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South Carolina Honors College

The State of My Identity

by Eunwoo Choi

Rapid scenic development stood out to me. A brand new, strikingly different cover to an old, familiar tale. Throughout my years in South Carolina, things had changed. Nature-filled places were replaced by modern buildings, and old, local businesses had disappeared. Despite having spent the majority of my life growing up alongside the community of South Carolina, I found myself asking, “Why does South Carolina not feel like home?” Most of my memories reside within this state I call home, yet I am always struck by that question. My greatest achievements, my weaknesses, my development, and many of my friendships began here, but I still feel like a stranger. I feel like a stranger in South Carolina; the state that grew me into the person I am today; the state where I have lived longer than many of my surrounding peers.

Throughout high school, I have begun to discover who I am. Who am I? I am a girl who has lived in South Carolina for fourteen of the seventeen years of her life; a girl who grew up being labeled as shy and brilliant minded. Looking back, I remember hiding behind my parents at each open house during elementary school. The teachers would peer behind their legs and crouch down, smiling warmly at me before asking about my quiet nature. Later, I learned to use this quietness to focus on my academic performance. It was my biggest strength. My greatest advantage in climbing the social ladder implicitly built upon race was to become one of the smartest in the school. As a result, I pressured myself out of falling behind, staying ahead of the dust that haunts the ranks of the unknown.

As a Korean Asian American, I have had difficulty discovering my identity. Not having the opportunity to grow up with people of similar backgrounds left me confused as to who I was. The misrepresentation of Asian culture was impactful on the young eight-year-old who started to understand the social divides in American education. I would be accused of being smart solely because my parents must be strict. My parents were never strict. In all my years of living, I attained my intellect through my own high standards. I was always quick to defend the differences of all Asian families, countering with the fact that all races could have a family with strict or relaxed parents. This, however, was just one of many challenges I faced in trying to accept South Carolina as my home and break through the bars crafted from the assumptions made in a single glance.

I often feel that racism and microaggression towards Asians are widely accepted within our community, especially in school settings. Honestly, I don’t blame my young classmates that grew up in an environment that was dominated by people like them. How would they have known any different when no one taught them the values of acceptance? How would they have known any better than to maliciously comment on my home foods or ask if I am from North Korea? Young students are easily influenced by the media and like to appease their friends who grew up with similar perspectives towards people not like them. As a society, we cannot reprimand children for ignorance, as the responsibility of teaching acceptance falls upon the experienced adults. This lack of structure regarding the treatment of people of color is an issue that should be reevaluated.

Intended or not, there is a social barrier for students, such as I, to truly feel accepted into the home of South Carolina. It is imperative that students are taught the importance of equity, acceptance, and representation of all races from a young age. They need to learn to accept, as I have, that South Carolina is a diverse home to many. South Carolina allowed me to grow as a person, a student, and a member of a vast, growing community. Every one of my accomplishments, big or small, was made possible because of this place I have the privilege to call home.

Eunwoo Choi

About Eunwoo Choi

Eunwoo Choi is a junior at River Bluff High School in Lexington, where Mrs. Whitney Day is her AP Language and Composition teacher and Dr. Lars Seiler is her AP Research teacher. The daughter of Heejin Oh and Joonhyung Choi, Eunwoo plans to pursue careers in law and business, and travel abroad during her studies.

Eunwoo Choi on Instagram.

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