A lot of friends ask me what I think about when I run and I usually tell them that it varies but one thing that I like to do when I run is conduct an interview with myself. But this isn’t an interview the way that a first date is an interview, this is an interview in which I ask myself the questions that I would hope I never have to answer and that make me feel the most uncomfortable. The hard questions. Questions like, “If I never get married or have kids then what will I do with my life?” or “If my parents died, would that change any of the decisions I have planned for the future?” or “Am I the person who I thought I would be when I was six years old?”
Yesterday I was interviewed by a professor studying upward mobility of first-generation college students. During the interview, I shared a lot of items about my life that I have never shared with anyone else, not even myself. While she audio recorded my answers to increasingly more personal questions about my home life, my identity, and my background, through the framing of her questions, I was making discoveries that led me down narrow paths and alleyways of my most deeply embedded, and very much hidden, thoughts and feelings It was therapeutic (it might have even been defined as therapy) and reminded me of going for long runs by myself and occupying both my emotions and my intellect by posing tough-to-answer questions.
One of the biggest discoveries I made while talking to her, aside from my answers to each questions, was the value of engaging in discourse about identity with another person. I can give myself the most rigorous, unnerving interview I can in my mind during a run, but at the end of the day, it is missing the way my words sound as they leave my mouth, the ability to see myself in the chair of the person sitting across from me. I didn’t realize how essential it was until she asked me about whether or not I have conversations about my background with other people, to which I answered “not if I think it’s going to make them feel uncomfortable.” She of course asked me to explain so I told her that there are two reasons why I think that white, non-FGB Americans at my university feel uncomfortable when we have a conversation about my background:
- The more they [non- FGB, white students] hear about how may family and ancestors struggled, the more they realize that their family and ancestors did not and they then pity me, or search for a an experience that matches mine and come up short
- I seem very Americanized on the surface in the way I dress, walk, and talk, so they feel like they can identify with me, but once I start talking about my background and they realize how much our upbringings differ then they start to feel that maybe their perception of me was very inaccurate
She asked me one other question that I remember distinctly. She asked me if I feel like I’ve changed during college, to which I answered “Oh yeah!” And then she asked if my parents have noticed that my change. And then I hesitated to answer. After thinking carefully about the question for a while, I felt my mouth start moving and forming words before my thoughts were fully gathered. I responded that I try to hide my changes because I want my parents to believe that I’m the same 16-year-old kid I was in high school, an innocent, hard-working kid who has an unparalleled passion for becoming a healthcare professional and no other interests in life. To protect them I hide my other passions, the other plans I’ve considered for my future, because to show them a Kyle that is still considering more than one option for his future would be to risk bringing stress upon them because to them it carries with it uncertainty about my future and prevent them from enjoying their lives the way they have since I told them that I was committing to a 6-year, dual-degree program that would ensure me a six-figure salary. But as long as my future appears secure, seems certain, then they can sleep at night without worrying about me, without constantly thinking about being a parent, and I can feel better knowing that they are living their lives being Shirley and John and not Kyle’s Mom and Kyle’s Dad.