We all know that people are incredibly complex beings that come in all different shapes and sizes. But what exactly shapes a person’s identity?

If we were to dissect our individual identities, we would see the pieces of the people around us and the fractional bits of another’s identity that complete us as a whole. The influence that our social circles and the norms we have grown up under is often beyond what we realize– every single one of our unconscious, subconscious, and conscious thoughts is a reflection of the cultures that we have developed with.

During the peak of the pandemic, I, along with many others, was forcibly isolated from my closest friends for a prolonged period of time. While I was alone, I would have these moments of personal introspection. And maybe they were a long time coming, or perhaps it was because I am just a teenager trying to ‘figure it out’, but I began to reflect on who I am and how I’ve come to be the person I am today. Why did I think a certain way about abc, and why do I strongly believe in xyz? Just to what extent have the narratives of the people around me and the media I consume shaped my moral compass, my beliefs, my experiences, and, ultimately, who I am?

One of the most obvious influences of our character is our parents and the culture they bring into our lives. I was mostly raised adhering to Korean culture. From academic rigor to piano and Korean lessons, I grew up thinking that this was the norm. There were several other Korean kids in my social circles, so clearly everyone did all of this, right? 

I sure loved my superlatives.

As I had grown older and met more people, I was able to develop a much more refined idea of the diverse cultures in our world. I was also very quickly introduced to phrases like “model minority” and “try hard”, among many others. Additionally, I began to consume much more media with “my people”, but we will discuss the atrocity that is Asian portrayals in American media another time.

When the world treated the culture I grew up with as some undesirable and untouchable stereotype, I wanted nothing more than to be more like “everyone else”. I begged my mom to stop packing fried rice, but rather a PB & J’s or Lunchables, or, even better, to let me purchase lunch at the school cafeteria. Anything to avoid the weird looks I would get from the other kids as the ‘stench’ of my lunch was detectable in the air.

I admit, I grew up rejecting this part of my upbringing for quite a long time. It was only once COVID-19 had taken over the lives of so many, and society began blaming East Asian people for the pandemic, that I realized the importance of my cultural identity. While I wanted nothing more than to suppress the obvious influence of my Korean culture in my character, the only thing outsiders saw was a girl who ‘started the pandemic’. A racist on the street will not take the time to get to know me or my culture, but will make the same derogatory remarks under their breath whether or not I made the effort to hide who I am… so why should I bother?

Learning about my culture, along with the cultures of others, has become an integral part of my personal mission for myself. I want to learn how and why our cultures merge people together, and how aspects of culture have been able to permeate into my character and the people around me. I want to be able to answer the questions, “Who am I?” and “How did I get here?”.

This is my passion project, and I hope you stay for the rest of it; we are just getting started.


Photo Credit: iStock Photo