Nuria Inez Benitez '22 sits in a chair on Founder's Green, smiling.

What They Learned: Nuria Inez Benitez ‘22

The anthropology and linguistics double major compared and analyzed how diasporic and homeland communities express and convey their identities.

Nuria Inez Benitez ‘22 wrote her thesis about perceptions of identity and how they change between diasporic and homeland communities. The anthropology and linguistics double major’s thesis, “Does ‘x’ Mark The Spot?: Negotiating Filipino/a/x Identities Online in the Philippines and the Diaspora,” explores the debate surrounding the gender-neutral term “Filipinx,” and how it relates to nation-building and identity formation. Her thesis additionally examines how social media functions as a battleground for this debate over identity.

“My thesis shows the disjunct between the creation of identities and the actual lived experiences of individuals, as people negotiate identity terms on social media,” Benitez said

With discussions of identity becoming more commonplace and public, Benitez was eager to understand how identities are formed, particularly as people debate what language is acceptable for different groups of people. Benitez, who was born in Manila, examined this through her own identity as a Filipina. She posits that various people who use “Filipino” and people who use “Filipinx” are part of different communities, with different histories and experiences.

Her thesis was born from a paper she wrote for “Citizenship, Migration, and Belonging,” a class taught by Zainab Saleh, assistant professor of anthropology. Saleh later helped Benitez expand that paper into a larger thesis. Meanwhile, Associate Professor of Linguistics Brook Lillehaugen helped Benitez develop a method to her research that fit within the guidelines of linguistic anthropology.

Benitez expressed her gratitude to both of her advisors, and for the cooperation between departments.

“[Saleh] was integral to helping me build a foundation in my understandings of anthropology and diaspora studies, and [Lillehaugen] helped me talk through the various layers within my thesis and pointed me towards sources when I was drowning in my research,” she said. “They were both extremely open to negotiating between departments and ensuring that I could satisfy the requirements of both my majors, and helped me balance the two different approaches to my thesis question.”

Benitez hopes that, going forward, her work serves as a base for others who are interested in researching social media as a communication tool for diasporic communities.

“If I do decide to pursue grad school, my thesis would be helpful in guiding me along that path, as I am interested in applied linguistics and diaspora studies,” she said. “In particular, I am curious about diasporic multilingual communities and individuals, and the work I have done with my thesis in unraveling the various aspects of such communities would be useful in conducting further research on the topic.”

What did you learn from working on your thesis?
Working on my thesis taught me how each individual is unique and comes from different situational and cultural contexts, and that despite our efforts to categorize and identify each other and ourselves, we must also take the time to understand the nuances of an individual’s lived experiences. Writing my thesis, I had to navigate between forming generalizations about “Filipinx” and the people who use or refuse to use it and acknowledging that no one person can possibly speak for a whole community.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.