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Which Box Do I Check? – Diversity Leadership Project


Which Box Do I Check?

Which Box Do I Check

by Ocean Goins
Independence High School
Class of 2016

The math and science questions on my college entrance exams aren’t nearly as difficult as the decision I have to make before the test even starts– the demographic profile section.

Should I check “Asian American” or “Native American?”

What if I can only check one?

Most of my friends never stop and reflect on such a simple question, yet I find myself pondering the “most correct” answer. You see, I am the offspring of a Native American and an Okinawan, a union that wasn’t even allowed by law until after World War II. My ancestry, to say the least, is unique.

My heritage isn’t easily explained by merely checking a box any more than understanding a book by simply reading the cover. My story is deeper and one that shapes my hopes and dreams, and aspirations. I had lived and gone to school in Japan early in my life but now live in Spring Hill, Tennessee, where my friends at my predominantly WASP high school often refer to me as “their Japanese friend” when introducing me to new people.

Yet, when I went back to Japan a few years ago as a one of eight students nationally as a part of an exchange program sponsored by the Japanese government, my classmates called me “American” despite the fact that the blood flowing through my veins was probably just as “Asian” as theirs was. To top it all off, when I visit my father’s Mohawk Indian relatives in Michigan, they have no idea of how to define me in terms of my cultural makeup.

So, how do I answer that thorny question on my college application about my ethnicity and, maybe more importantly, how do view myself in light of my heritage? I have learned that we all try to stand out in our own unique way using many different methods, branding ourselves with gender, race, and sexuality to personalize the long, complicated stories of our lives.

I have an identity that is unique to me and only me and I’m proud to be who I am. As a result, I want to speak a mantra of acceptance toward everyone’s differences and, as I and others express ourselves in our own way, I want us all to grow to become less ashamed of who we are and more accepting of one another.

Because of my country’s less than stellar actions toward both Native Americans and Okinawans, I aspire to be someone who can communicate a distinct and precise message of human rights and acceptance, not just for four years on my college campus but for the rest of my life.

The onus of determining my background for the sake of my college admissions has given rise to an introspection that caused me to understand myself more deeply and fully. I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to become something that I’m not—I’m just trying to get better at being the person that I know I’m capable of growing into.

I am more than just my grades and my test scores and the boxes I check. I refuse to shun my community and culture in favor of seeming too “un-American” and proudly embrace the confluence of nationalities that I am, and I’m eager to make my mark on the world.

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Diversity Leadership Project - Williamson County Student Initiative