Kandis Mak is a successful Canadian actress working in Los Angeles. She's been on "Workaholics," "True Blood," and "Rush Hour" to name a few, but the questions she hears when she meets someone usually go something like this:

"So ... where is your mother from?"  

"Montreal."


"Oh, then where are you from?"

"Los Angeles."

"No, no, where are you from from?"

Photo via Kandis Mak, used with permission.

For ethnically ambiguous people, this "where are you from from" question is typically accompanied by a slight cock of the head and squint of the eyes as people try to understand what category to place them in.

If we must, how do we define "ethnically ambiguous"?

It's someone who looks like multiple races and cultures. They can have a slight darkness to their skin or maybe "non-traditional features" (historically defined by Europeans for the last 800 years).

130 million people in America are classified as non-white, and more than 9 million people consider themselves multiracial. That means close to half of the country can be classified as ethnically ambiguous or a melding of many cultures, races, and nationalities. National Geographic went so far as to say that within the next 40 years, everyone will look this way.

Yet despite the growing number of people defining themselves as ethnically ambiguous, individuals still face daily questions and uncomfortable conversations about their identity. Here are some of them:

1. "Do you speak a foreign language?"

"I've had multiple people just be very confused as to what my background is," says Raajik Shah, an Indian producer. "They'll come up and ask, 'Are you Indian? Are you French? Pakistani? Black?' I've gotten Mexican out here, I've gotten them all."

Photo via Raajik Shah, used with permission.

Even when someone correctly identifies Shah's Indian heritage, they often take it a step further and end up asking another silly question.

"The one that's the best is when they ask, hesitantly, 'Do you speak Indian?' Which is hilarious because ... that's not a language, and then I feel like I have to explain it in a way that won't be insulting," Shah says.

2. "How about those Arabic people, right?"

"Sometimes people will talk about my culture, not in the nicest way, without realizing I'm Arabic," says Jessica Sherif, who is of Arabic descent, which of course leads to some inevitable awkwardness when they do find out she is part of the same culture they're joking about or insulting.

Photo via Jessica Sherif, used with permission.

"People have a really hard time pinpointing me down," she explains. "It feels as if not knowing is some weird instability and the conversation can't keep moving forward."

3. "Why are you pretending you don't understand me?"

"When you're ethnically vague, people assume that you are what they are," says Gabrielle Kessler, whose family is from Colombia. "If you're talking to someone Dominican, they think you're Dominican; if you're talking to somebody Puerto Rican, they think you're Puerto Rican. If you're talking to someone Italian — I'm from the east coast — everybody automatically assumes that you're Italian."

Photo via Gabrielle Kessler, used with permission.

She's noticed people assume she's different races depending on where she is in America.

"When I moved out to California, I'd get Persian, all the time, people speaking Farsi to me, literally trying to convince me I'm Persian. And the Armenians would exclaim, 'Oh, you're so Armenian!' It's so confusing because some people want you to be like them and others need to identify you one way or another."

4. "But you don't look [insert culture/race here]."

Mak, Sherif, Kessler, and Shah are of Cantonese, Arabic, Colombian, and Indian descent respectively. On any given day, they are asked if they are French, Pakistani, Afghan, Mexican, African, Persian, Armenian, Korean, Hawaiian, Malaysian, Philippine, Japanese, Italian, Dominican, Brazilian, Spanish, Puerto-Rican, Chinese, Venezuelan, Moroccan, Lebanese, Egyptian, and many more. Daily.

The situation seems to be binary. Either you have been preselected by another minority group as one of their proud members or everyone else is desperately trying to get to the bottom of your DNA. Then when they do, sometimes they don't believe you.

So, is there a way to eliminate these kinds of interactions?

It's not always malicious intent that provokes these uncomfortable interactions of course, but they still happen.

The closer we get to just seeing people for what they have to offer, what they think, and what they say and not the molecular breakdown of their DNA, the better off we'll be as a human race. We'll be more united as a people rather than us being a people solely defined by our race — a historically massive obstacle to true unity.

"Once we realize that we're just a part of humanity and stop trying to classify we'll be in a better place ... though it will take a long time before we get there," says Mak.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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