a child of an immigrant.
I am now at an age where I have gone through the “What do people think of me? Will they think of me differently if I say this, or dress this way?” and I look past that now. I know that I am seen as “different,” but as I tell my friends, “Embrace your weirdness.” Everyone is different, and if someone doesn’t accept you, well, then, it is their loss. This may seem passive-aggressive, but there are way too many stereotypes to keep track of, to incorporate into our identities, and I have learned to accept how people may see me.
Thank you for sharing your essay and your thoughts.
Desislava Yordanova is a senior attending Belmont Abbey College as a student-athlete and co-captain on the Acrobatics and Tumbling team. She will be graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology, in May 2022. After completing her degree, she plans on entering a Global Public Health graduate program with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health.