The Box Labeled “Other”

The multiracial experience and the process of learning to accept and love all parts of your identity

By Sammi Pak

This is part of the “My Story Matters” collection. To read the other stories click on the links below.

“On the Path to Allah” by Adama Kaba – Men’s Soccer
“The Roots of Change” by Khailah N-R Griffin – Track and Field

“Running Out in the Open” by Luke Novak – Cross Country

“What are you?” 

This is a question I have become so accustomed to hearing. The answer, “half Korean and half white,” has always seemed to be somewhat of an enigma for people. Growing up, other kids often would ask if I was adopted after only seeing my white mother at school functions. It quickly became apparent to me that being multiracial was different and, therefore, confusing. However, despite the stark physical differences separating me from white culture, on the occasions where I am around Koreans, it is clear I don’t quite fit in either – I cannot understand or speak a lick of Korean, and I am no pro with chopsticks. There always seemed to be a glooming sense of disconnection that evolved into a constant struggle to find a balance between being “too white” or “too Asian.” 

While I didn’t talk about it much, there was always a sense of guilt that accompanied these feelings, as if I was disrespecting my roots. I was trying so hard to condense two vital parts of who I am into a single category, both only able to occupy half. My grandfather once illustrated this while holding a single pencil in his hands. With ease, he snapped the thin yellow stick right in two. Within seconds he picked up four more pencils and assertively pulled down on each end. But they did not get served with the same fate as the one prior – the four pencils would not budge. 

I tried so hard to minimize each side to fit perfectly, rather than appreciating the two vibrant cultures that have shaped my being. Not only was it okay to hold more than one pencil, but it’s the only way to live. With the addition of each new one comes the opportunity for more value and strength.

I am the granddaughter of two immigrants from South Korea who sacrificed everything so their four children could be granted opportunities in America, but I am also the granddaughter of an Italian-Armenian couple who fell in love on a beach on the Jersey Shore. I am the girl who bows when greeting my Korean relatives, but I am also the girl who kisses each cheek when greeting my Italian relatives. I am the girl who looks forward to the traditional Korean soup every year on Korean New Year’s Day, but I am also the girl who never fails to count down the days until the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. 

When both sides are combined, I am my whole self. That box labeled “other.” An ethnic anomaly. And that is invaluable. After all, the more pencils you hold, the harder it is to break.