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While talking about the U.S. Census during a teen staff meeting, our writers said they felt the census question asking people to identify themselves by race doesn’t fully describe who someone is. Many said they identify more with their culture, from the language to the food to the traditions, than their race. Here is what they wrote about how they see themselves and what they want others to know about them.

Click here to read Ernesto’s story about the importance of filling out the census

I identify myself by my African culture because it is a part of who I am. We have African art in my house and we celebrate Kwanzaa and other celebrations that relate to African-American culture. My race plays a part in that but it doesn’t identify who I am like my culture does. I shouldn’t have to identify myself just by what I look like because I’m more than that.
Taylor Moore, 16, Westchester HS

The CAHSEE Scantron has so many specific geographic choices (Chinese, Japanese, even Pacific Islander) and then, at the bottom, it lists “white.” I don’t consider myself white, I like to think of myself as Italian with some other European mixed in. People too often look at me and assume I’m white without asking me about my culture. If they were to ask, they would find out that I don’t sit down to hamburgers at family gatherings, but instead homemade risotto that my Italian relatives slaved over a stove to make. When we sit down to eat, we say a long toast in Italian and after that, grace. When people write me off as white, I feel that I lose everything culturally relevant to me. By erasing the racial category of white, which doesn’t even make sense next to Hispanic and Asian, people will become more conscious that they aren’t just talking to another “white” girl but a proud Italian who values her heritage.
Alison Roth, 16, Calabasas HS

I was raised in both South Korea and the United States. I identify myself as Korean but when I struggle to come up with certain words when I’m speaking Korean, I wonder if I’m really Korean. When I visit Korea and see my friends, I feel as if I’m not in the world they live in. They talk about tests that I don’t know much about, and have different tastes in music and fashion.
     But then when I come back to the United States after a visit, I feel like I don’t fully belong here either. The way my American-born friends think and talk sometimes is different from my way. But still, I have more things in common with both cultures than things different. And I know this is just a step toward my real identity, when I finally don’t feel lost in either American or Korean culture.
Ben Bang, 17, Palos Verdes Peninsula HS

When people ask me if I am Korean I say, “I am South and North Korean.” People are always shocked when I tell them I’m half North Korean. They immediately ask me how I escaped. I tell them that my grandparents were from North Korea and escaped to South Korea when they were young.
     Most people I’ve met think all North Koreans are killers. They call me a crazy Communist and curse about North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, even though I doubt they know anything about him besides his name. North Koreans aren’t all dangerous, nuclear-bomb-making Communists. It’s only a small number of government officials. Most people are kind people who are oppressed by the government. North Koreans are the same people as South Koreans, only divided by different government ideas. North Koreans aren’t bad people. Until the two Koreas are unified, I will tell the world there are North Koreans out in the world.
Thomas Cho, 15, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies

People assume I’m white or mixed with white because of my lighter skin. I might look different from other Salvadorans but there is always diversity within a race. I want people to know my race because growing up I always looked at “white” as the ideal person. Children from Latin countries need to see that there are influential adults who are not white. Hispanic kids need to know that they do not have to grow up joining gangs or being a second-class citizen, but can become a boss and follow a career they want to pursue. Even though I don’t believe race is necessarily important to identify one’s self, it can help encourage or inspire kids if they know an adult who has defied low expectations, and who’s of their own race. Kids could look up to me or other Hispanics who are striving to make better lives for themselves.
Edgar Mejia, 16, Venice HS

To me, race doesn’t define a person, culture does. Even though I have a Chinese father and a Mexican mother, I look Asian. But I was brought up with a strong Mexican culture. I can speak Spanish, but not Chinese. I see my mom’s side of the family almost every weekend. My dad’s family, though, is scattered across the country (and some halfway around the world), so we see each other just a couple times a year.
     I go to Mexico every year and just because I look different someone always asks me if I’m lost, which really irritates me. I have also overheard people talking about me behind my back in Spanish. Every time this happens I turn and say something back to them in Spanish. They always look shocked that I can speak Spanish. Who I am isn’t reflected in my skin color or eye shape; my life could be completely different from someone else who is Hispanic and Asian. By birth I am Chinese and Mexican, but I feel I am Mexican American.
Samantha Lam, 18, International Polytechnic HS (Pomona)

I always considered myself American, even though my great-grandparents on both sides were Russian. However, in fourth grade we had a Coming to America project where we dressed up as a relative and explained the culture and food from where that person came from. I chose to be my great-grandfather Michael. While doing the project, I became excited about being part Russian. I learned about life there when my great-grandpa was alive, and I even learned about the types of toys they had. By the end of the project, I felt proud of my background. And now I consider it a part of me. Even though my family and I stick to American culture, I’d like to be able to do Russian things too because I would feel even more connected to my relatives. I’d like to learn how to bake rugelach, blintzes and strudel (pastries) and maybe learn some Russian words. I’d also like to know what motivated my relatives to leave Russia to come to the United States. I follow American culture but I’d like to be able to hold onto that Russian background, too.
Julia Waldow, 15, Beverly Hills HS

I identify myself more with my Salvadorian culture than my Hispanic race because I feel like it more accurately reflects who I am. I feel that race is too general because people of the same race may identify themselves in a different way culturally. People who don’t know me sometimes say I’m Mexican. I don’t have a problem with the Mexican culture, but my Salvadorian culture is different. My culture has different traditions, foods and music and I love all that about it. Foods like pupusas, which are like handmade tortillas with a filling such as beans or cheese, and salpicon, which is diced beef with cilantro and radishes, and traditions like eating 12 grapes at the strike of midnight on New Year‘s are some things that are uniquely Salvadorian.
Jacky Garcia, 17, Lynwood HS