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Youth Voices: Losing One's Identity, Finding Another

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Youth Voices commentator Lewis Reining found a new cultural identity that went beyond race or nationality.
Youth Voices commentator Lewis Reining found a new cultural identity that went beyond race or nationality.

Where we call home is crucial to our sense of identity. But what if you were adopted from another country and never knew your parents or lived in your native home?

I grew up in an almost all-white community in Northern Virginia -- my parents were white, as were the majority of my friends and classmates.

I, on the other hand, was born in Korea and adopted into an American family as an infant. At school, I stood out physically, but since culturally I fit right in, I never really gave race a second thought.

That changed when I got to college. Suddenly, I was part of a much more diverse student body, and I started to question my own identity. I became hyper-aware that while I felt white, I looked Korean.

For my junior year, I went to South Korea to study at a local college in the capital, Seoul – a chance, I thought, to explore my roots. Perhaps by talking, eating, and living with Koreans, I might find the kind of connection that I didn’t feel here in America.

When I arrived, it was immediately refreshing because I blended in. But I didn’t speak the language very well, and so as soon as I opened my mouth, I was reminded that I wasn’t really Korean.

I had pretty much given up on finding the much sought-after connection when I heard about a live professional video game match.

In Korea, there's a whole industry around people playing video games competitively, for high stakes. One of the most popular games is Starcraft - my favorite video game back in the U.S. I jumped at the chance to watch the pros.

The venue looked like a television game show set -- bright multi-colored lights and huge projector screens beaming Korean gamers preparing for battle. I was one of the few Americans in the packed audience.

Then the game started.

I watched transfixed as futuristic humans tore through ET-like aliens with gunfire and tank shells. The crowd cheered loudly, and I found myself joining in. It didn’t matter that I didn’t speak Korean fluently.

These were my people.

It was a powerful feeling of belonging and I was hooked, going back to the studio every night after class to watch the pro gamers and be part of that cheering crowd.

When I got back to the US, I felt I had regained the sense of belonging I’d lost. But it wasn’t about race or nationality, as I thought it would be. It was about doing what I loved with people who loved it too.

It took a video game and a studio half a world away packed full of Starcraft fans to remind me that no matter how complicated my identity is, I’d always have somewhere to belong.

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