“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The grass field in front of my apartment building became whatever us neighborhood kids needed it to be. On this cool summer afternoon, it became my laboratory, and the experiment was my identity.

I was in fourth grade, and I’d spent the entire school year trying to fit in. After minimal success, I thought the next tweak needed to be to the outermost layer of me. I couldn’t easily change my appearance but figured my name was changeable, the ethnic-ness of it erasable. So I told them,

“call me…Patricia.”

“Patricia?!” they exclaimed.


—the girl who is as easy to understand as her name is to pronounce. Who has the right to exist without justification.

I hypothesized then what I know to be true today: not everyone is allowed to just be themselves. The tension between self-acceptance and societal belonging is undeniable. I learned to alter the parts of myself I thought were unacceptable—muting the parts that were considered too much, deleting the parts that were tough to comprehend.

My name change was short-lived, but the lesson was enduring: to do my best to foster environments where people can truly, just be themselves.

— Kanwulia Gwam