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Dear curious people: This is how I want you to ask about my race.

'What’s your ethnicity? Are you Korean? Cambodian? Sometimes it’s so hard to guess.'

Dear curious people: This is how I want you to ask about my race.

This past summer, I worked in customer service.

While I absolutely loved my job and the interactions I had with people, there’s one conversation I’ll never forget.

As I was helping a woman with her items, she asked, "What’s your ethnicity? Are you Korean? Cambodian? Sometimes it’s so hard to guess."


Photo via iStock.

"Guess" – the word stuck to me like it was pasted with hard glue, now forming a solid mount on my chest that I couldn’t remove.

Appeasing her curiosity, I replied, "I’m Chinese" with a feigned smile. While I was reduced to an object of someone else’s fascination, the customer’s curiosity was sated.

During another instance, I was asked, "Is Megan your real name?"

I felt my heart sink when the words hit my ears.

The man continued, "I have Chinese students who come to America and change their name. Were you born with the name Megan?"

I thought, "Megan is the only name I’ve ever been known as. Of course my name is Megan."

Withholding the anger at this man’s assumptions, I replied, "Yes, sir, my real name is Megan," trying to dismiss the conversation. He eventually stopped asking me questions when he sensed I didn’t want to reply to him.

To confront me about my ethnicity, imagine putting yourself in my position.

On a first encounter with a new person, would it really be OK if someone asked, "Is that your real name?"

While I understand that some people might view these questions as a means of friendly conversation, they simply aren’t appropriate.

I enjoy discussions about ethnicity and identity, but there are better ways to approach me about my race.

Photo via iStock.

Here are some tried and true methods or phrases I’d love to hear you use:

1. "Hey, I have a friend who studied abroad in Asia, and I’m interested in traveling there. Could you tell me which country you’re from?"

By mentioning your friend or maybe even yourself as a person who has studied abroad, I’ll understand the context of your question. I’ll also have more respect for you because of the thought put into phrasing it.

2. "I recently learned this fact about Asian culture, and I think it’s awesome. Are you from China?"

Again, this question is considerate (to me) because you’re explaining why you’re asking the question beforehand. Oh, and bonus points that you even know that fact about culture.

3. "Hey, I was wondering if you could tell me how you identify yourself."

Oh my gosh. Yes. I love this question.

Here’s why: You’re opening up the discussion for me to tell you how I choose to identify myself. I’ll probably hug you then tell you, "I’m adopted and identify as a Caucasian person. However, I was born in China."

These are questions that are respectful and courteous. They don’t make me the object of your curiosity. They remind both of us that I’m a human.

Here’s the thing: I do want to talk about my identity. But the way you ask about it matters.

Some questions can come across as hurtful. But when you rephrase a question, you’ll have me hooked into the conversation right away. In fact, if I were asked any of the above questions, I’d probably give you a hug. I’d love to have a discussion about identities with you!

Please ask questions that are open-ended because they’ll give me an opportunity to share my cultural identity with you.

Even though I was adopted from China, I was not raised in traditional Chinese culture. I was raised right here in the United States by two European parents. So my reality and my identity are complicated. Give me the space to explain.

Now, who’s ready to chat?

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.