JASON, age 28

I'm Jason Kilkenny, born and raised in Queens, NY but spent the vast majority of my time in Brooklyn. I come from a pretty deeply rooted and tight knit Guyanese community. There are about 140,000 of them in NYC, mostly living in Brooklyn and I'm pretty sure I'm connected to all of them by about 2 degrees.

From the church I've been going to since I was born, to elementary and junior high school, I grew up surrounded by quite literally the same people I've known since I can remember. Because of that, it was a massive culture shock to go to a school where not just Caribbeans but blacks in general were an incredibly small minority. It was also one of the first places where I felt I needed to change my personality to fit in.

My family (and I, when I'm around them) speak with a kind of Guyanese Creole, and while I'd heard what my family's dubbed "white people talk" before, I'd never thought that speaking how I had for ages would be considered low-brow or looked down upon. I think quite a bit of it came from lack of exposure and the subsequent ignorance on their part but as a teenager trying to fit in, it hit me pretty hard.

I began to view the language I grew up with and the people that spoke it as ignorant hicks and started adopting more white-washed tendencies to fit in with high school crowd. It's pretty embarrassing to look back at the way I ended up treating my family and friends because of this mindset but I like to think of it as my rebellious phase as well.

Around the end of freshman year was when my aunt gave me the nickname Oreo which has stuck with me to this day. By the time I was done with sophomore year, in addition to being the nerd of the family, I was also the "white boy" that spoke proper at family gatherings and spent most of the time at these parties in a room/corner with my Game Boy or iPhone.

I didn't start to appreciate my heritage and honestly even my family till I left for school in WA, but it really hit home when I got to Korea. That's where I realized that no matter how I acted or how much I wanted to fit in, I'd pretty much always be an outsider, but my family was always there for me. I feel that way at times here in SF too.




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