Integrating Identities

One of my favorite things about working in counselor education is watching students find and develop their voices. Today marks the last day of an independent study I've been running with one of my students, Jeannete Martinez, called "Integrating Identities." In this course we sought to learn more about how the field of counseling can better support minority helping professionals in integrating their various (sometimes seemingly conflicting) identities. Though I knew this independent study with Jeannete was going to be rich and enjoyable, I could have never predicted that it would be quite this transformative for both of us. What transformed me was Jeannete's voice, her vulnerability, her courageous risk-taking to show up to this level of study that unearthed parts of her. What moved me was that she didn't just show up professionally and academically to get the good grade and meet the requirements, but that she showed up with her whole self. This is always a gift to me.

I had the gift of seeing (really seeing) and hearing (really hearing) Jeannete during this time, and now she has given me the permission to share her voice with you all. Below I have posted (with Jeannete's full permission, of course) her final discussion post, which she wrote about the topic of integrating her identities.

Without further ado, I introduce you to the unique and beautiful voice of Jeannete Auxiliadora Martinez.

Who am I?

I am Jeannete Auxiliadora Martinez.

I am la hija de Juana, la que viene y va. The sister, the cousin, the sobrina that exists more via family chat than en carne y hueso

I am my mother’s daughter, resisting the destined comparisons while building on the inroads she lay, going much further than a simple campesina could have ever dared to dream.

I am my father’s daughter, carrying more than his name, driven by the same hope he had when we crossed the river.

I am a child, wearing a frilly pink dress and equally frilly but mismatched socks confronting the reality of the patria with its mosquitos, outhouses, and unending line of cousins who wear my discarded clothes and watch wide-eyed as I eat my heaping plate of gallopinto.

I am the little ballerina, exchanging the pink tutu for a black dress, learning to hide her tears, no longer daddy’s little girl doing cartwheels up and down the sidewalk: Do I look like a wheel, daddy?

I am the teacher’s pet, knowing all the answers, but still hiding in my head even after all these years.

I am a high-school senior, at a crossroads, heeding my little sister’s song tell me that I’ve been standing in this place for far too long and that I’m like a bird without a sky. “Go,” she said, and still does, knowing I’m searching for a place to fly.

I am Nicaraguan-American, born in Mexico, raised en la ciudad que progresa, lisping my zetas with my adopted Castilian accent. My words tumble out, sometimes in English, sometimes in my native tongue that I took for granted until I realized it was the language my heart beats to.

I am a college student, in the midst of charged racial dialogue, split between two worlds: my well-meaning white friend who asks me, you don’t feel that way, do you? and my Black-Latina friend with the gorgeous curls who sits on my couch, hurt beyond words.

I am Esperanza, packing my books and paper, saying goodbye (again and again) not to Mango but to Hialeah, wondering if I too will return for the ones I left behind, for the ones who cannot out like I once thought I would.

I am a Latina, moved by the strong women who braved the borderlands before me, summoning up the courage and strength to believe that I too have something to declare.

I am a student, ready to learn, struggling to engage the world beyond the comfortable confines of my own thoughts.

I am a therapist, a listener, a healer on my own inner journey.

I am Jeannete, forever reminded of God’s graciousness, freely poured out over me.

I am Auxiliadora, a name that once brought a sense of shame now a source of pride. Auxiliadora, a helper, a healer.

I am Martinez, of mestizo origin, kin to the god of war. I am Martinez, trying to shed not my heritage but the family chains at war with difficult emotions.

I am a pipeline, a receiver and giver of living water. 

I am prodigal, prone to wander, to leave the one I love.

I am gold and dust, precious but not eternal, all too cognizant of the latter and too quick to deny the former.

I am beloved. Through these and my many more possible answers to my different identities, I am beloved by someone who will neither slumber nor sleep. I am beloved by he who sees me.


It is all too tempting to call the work of integration a solo-project, a journey through my different parts searching for a way to somehow join all these components single-handedly, tie a bow around them and move on to the next undertaking.

I could give a Sunday School-esque answer and end saying that integration means diving deeper into what it means to live as the beloved, my focus word for this year, outlining a plan to read some more Henri Nouwen and contemplative writers. And that would be quite a reading list. I could add in something about approaching my identity mindfully, listening to my different parts. 

But with my heart pounding and the familiar gut feeling tying up my stomach I know that is not the answer I want to end on.

[Heather, I knew this class with you would get me here to this very introspective and vulnerable place. And I’m quite certain that if it were anyone else I would not be sharing quite so openly. I would have certainly gone to bed well over an hour ago and let this fizzle out.]

I’ve learned to acknowledge the disconnect. To sit with these thoughts, type them, and post them knowing that it will be read by someone else and I can’t really reel it back in and pretend its not there. Part of me just wants to stop typing, to stop thinking about this and instead rely on the fact that this post is already more than 700 words long and maybe I should edit instead of add.

I want integration without vulnerability. I want integration via private typed words and hidden scribblings. I want integration as if I could somehow journey further up and further in on my own.

My identities are connected to others. Yet I feel so disconnected.

It’s a lesson I have given yet struggle with: community as vital. The importance of vulnerability. Yet I sit in silent observation, time and again, not contributing, living in my own head. No wonder I feel disconnected.

Integration requires me to participate in the world that lives outside of my head. It requires me to actually be fully present in the world, voice and all.

It requires me to be aware of all the parts of me and practice acceptance and surrender. 

Cozolino wrote that fearlessness in exploring our own inner world increases self-knowledge resulting in an increased ability to help others. I am not sure how fearless my approach is but I am certainly exploring it. And I do believe it will ultimately create a more grounded and helpful auxiliadora, washed in his graciousness, no longer at war with herself.