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Grace O

Special projects analyst, Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity ProgramsAnti-racism is:

Intentional efforts and actions to dismantle racist viewpoints, including but not limited to, biases, stereotypes and profiling. It is about unlearning prejudicial perspectives and resetting forward-thinking mindsets.

One Foot in Each World

I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Koreatown, a diverse Latinx community. My parents moved us to the suburbs of Orange County when I was six years old, where I was one of the few Asian kids in my neighborhood.

As an innocent child, I didn’t see a person through the color of his or her skin.

As I learned about race and racism and leveled up in grade school, I quickly realized there were unspoken expectations of being born into my heritage.

Being studious, quiet, submissive and accommodating were the standards others wanted me to practice. I broke all stereotypes as I was quite the opposite of a “typical” Asian American girl.

I was continually getting into trouble as I grew up a bit of a free spirit, always getting dirty and hurt playing sports in the street. I found it challenging to abide by two sets of cultures and two sets of standards.

One experience stands out from my formative years.

I played with kids of some family friends, and we were causing trouble as young children do. We had been noisy all night long during an overnight camping trip.

My mom’s friend, also of Asian descent, scolded us for being so noisy. I was the only one among my friends who spoke up and let her know that the other kids in the other cabins were also being loud.

The family friend was not pleased with my behavior and complained to my mom that I should not talk back to adults. However, my teachers taught me to stand up for myself if I found myself being blamed. I found myself torn between my heritage’s expectations and the morals learned in school.

As an adult, my New York City experience proved to be the least racist encounter of all.

I had moved to NYC when I was in the middle of my grad school program, just turned 25, and landed a special assistant position with the City University of New York. I believe these identities shaped my experiences, and as I immersed myself in the city, I quickly received social approval because I looked “good on paper.”

I realized quickly I fit into that vast melting pot of transplants; New York City takes diversity to the ultimate level. Thriving among Jewish, Amish, Puerto Rican, Dominican Republican and Asian American communities, I was more recognized for being a Southern California native than for my Asian American exterior.

When I moved back to Orange County and re-established my higher education career, I landed a position involving diversity and inclusion work. I found it to be quite symbolic of my experiences, as it came full circle.

Through this work, I learned race should be recognized and celebrated, not judged. To embark on change, we must strip away biases and unlearn stereotypes to initiate celebrated diversity.

Grace O is a special projects analyst in the office of Diversity, Inclusion & Equity Programs at Cal State Fullerton. She says she broke stereotypes growing up as a Korean American, and embraces the notion that race should be celebrated, not judged or condemned.

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