“Hello, I’m Daniel. I am a citizen of Planet Earth.”
That’s what I often say when I introduce myself to new people.
I could also use a more-precise description: “I’m an openly gay man; a non-dogmatic practicing Jewish-Venezuelan immigrant; a foreign-born American citizen; single; vegetarian; journalist; progressive; spiritual; idealist . . .”
There are so many labels that, sometimes, even I cannot fully answer, “Who am I?”
I was born under the mantle of Judaism in a predominately Catholic country, queer in a staunchly conservative community, fair in a mestizo and machista society that deemed me far too effeminate. When I decided to move to the United States almost 25 years ago, partially to break free of the closet, I was suddenly also singled out as Hispanic — one with a last name and skin that didn’t fit the stereotype.
Being a minority within a minority within a minority made me yearn for the kind of belonging that usually comes from being with your own kind. I was compelled to find it in small doses — a little here, a little more there, but never entirely. This peculiar space granted me a peculiar view of society. Most people are comfortable categorizing others according to a system of singular identities.
Only after lengthy soul-searching did the puzzle pieces of my self begin to fall into place. Two experiences helped me understand that society’s imposed labels didn’t represent me accurately. In a workshop at the Osho Meditation ashram in India, we were assigned to put aside whatever we had learned about ourselves. We began to peel away, like an onion, all the layers of labels: religion, ethnicity, nationality, profession, beliefs, looks, even the first label our parents placed on us at birth — our names — until we reached our consciousness, our true self.
On another occasion, I attended a retreat for LGBTQ Jews in upstate New York. To an outsider, our entire group may have simply fallen under the “gay Jews” category. But within our group, there were assimilated “pork-eating Jews” joining a Jewish social event for the first time, alongside blushing, closeted Orthodox Jews attending their first gay activity. We were not a monolithic group.
The same goes for the LGBTQ community. Our sexual orientation or gender identity is certainly significant, and we ought to celebrate it with pride. But it doesn’t define us as individuals. Naturally there is an experience, a universal language, that unites us, and we share a common responsibility to defend our rights and care for each other. But that does not mean we should pigeonhole ourselves.
Although I’ve had to overcome painful rejection and discrimination because of my multiple-minority status, my reality has also shaped my identity, work ethic and values in a positive way. I can establish strong emotional connections with almost anybody experiencing vulnerability. I pursued journalism as a career to expose injustice, find solutions, sound the alarm about potential dangers and issue a call for reflection.
Labels keep us from fully enjoying life in a meaningful and authentic way. Yes, I am gay, Latino, Jewish, immigrant and all of the above, too.
But simply being a citizen of Planet Earth is liberating. It gives me more freedom to be myself.
Daniel Shoer Roth is an el Nuevo Herald audience growth editor.