Describe a quality that makes you unique.

My life is filled with hantai, or opposites: potatoes and rice, forks and chopsticks, Bachan and Nana, and an English first name and a Japanese last name. When I was younger, it never occurred to me that I was any different than any of my classmates because I ate rice every night instead of potatoes, that I knew how to use chopsticks and ate with a fork, that I had two different names for my grandmothers, or that my last name was a little unusual. However, I had always known there was something different about my family, but it never really troubled me. I had noticed that my father didn’t look like my friends’ fathers and my classmates’ mothers were never taller than their fathers like in my family. I never realized how culturally different I was from my friends until much later. My mother was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and met my father at the University of Chicago when they were both pursing careers in the field of medicine. My mother came from very humble beginnings as neither of her parents had graduated from high school. After the death of her father when she was only twelve and her experience as an only child, she was inspirationally self-motivated, ultimately obtaining both an M.D. and a PhD. My father came from a completely different background, being born and raised in a Japanese household in Monterey, California. Both my father’s parents were born in America, though my grandfather was educated in Japan. My grandparents would always speak Japanese around the house when my father was growing up and their family was in every sense a traditional Japanese family, from their morals to their habits. As I grew older and became more aware of my heritage, I was able to acknowledge and understand my certain eccentricities. At first, having backgrounds that are so different in history, culture, and tradition was difficult for a younger girl to balance. Because I was neither all Japanese nor all Caucasian, I nearly felt guilty whenever I had to classify myself as one or the other as I would be denying an entire half of my heritage. Because of my last name, my classmates and teachers regarded my heritage as simply Japanese, a claim that was easily disputed by my Irish freckles. I never really understood the total breadth of my cultural diversity until the summer before my senior year of high school. The year 2004 marked the centennial anniversary of when the family of my father’s mother, or my bachan, had originally immigrated to America. From the moment my family walked into the reunion, I felt out of place, despite knowing that I was related to everyone in the room. Nearly all the people in the room were full Japanese and some were even from Japan. Being one of the few people in the room who were obviously mixed with Caucasian, I felt like I didn’t belong. My height and other physical characteristics made me stick out like a sore thumb among my Japanese relatives. Though, it didn’t take long for me to come to the realization that my seeming distinctiveness not only at the reunion, but also in every day life, is what makes me so unique. Because I eat rice with every meal and my family hangs the Canadian flag every time the American flag is displayed in front of my house, doesn’t make my life any different, only diverse.

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