you & me

My Identity Journey: What’s in a Name?

{Photo credit: Sunday Santiago}

 

I’ve heard the story of the way my parents met and fell in love a number of times, and have yet to tire of it.

Picking up new details each time that I previously missed likely because, well, I was a bratty teenager the first couple of times I heard the tale and likely only half-listened, thinking, “Ew. Gross. I don’t want to hear that.” Anyhow, I’ll spare you the full re-telling because there is no greater more reliable narrator than my mother, but here’s the gist.

She met and fell in love with my father, Jesse Torres, when she was 16. He was “very skinny and all mustache with the most beautiful green eyes I’ve ever seen” (I’m paraphrasing). She was so smitten with Jesse that she decided right then and there were she to ever have a daughter, she would name her Jessica. And so, Jessica Torres was born… 9 years before I was.

Jess Torres, sweet soul that she was, was a product of her environment. And in that environment she tried fitting into boxes (and dresses) that didn’t fit or feel remotely comfortable, and was often a supporting character in other people’s stories that were not her own.

She grew up in a world that told her who she was or should be; a well-intentioned ritual and process born of love, tradition and family. However, her whole life she never felt fully realized, at odds with and oppressed by gender norms and societal constructs of how a woman — a Hispanic woman, at that — should present herself to the world.

So often she found herself playing the roles of who she thought she was “supposed to be” so that the comfort and familiarity of her staying the same would make others feel more comfortable. (suffocated by the spuriousness of it all). None of it felt right. None of it fit. And she definitely never felt like a Jessica.

There have been many layers to sift through and peel away in the process of my becoming (i.e. sexuality, gender expression, personal style — plenty of hits and misses… Hello, Hot Topic) but what I came to realize is that the final piece of the puzzle was to create a name for myself, literally, that represented me and my seemingly old, somewhat androgynous soul.

A name that embodied my romantic spirit from a bygone era. And thus began my quest to find the name that suited me.

As far back as I can remember, my approach to life has been slower than… well, everyone else. I didn’t know that there was anything wrong with this until people started to point it out. My family would joke that I had two speeds: Slow, and Stop.

The pace with which I ate my meals — por ejemplo, that entire decade where my parents would have to order my food as soon as we sat down at a restaurant so that I was finished by the time they were ready to leave. “Jessica, masca. Jessica, traga.” For all you non-Spanish speakers out there, that’s Chew. And Swallow.

Before the age of Spotify and Bluetooth speakers, I would hit the shower, boombox and stack of CDs in tow, changing the discs when I was ready for a new song mid-rinse, basking in shower hour. It wasn’t a literal hour, however with how long it took me to get dressed in the morning… it went well past that.

But honestly, I still don’t understand how anyone gets dressed quickly. So many fun options, patterns to juxtapose and a variety of things to consider — the weather, one’s mood… but I digress.

All of the commentary on my relaxed approach to life was intended to be playful, but as I got older, I began to believe that there was something wrong with the way that I did things. That the speed with which I approached my life was problematic. Eventually it played into my larger narrative of not-enoughness, or depending on how you look at it, my too-muchness (but that’s a story for another time).

With all of that said, in the past couple of years I have begun to embrace and love this part of myself, slowly (ha, get it?) accepting that I like taking my time in all things; living slowly and with intention. It was in this spirit that the first part of my name was born.

I love Sundays. The relaxed, carefree energy. The kind of day that feels like the start of summer did when I was a kid — infinite, unrushed and brimming with magic. Sunday… the embodiment of how I move through the world. Which is why when a dear friend brought to my attention that it was the perfect name, it immediately felt right (doesn’t hurt that I was born on a Sunday).

Once that was in place, I began searching for a last name that would tie it all together, giving it an Old Hollywood feel. Turns out there aren’t many queer, Hispanic, masculine off-center presenting folx in the industry to look to for inspiration. Needless to say, every idea I came up with felt, well, White. Until I landed on Santiago. And the moment that I did, something in me clicked and I knew that was it.

I still remember standing in the kitchen with my wife, and her asking me to try it on by shaking her hand and introducing myself — I reached out, anticipating feeling silly and uncomfortable — but as the words flowed out of my mouth, I felt something else entirely. Exhilarating alignment. That was it.

Despite the fact that I let go of my family name, it’s important that I be very clear about something. I’m not ashamed of my family or where I come from. I’m incredibly proud of my history and want to honor and acknowledge my heritage and the sacrifices that my parents and my ancestors have made for me to live the life that I do.

In fact, I want to continue to understand, embrace and learn more about where I come from, which is why it was important to me when choosing a new name, that it reflect that. Santiago is a direct nod to my Cuban and Spanish heritage.

I never anticipated this choice and this journey being as emotionally complex as it was. It brought to the surface so many emotions tied to my parents, my identity, who I want to be versus who I’ve been, old traumas and painful history — you name it, I felt it. I also felt like I’d be letting people down and even worse, hurting them with my decision. Mainly my mother.

But here’s the thing about my mom that’s pretty damn extraordinary… while she may struggle to understand the why of the things that I do, she is ultimately an incredibly accepting person who, at the end of the day, genuinely values my happiness over all else. Unconditional love is a hell of a thing (love you too, mom).

It’s been thrilling to have the opportunity, courage, and audacity to reinvent myself. And I recognize the privilege that exists for me to be able to stand in this moment. To become even more of who I am. I know to some that it’s “just a name,” and perhaps identity is about so much more than that… or less, depending on how you look at it… but it makes me feel empowered in a way that I’m certain I’ve never felt before.

A life created on my own terms as the most authentic expression of myself.

So… allow me to reintroduce myself.

I am Sunday Ambrocio Santiago — time traveler, performer, stylist, music-maker, haberdasher, style activist and a goddamn ripple of joy whenever I can be, and my preferred pronouns are she/her/they/them.

Thank you for loving, seeing and accepting me. I look forward to sharing this adventure with you.

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Sunday Santiago is a writer, producer, style activist and queer entertainer. Whether she is producing content for a small queer business or styling a photo shoot featuring her sartorial creations, Sunday is always striving to cultivate beauty, to find magic in the mundane, and to #beadamnripple of joy and kindness. Living slow in a fast city, Sunday can often be seen in coffee shops around the East Village sipping on a cortado, writing for her blog, and observing the interesting characters that live in her cherished and historical neighborhood. You can connect with her on her website or Instagram.

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