How a multicultural panel led to self-acceptance

“Hannah has a soccer ball head,” my cafe coworkers always chanted.

My head. My large, round head. My eyes. My almond-shaped eyes. For the majority of my life, I’ve seen them as an enemy. Through elementary and middle school, I hated myself for who I was: a quarter Chinese and a conglomeration of white. I shied away from my classmates who grinned while pulling on their eyes to make them look “Asian,” and when in public, I hoped others wouldn’t recognize my race.

Now I am ashamed that I had those disturbing thoughts, but I am still regularly conflicted about my identity.

A fellow cherub reminded me that Medill students and professional journalists were hosting a diversity panel in the dorm. I knew I wanted to go, but I felt my stomach tying itself in knots at the thought of it. Would I say the wrong things? Or would I say nothing?

I walked into the “Diversity in the Newsroom” panel, and I hesitated because I felt unsure if I was even allowed to call myself diverse. Would people think that I was faking it?

As I sat there, I listened to people ask about representing their culture in the newsroom. A fellow cherub mentioned how he’s “white-passing.” Another mentioned how her school newspaper lacks minorities. Involuntarily, my eyes filled up with tears. Flashbacks from second grade flooded my mind and my old insecurities crept back in.

I kept my hand raised for several minutes, carefully planning out the right words to say. I took a deep breath and shared the story of the first words my boss said to me:

“Are you Asian?” my boss asked.

“Yeah, why?” I said.

“Well, that explains your round-ass head,” he said.

This led to me sharing my struggles with identity and asking if others could relate. I then mentioned how my email inboxes are filled with colleges looking to recruit “multicultural” applicants, yet I felt this took away from others who are more diverse than I am. I felt guilty.

To my surprise, multiple people had similar sentiments and offered words of advice.

Community associate Marissa Martinez, guest instructor Cynthia Wang and Medill associate professor Mei-Ling Hopgood shared anecdotes from their lives and validated my feelings.

Wang and Hopgood stressed to me that being a quarter Chinese doesn’t put me in the bottom of a cultural hierarchy. I am allowed to consider myself multicultural, and I’m allowed to still be unsure of who I am and how that affects my identity.

I left feeling uplifted.

“You are who you are and nobody gets when you talk about your identity and how you’re trying to figure it out,” a cherub texted me after the panel. “We’re all trying to figure out something and we all understand the struggle!”

Those few sentences meant so much.

There’s no magic potion to take for self-acceptance, but this I know:

I am proud that my grandmother is Chinese-American. I’m a quarter Chinese. It’s not a disposable part of me, and it’s not just some box with a check mark.