Kaija, when I hear my name I would argue that about 95 percent of the time the person saying it, says it incorrectly. I am always left waiting in anticipation to correct a mispronounced I or a wrongly placed J. When they do say it right I am relieved that this time I don’t have to face the embarrassment of correcting them. But I can understand the confusion. When someone sees my name they are at a loss because it is new and unfamiliar. They are left to decipher the five letters, and make the challenging decision of how to form them into a word, in the least butchering way possible.


When people look at me or my name they are unsettled because they don’t know where we come from or where to put us. You can’t fit Kaija into the box with all of the Janes and Julies, or the Kates and Kelly. Kaija doesn’t have a box. Just like me. When people are taking tests or filling out important documents and they come to the question that asks you to check the box that defines your race, most people fill the bubble without any trouble. While I am left to ask myself the agonizing question of which box to check. It’s ironic that such an impersonal test leads to such a personal philosophical question of Who I Am? A question so deeply engrained in my existence if almost feels like it belongs.


Surprisingly, (not really) when people ask me what I am they stop listening after I attempt to explain that I don’t have a simple answer. How do you tell someone that you’re Italian, Czechoslovakian, African American, and Native American in less than ten words? But, why should they listen to me, the fact that I don’t have an easy answer means that they won’t be comfortable with the one I give them. In the time it takes me to tell them about my heritage they have already decided who they THINK I should be. And they take the moment to remind me that I don’t belong, that I am different. Trust me I know. Let me tell you who I AM.


I AM KAIJA. I am complicated, intelligent, empathetic, a little bit crazy, neither one nor the other but a combination of both, that can’t be labelled by the race next to the box you check, or the race you think I should be.