The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday February 1st

Column: What I am.

First-year Michelle Seucan is pictured at the Old Well on Oct. 9, 2022,  as she explores her identity as a European-Asian American.
Buy Photos First-year Michelle Seucan is pictured at the Old Well on Oct. 9, 2022, as she explores her identity as a European-Asian American.

“Are you Korean?”

As I stood in line by the Starbucks bathroom, waiting for my friend to finish changing into her Halloween costume, this question was one I did not expect to hear. Actually, I was expecting to hear my name being called by the barista, telling me my order of two pumpkin breads was ready. 

The voice belonged to a boy who was one foot my superior, hovering over me with a juvenile fascination, as if he'd come across a strange animal at the zoo. He leaned on the top of his rainbow skateboard, anticipating my response. “Well? What are you?

I didn’t say anything back at first, not because I was at a loss for words, but because I wasn’t phased at all by his question. 

In fact, I was used to his question. 

“What do YOU think I am?” I challenged.

And just like that, this 6-foot-tall giant began to quiver in my 5-foot-2 shadow. Palms sweaty, eyes twitching — gotcha.

“Well I, I-” 

Suddenly, the door to the bathroom next to us swings open, and a sultry Playboy Bunny emerges, saving me from having to awkwardly rehash “what I am” for the millionth time to another intrigued stranger. 

What. 

Are. 

You. 

What are you?

Out of all the 171,476 currently-used words in the English language, those three are the ones I am most familiar with, a trio of old friends I’ve known since childhood. 

Well, “friends” is an overstatement. More like my stalkers. 

They follow me around the world, from my summers in the Romanian countryside to the purple-walled restaurant my family and I would religiously dine at during our springtime in Taiwan, to even a Starbucks in Staten Island.

It seemed as though my ethnicity was a specimen on a Petri dish, a puzzle for others to solve. But the intrigue of Petri dishes and puzzles are very surface level — their meanings run no deeper than the information they present at first glance. 

Yes, I look different. But I don’t want my differences to be reduced to a surface level of importance. Who I am runs so much deeper, my life being a web of stories that go beyond a simple adjective. As the daughter of Romanian and Taiwanese immigrants, the unexpected convergence of my Eurasian paths enveloped me in a sea of experiences that wouldn’t make sense to the naked eye. 

In fact, I am a walking contradiction.

You see, when one would stroll down my Taiwanese path with me, they’d expect to lock eyes with an Asian tiger mom or eat foods prepared in an academic pressure cooker. But to their surprise, I was never raised in such an environment. From my mother’s unconventional lenient way of thinking, I learned to value creativity and free expression. This gave me the liberty to explore my passions more in-depth, whether by dedicating my time to dance intensives in the city or participating in creative writing programs. I gained an equal level of respect for the arts as I did for academics. 

During my walks down my Romanian path, I learned to value open-minded thinking, another contradictory trait due to the conservative nature of my extended Romanian family. My father, however, always instilled in me the importance of embracing new perspectives. Having been the only person in his family to go to college, he understood how valuable immersing yourself in a diverse community is. From him, I learned to listen more than talk and be open to the ideas of people around me.

My grandmother always said I was a feisty baby. I didn’t just take my first steps at nine months old, I zoomed, my little fists batting away her helping hands as if to say “No, no, I got this.” At barely one year old, I already embodied an independent mentality, with a drive to make it from start to finish. 

I carried this mentality with me throughout life, building my world with bricks of strength, determination and perseverance, and in turn, looking out for others around me, whether it be through my activist pursuits with the New York Civil Liberties Union or just by standing up for my brother when bullies would steal his hat back in kindergarten. 

Maybe what I am to strangers will always be a surface-level puzzle to be solved. But for now, I smirk and reply with my usual “Romanian and Taiwanese” spiel, knowing that the answer to their question runs much deeper than my facial features, and down the path of converging worlds that are indelible and unique in more ways than one. 

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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