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Intersectionality: What Is It and How Do We Use It to Our Advantage?

By Alyssa Ortiz

Do you identify with more than one identity? Are you involved in more than one group or culture? You, my friend, are a subject of intersectionality, a walking example of diversity.

Intersectionality is the understanding that certain aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. It used to be synonymous with the lower class, but now it’s an incredible asset to take back the privilege that we were denied.

Coined by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality was initially used to describe activism for women of color. Truly, the most marginalized groups deal with intersectionality the worst because these groups aren’t considered the norm. Identifying with more than one group deals with more discrimination.

Many activists since then have tried to use the term to describe even broader ideas with even more identities intersecting. You’re not just gay, or Black or a woman, but you are a gay, Black woman — a combined level of cultures or groups you identify with.

For myself, the complex idea of intersectionality is rooted in being a Latinx woman, in which I aspire to work in a male-dominated field. Many people I surround myself with are marginalized groups of people who identify with more than one culture or group. I grew up in a white-dominated city, despite going to diverse schools in my younger years. Representation of women, whether people of color or LGBTQ+, wasn’t prominent growing up, and it was clear that we were oppressed.

As I got older, I began to realize that this was power. It’s powerful to identify with multiple groups.

Jacob Fry, a fourth-year communications major with a concentration in entertainment and tourism at CSUF, says he identifies more with his Filipino side and the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’ve felt marginalized in both of those groups. I remember feeling like an impostor in Filipino clubs in high school because of my skin color or that I didn’t speak the language. It kind of makes you feel like you’re missing out by not being fully one identity,” Fry said.

He says he understood intersectionality late in high school and early in college. He began to learn about his identities and struggled to be confident in who he was.

Fry is proud of his multiple identities now, but it took time to get there.

“There’s so much to learn and understand, and it makes me proud because it’s who I am,” Fry said. “I get to be apart and relate with so many different groups and people because I understand struggles more than most because of the multiple identities I come from.”

He notes progress has occurred for both the Filipino culture and the LGBTQ+ communities.

“Get in touch with your cultures and communities that you feel connected to… It’s important to be proud of who you are, it’s how you become happier,” Fry said. “Just because I understand my identities doesn’t mean other people do. I believe we’re going upwards in the right direction.”

Liam Conway, a fourth-year cinema and television arts major, identifies with mostly his Latinx side from his mom and the LGBTQ+ community.

“I don’t feel like there’s a lot of Latinx representation in LGBTQ+ community, so I like having the intersectionality so it can teach both cultures about the other,” Conway said. “There’s a lot of toxic masculinity in the Latinx culture, known as Machismo; it’s really hard being criticized by my own family for not being masculine enough.

Conway mentions the benefits of his intersectionality.

“The trauma that I’ve seen and been through, it’s led me to become funnier and more empathic as a person. I get to see more stories from people. I can help other people on both sides, like teaching my Latinx family about queer culture and teaching my queer friends about my grandma and her traditions — it’s nice to do.”

He believes that there isn’t a lot of representation in cinema and television. He explains that there is more representation than there used to be, but there can be a substantial amount of progress to be made and that he hopes to help be the change. “I’m proud of my communities, and I can’t wait to make them proud of me,” Conway said.

Like Fry, Conway says that they think progress is being made in understanding intersectionality. However, he says that the older generations are where oppression comes from.

“It’s a stereotype, but it’s something I’ve personally seen with my friends and on the news. There’s going to be more representation in the future,” Conway said. “We’re not as marginalized, but there’s room for improvement.”

Rooted in marginalization, intersectionality has become prominent in the current generations with multiple mixed communities and cultures. This is a step forward in bringing power to our identities and helping everyone be proud of who they are. You’re not just one thing. You are far more than just that.

“I’m very proud to be in these multiple identities,” Conway said.

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