I Am: A French-American

A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

Had someone asked me my nationality four years ago, I would have said American. My father, unlike many fathers, is a stereotypical French man. He emigrated to the U.S. three years before I was born, yet worked hard to retain his culture, the same culture I chose to reject. Americans seem to have a deep-seated animosity towards the French because of France’s refusal to aid them in the War in Iraq. America’s antagonistic attitude and the unpleasant stereotypes associated with the French, such as being rude and arrogant, made me suppress any trace of French culture around me. An entire half of who I am slowly disappeared and remained hidden until I was able to gain the wisdom that comes with perspective. From the age of five, I’ve spent every summer in the tiny village of Brusque in the South of France. The most exciting thing to have ever happened there was a town celebration of their first ATM machine. During my first few summers there, I quickly picked up the language. My cousins and I would entertain ourselves by performing skits (in French), playing the organ for the elderly at Mass, and floating down the Dourdou River in “Le Petit Titanic”, a boat my uncle built. I initially loved the trips because of all the attention I received — I was known as “The American” and was still oblivious of any cultural differences. After entering high school, I started noticing those differences and things quickly changed. The unusual foods I ate, the strict French lifestyle my father made me abide by, and the foreign language I spoke at home were all things I tried hard to hide from my friends. I had convinced myself that people who would come into my home, meet my family, and not understand our French conversations would dissociate themselves from me. When it would come time for the next trip to France, I would beg my parents to let me stay home and go to summer camps like normal American girls; I would have done anything to just be normal. Over time, I realized that denying my French heritage was a bigger struggle than simply accepting it. To be normal in America, which is such a diverse country, is to be different, and so I embraced both of my nationalities as one. A quote I read in Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate comes to mind. Her grammatically incorrect mother says it best: “You must be proud you different. You only shame is be ashamed.” Four years ago, looking out of the classic French style windows of my grandmother’s 120-year-old house, I sat there with crossed arms and a bitter attitude. The village’s lack of modern, American-sized buildings bored me. But, gradually, something in me changed. Now, when I sit among the remains of a castle at the highest point of Brusque, I gaze affectionately down at the village. The countless cafes and bakeries filled with warm croissants and fresh baguettes have never before seemed so appealing. I now know who I am. I am the best of both worlds, a French American, whose French father just became an American citizen this year.

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