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TCK, Military B.R.A.T. explains her hidden diversity

Photo courtesy of Christine Manzanares

Christine Manzanares is often mistaken for a woman of Latina descent.

Photo courtesy of Christine Manzanares

When people take the time to ask about her story, she’ll gladly tell it. She was born in Seoul, South Korea in a military hospital. Her father was an American army soldier of German and Austrian descent. Her mother is from Jeonsong, Gangwon-do, South Korea.

Four months after she was born, Manzanares and her mother traveled to the U.S. to meet up with her father. They have not been back to South Korea since the move.

Until she was in 8th grade, she also lived was a military B.R.A.T. She lived on military bases in Maryland, Hawaii, Colorado and Germany.

“When I was on a military base, I was like all the other military kids,” Manzanares said. “We went to the same school. We lived on the same base, shopped at the same store, played at the same playground — pretty sheltered life for the most part. The only thing that was different was the rank of our parents, which dictated what side of the base you lived on. There were more kids like me of mixed heritage race although the mixes were different, not that it mattered to any of us.”

When her parents moved off the military base and bought a home, Manzanares went to a public school. She became a new student to a junior high school where most of the students had known each other since elementary school. She felt different because she was born abroad and had traveled overseas. Many of her peers at the school had been living in the same house they had since they were born.

“Traveling out of the country, moving multiple times in one year — I was somewhat of an oddity,” Manzanares.

These differences were further impacted by her appearance. She looked like she belonged to Hispanic or Latina culture. Her maiden name was Christine Jacqueline Westphal, which did not necessary hint at her ethnicity, she said.

“Most people assumed that I was Latina and had no idea that my physical appearance was a combination of German, Austrian and Korean,” Manzanares said.

Photo courtesy of Christine Manzanares

Manzanares is now married to a man of Spanish, Irish, Mexican, Southwest Native American heritage. They met when they were in 8th grade.

“Having known him and his family for as long as I have, I feel that I have adopted and infused aspects of their culture into my own — the food, holiday traditions, etc,” Manzanares said. “In fact I look more Hispanic or Latina than my husband does as he looks very Anglo.”

Manzanares graduated from high school as one of three valedictorians, went to Colorado State University, dropped out for some time, then returned to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in Technical Journalism/Public Relations, a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership.

When looking at Manzanares some misidentify her, most would not know her diverse background. For her, her identity is uniquely rooted in it.

“My individual diversity, and everything that entails, provides for me a unique perspective that has made me the wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, athlete, colleague, professional, confidant — individual that I am,” Manzanares said. “I feel blessed to have the genes that I have and have passed on, as well as the experiences and perspectives that are uniquely mine. No one can take those away from me or dismiss them.”

Currently, Manzanares is in her fourth year as an assistant principal at a middle school in the United States. Before this career, she worked at two high schools and taught mathematics at a junior high school. She also worked for a non-profit.

To Manzanares, the most interesting part of her diversity is that she appears to represent a different culture through my physical appearance and married name while her true heritage and cultural background remains hidden. People are shocked when they find out her true background.

“Because of my experiences — both positive and negative — I believe I have developed a deeply held sense of empathy, compassion and understanding of others and their journeys,” Manzanares said. “In my work in the middle school arena, this has been invaluable. I believe it makes me relatable to student and parents alike, as well as credible when speaking to or referring to different perspectives that may come to the fore in the myriad of situations I am involved in on a day-to-day basis.”

“Because of my experiences — both positive and negative — I believe I have developed a deeply held sense of empathy, compassion and understanding of others and their journeys,” Manzanares said. “In my work in the middle school arena, this has been invaluable. I believe it makes me relatable to student and parents alike, as well as credible when speaking to or referring to different perspectives that may come to the fore in the myriad of situations I am involved in on a day-to-day basis.”

Through her cross cultural and TCK background, Manzanares enjoys travelling. She has visited the Caribbean and Mexico, Vancouver, British Columbia, Toronto and Ontario, Canada, as well as visiting more than half of the United States. She hopes to visit Australia this January.

Photo courtesy of: Christine Manzanares

“I know that my experiences traveling beyond Fort Collins have certainly influenced my view of the world, and it will continue to do so because traveling is a value I hold dear to me,” Manzanares said.

She cherishes her friends who live throughout the United States, as well as internationally. Many are of various ethnic backgrounds including Trinidadian, Native American, South Korean, African American, Sudanese, Canadian, Mexican American and more.

“They have enriched my life in ways that living in the same small town of 1,000 people who have never explored beyond the town’s boundaries could ever do,” Manzanares said.

She says her children have adopted a “vagabond spirit of sorts.”

“I learn more about the world,” Manzanares said. “As professional skateboarders, that culture has exposed me to rituals, rites and norms that I never before thought I could understand or appreciate. I am ever thankful to them for pursuing their passions in something considered counter-cultural.”

Manzanares is now a grandmother and hopes to expose her grandson to the world.

“Most of my favorite memories are of periods of time with my own children, and the wide variety of experiences I had with them during our summer vacations when I considered myself the ‘cruise activities director,’” Manzanares said. “As a teacher with small children having about eight weeks of summer to fill, this time was invaluable, and all of my warmest, heartfelt memories are of those times.”

Being miscategorized by her appearance does not stop her from spreading her story. Her advice for globally mobile people:

“Keep sharing your stories,” Manzanares said. “It’s through our stories that we as a society will increase our capacity and practice of tolerance, empathy and compassion, especially during a time when these traits are so badly needed. In a sense, I feel that we have a responsibility to share our voices, experiences and points of view with not only one another, but also with others who have not had the opportunity to broaden their worldview. I think the more that we can do this, the likelihood that we’ll be able to overcome some of the greatest challenges of our time increases with every story we share.”

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