The formation of identity is a process where we find ourselves at our most vulnerable. It carries along the deep anxiety and pain of uncertainty and loneliness. Its beginning is framed during our teenage years and prolongs itself through our twenties, or perhaps beyond? Is it possible for us to know, without a speck of doubt, that we have arrived at our most solid and incontrovertible identity? If you were to ask me (or read me), I would say that identity building is a fluid, constant and endless process. I don’t think we find our identity; I believe we build it. I see it as a journey, not a destination.
When thinking about the days when I started my own journey to understand myself, I cannot help but remember the pain of my adolescence. In Spanish, according to the Real Academia de la Lengua Española, to adolesce (the verb of being an adolescent) means “to suffer a flaw, a pain or a disease”. In other words, being an adolescent literally means to suffer.
When I read this definition, it makes me think of youth seeing themselves in a mirror and trying to come to terms with their wounds, their weaknesses and their inherent brokenness. At that age, it is a tremendous anxiety to not understand that none of us are perfect. When we explore our teenage years, we do not know yet that being broken makes us stronger, not weaker. Back then we did not know that being flawless is not possible nor desirable. Yet, adolescence means to struggle.
Today I read an article that made an impact on me. Not a month ago, 13 year-old Izabel Laxamana got her hair cut off by her father as punishment for an unknown deed. Afterwards, he recorded the hair on the ground and his daughter with his camera phone, explaining the punishment to the future social media viewers and making her accept to the camera her guilt. He then posted the video on YouTube.
Izabel died after jumping from a bridge in Tacoma.
Izabel should not have had to jump. Loneliness is an inseparable element of the journey and one that should be embraced, not feared. Yet, we must all be aware of the pain youth experience from it during this vulnerable stage of their life. They can rise above it, for they are strong, but us, who have been there and back already, must be gentle guides, not stern judges.
Izabel should not have had to jump. What am I doing to empower youth to brave the hard times? What am I doing to support those who are in the hardest part of their journey of understanding themselves? What am I doing to alleviate the pain and loneliness of the youth around me?
Because Izabel should not have had to jump, I must ask myself these questions. Because Izabel should still be here, I ask of you to think about the journey of the young people around you.
The story of Izabel brought me back to LiberArte, the nonprofit that we started in Mexico. Working with teeangers taught me that all of them have a grand story to tell. It is within them and we must listen. They deserve to be heard; it is their right to express themselves. Social justice to me is that every young person has the right to tell their story and each one is equally invaluable. Every young person should have equal access to the means to communicate what is most important to them.
That is the reason why it is a tragedy that Izabel passed away. She deserved to be heard and she deserved to speak loudly. We owe it to the young people around us to listen and listen well. We owe it to them and we must empower them to express themselves. They don’t have to go at it alone.
Izabel belongs among the wildflowers.