Embracing My Identity

Embracing My Identity

A few weeks ago, I received the invitation to attend the "Disrupt" conference sponsored by the National Association of Asian American Professionals. I was interested, but initially hesitant. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, my mother is South Korean, and I consider my South Korean roots to be a part of my heritage that has shaped the way I think about the world. However, I inherited much of my father’s genetics and to put it bluntly, I look pretty white. I found myself wondering: will I fit in?

It was a doubt that was only compounded when I reached the check-in for the event. I looked around and felt a sense of panic. I felt like an intruder, and worried that the other Asian and Asian American attendees would look at me and wonder what I was doing there. Not for the first time, I wondered where the line is between ‘Asian’ and ‘white,’ and which side of the line most people consider me to fall on.

Not long after the conference started, however, my fears were set at ease. I started talking with a few other Washington Center students from Japan and South Korea. Although they were initially curious as to why I was attending the event, they were all interested and excited to learn about my South Korean heritage. I had fun answering questions about what parts of South Korean culture I was familiar with, and learning new aspects of the culture as well.

The rest of experiences throughout the conference only served to reinforce the idea that I was welcome, and that I had a place there. One of the speakers who kicked off the event addressed the topic by pointing out how Caucasian he appeared before explaining that he was 3/4 native Hawaiian, and I felt instantly comforted to know that there are other bi-racial professionals who have the same experiences that I do.


The final panel of the day was focused on Asian American women and their experiences with being in leadership roles. As I sat there, I found myself in awe of what they had overcome, many of them citing back to being the first Asian American woman in their respective roles. One panelist in particular shared an anecdote about trying to dress and act like a man in her career for a long time as a result of being in a male-dominated field, before finally realizing that she could excel equally as well while being herself.


Panelists for the Asian American Women in Leadership panel

Photo courtesy of NAAAP DC


By the end of the day, I had collected the phone numbers of several new friends as well as several invaluable lessons. Despite my initial worries and hesitations, I was thankful that I’d stuck out the early discomfort and stayed there. Being accepted and welcomed by so many of the attendees and hearing so much advice that resonated with me helped me grow more comfortable with myself and my heritage. Next time, I’ll be able to approach similar events with not fear, but excitement.


Read Colleen's previous blog posts

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