By Andrew Hong
It was during 10th grade Chemistry that I first contemplated the question of my racial identity.
As many of you may know, in chemistry and in real life, there is a form of matter called a mixture, and another called a compound. Both are products of a combination of substances or elements, and to many laypersons (e.g., 15-year-old Andrew Hong), the two types of matter can often appear identical. The key distinction, however, is that while a mixture is a physical combination where each participating material still has its original properties, a compound is a chemical combination where the participating materials go through a chemical reaction and become an entirely different substance.
Exactly one decade ago, I learned this in my high school in Severna Park. Severna Park is a Maryland township snuggled nicely in-between Annapolis and Baltimore. It was and still is a cozy, fairly affluent town where families take their sailboats out into the Chesapeake-destined Severn River, neighbors and strangers alike wave to each other in aisles of local grocery stores, the high school’s half-suited lacrosse team livens a Subway after a game, and the 7-11 refuses to house a lottery machine because of the values of the community it serves.
The diversity of our high school’s student body closely resembled the diversity of the overall community: 85-90% white, 4-5% black, 2-3% Asian, 2-3% Hispanic, etc. Needless to say, I was part of a minority; but I was fortunate enough to be a minority in a community where my ethnicity was not only unproblematic, but actually accepted. And so for many years, the question of my identity seemed quite simple: At school, I was American; and at home and at my Korean church, I was Korean. Sometimes, I liked eating hamburgers, and other times, I liked eating kimchi; and altogether, I saw myself as simply the combination of two halves.