Identity Unraveled
Fiona T. '22

Over my past few years at Nueva, I have noticed the power that sharing our lived experiences and personal stories has been in shaping the ways we navigate our society. It has helped us build empathy, connection, and belonging as a community. I wanted to bring this experience to more students and people across the nation. Inspired by all the conversations I have had as equity and inclusion representative on student council, I set out on a mission to spread empathy by creating the podcast, Identity Unraveled.

This podcast explores people's diverse experiences with cultural identity and how it has shaped their interactions with the world, our communities, and the people around us. Each episode, I invite new guests to talk about their experience navigating identity, sharing their perspectives, stories, and advice along the way. I invite you to listen to the first few episodes, which feature Nueva students discussing their experiences with race, religion, and mental health.

And be sure to subscribe, as episodes come out biweekly on Wednesdays! 


Transcript of Episode 1:

Welcome to Identity Unraveled a podcast that features diverse experiences with cultural identity and how it has shaped our interactions with the world, our communities, and the people around us. Each week, I will bring on different guests who will talk about their experience, navigating identity, sharing their perspectives, stories, and advice along. I'm your host, Fiona Tan, and I'm currently a student at the Nueva school in San Mateo, California. My pronouns are she/her/hers. 

I wanted to create this podcast because I have been really interested in providing more opportunities for people to hear about the different lived experiences of those in our community. For me personally, when I hear other people share their lived experiences and their stories, it has really impacted the way that I view the world and go about thinking and seeing the things around me.

I want to start by sharing a little bit more about my journey navigating cultural identity and how that has really changed in the different environments that I've been a part of. 

A fundamental experience that shaped the way that I view identity was immigrating to the United States. It established a constant dichotomy for me in which cultural identity was always pulling me in two opposite directions. As a kid, I often felt this around my Chinese-American identity, because at home I would learn about what it meant being Chinese from my family, but at school I learned from my classmates what it meant to be American. Because I was pulled by these two seemingly divergent identities, I never really felt Chinese enough or American enough.

I started this podcast as a way to create a space where people can talk through some of their thoughts and feelings about how identity has shaped, lived experiences and interactions with the world around us." – Fiona T. '22

I remember when I rode the bus every day across the city to go to school in North Beach, and North Beach was neighborhood that represented my learning of how to speak English, learning of the values of American individualism, and essentially what it meant to be American to me. But a few minutes away was Chinatown, a neighborhood where I was surrounded by people who look like me and spoke the same native language as me. And it was a place where., I culturally and physically fit in. And while these two neighborhoods were so close in proximity, in my mind what they represented for my identity felt so drastically distinct. And even today, I still struggle to find a balance between these two identities, but I've learned to appreciate the beauty in both American culture and Chinese culture and view this synthesis between the two as my ability to have best of both worlds.

Another place I also found this dichotomy was being a first-generation low-income student and attending a prestigious private school. I experienced a really constant sense of imposter syndrome, feeling like I was an outsider of my school community, both socially and academically. My dad used to drive me in his pickup truck to hang out with my friends in these affluent neighborhoods, and I would always feel very self-conscious because I could see by my pickup truck, by the things that my parents did for a living, that my life was more similar to the gardeners and housekeepers than the residents who lived in these neighborhoods.

Additionally, I also never felt like I was academically smart enough as the rest of my classmates because I knew that the people in my community do not have the same level of education as my classmates or their families do. So I would always come home to different family members and family friends who talk about their aspirations for the future, and many of them do not have academic goals for their lives or were interested in exploring the same intellectual topics as I was. They just imagined a life after high school working a nine-to-five sufficiently paying physical labor job, very similar to one that my dad does, while I was filled with intellectual curiosity and hunger for how I could achieve.

It was a true moment of cognitive dissonance for me, because once again, my identities felt like they were colliding. While I realized that my position was different, I did not feel satisfied. I had met people from two very different extremes. On one side, people had a lot of wealth and opportunities to kind of reinforce their dreams of an ambitious future. While on the other hand, I had met students with little money or resources and didn't have the determination to dream big.

It wasn't until I became a Jack Kent Cooke young scholar, and went to the summer program in Philadelphia, when I met a ton of other students who were filled with the same intellectual curiosity as I was, but also had the challenges and financial barriers as me as well.

I really felt a sense of belonging here because. It felt like there were people who could finally speak to the experiences that I have gone through in my life. It made me really realize that I was lucky to have the unique perspective that I do having opportunities now, but also being able to intellectually engage in a way that kind of synthesizes both sides.

There are a lot of ways that these events and experiences have shaped the way that I think about my identity, and I would like to continue exploring them. Some of the things that I haven't thought a lot about are things such as my political views and also my views on religion. In order to reflect on ourselves, we must have conversations with those around us and understand where identity comes from, because it has influenced to open our minds to a whole different perspective.

I started this podcast as a way to create a space where people can talk through some of their thoughts and feelings about how identity has shaped, lived experiences and interactions with the world around us. When we think about identity, it's often thought about in terms of ascribed identities, which are those that others impose on us, such as gender and race, but equally as important are avowed identities, which are those that we claim for ourselves, such as abilities, ideologies, and biases.

I was really inspired by what a psychologist, Dr. Justin Hopkins, said to me once, which was that we as a society have chosen to stay silent, not engaging in all the discrimination happening around us. We try to suppress the feelings, tame them, and even pretend they don't exist. But what that leads to is trauma for large groups of people who feel like they have been silenced from sharing their truth.

This podcast is really a way to process those feelings, especially the ones that we avoid due to stigma, fear, and societal norms. Because when we shut out these conversations, it will continue to feed the cycle of prejudice, marginalization, and stereotype, and then it may feel very vulnerable to share our stories.

I think it's more necessary now than ever to lean into these moments so that we can process them for ourselves and also so that we can empower others to stop hiding behind them. One way that I like to think about this podcast is that it provides mirrors and windows. So there's a space where people can see themselves reflected in the stories that are shared, but find opportunities, and connect with others who have similar or different experiences when it comes to aspects of their identity as well. When we redesigned these concepts of empathy in the media we digest to include diversity of perspectives and stories, that is when we can create spaces for belonging and connection that are genuinely inclusive and include the voices of everyone.

I also wanted to share some of my goals for the podcast and explain what I hope that this space can be used for. The name for the podcast identity and raveled comes from my interest in dissecting the identities that make us who we are. I hope that people can talk about their experiences with cultural identities, and some ideas of topics that we will cover are our experiences with mental illness, how to navigate politics, growing up in political conflict, educational experiences at public school versus private school, family cultures and norms, clashing of religious beliefs, and any other intersectionality that is important to you.

I think that the gift of podcast is that it may feel very vulnerable to share your story, but that vulnerability is so empowering because you can really find your voice through sharing how you see the world. And as a listener, I think you gain such a deeper appreciation for the people in the world around you because you're so immersed in the lived experiences of someone else that you're listening to. I hope that this podcast brings up new questions and ideas that you have yet to explore, and hopefully these stories have the power to change the way you see the world, whether that is inspiring you to start a conversation with someone around you, actively going out and creating change, empathizing more with the lived experiences of others, or bringing about new relationships over shared experiences you never knew you had with the people in our community.

Links to Subscribe:
Spotify | Apple Podcasts 

Additional Information
Instagram | Become a Guest

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