All powerful words that make me who I am.
People sometimes ask me when I knew I was adopted. My response is always the same: I always knew. There was never an ah-ha moment. My parents, a middle-class couple who met in a college classroom, constantly brought the topic up. They taught me my culture was something to be proud of. Although my parents and I had different experiences of becoming a family, they love me. There is no doubt. My parents could have had kids but chose not to, so my sister and I were never a second option to them. They taught me how to love differences and be inclusive to everyone.
Everyone, no matter their story or the path they take, is equal. I carry that mentality with me every day; it makes me who I am. My values influence me in what I do and how I act. No matter skin, age, identity, religion or gender, nothing should get in the way of someone being treated fairly.
But, regardless of how I’ve gotten here, living in a world with so many people and things working against you is still hard. People judge you for what you wear and what you say. People constantly stare because I have two white parents. I’ve had to learn to become perceptive to the judgment of others.
I’ve been forced to realize my place in society. I’ve had to learn to be understanding and patient and learn how to control my emotions. I stand strong and block out people’s stares and comments toward my family. I ignore their insensitivity, and I am patient with people’s ignorant questions. I am asked, “Are you from North or South Korea?” I want to yell, “If you knew your history, or anything at all, you’d know I’m from South Korea.” Instead, I politely answer the question and accept that they don’t know better, that the person asking the question might not realize its impact. Can you imagine a complete stranger coming up to you and asking you a totally personal question? How would that make you feel?
When people come up to me and ask these questions, I choose to take the high road rather than judge them, because I enjoy helping them understand the impact of their words. I like the feeling of knowing I personally helped someone understand something important to me just a little more, and this feeling drives me to continue advocating not just for myself, but for the other things I care about too: Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ pride, freedom of religion, women’s rights, animal cruelty, anti-Trump activism, access to education, refugees, sexual harassment, child soldiers, child labor, protecting our oceans, police brutality, borders, migrants and countless other social justice issues around the world. Being driven and having goals in my life has only helped me become a more aware leader.
I know I have felt left out in both cultures—American and Korean. That is what made me resilient. I have come to terms with my identity and who I am, and I now know that some voices aren’t heard loudly enough. I advocate for others the way I would advocate for myself. Going to college will allow me to explore my options and the ways I can apply my talents toward amplifying the voices of others.