“What are you?” is a question Madison Block has become accustomed to hearing.
During Block’s time living abroad, she met a Dutch man who told her she was too exotic to be American. This particular encounter is not isolated, rather one of dozens Block has faced on her journey in her 21 years of life as a woman of mixed Caucasian and Asian heritage.
It is from these experiences Block drew for her short non-fiction story “White Baby in a Hanbok” that won her the recent Anne Hillerman prize for non-fiction. A Hanbok is a traditional Korean dress.
The award came as a surprise to Block, who thought her story might not be relatable to others.
“So after I submitted (the story), I was like, ‘No one is going to get it … so this is probably not going to be super relatable to a lot of people and maybe I won’t win because nobody is going to understand where I’m coming from,'” she said.
At the awards ceremony, however, many people came up to Block to say they related to her story due to being of mixed race themselves.
She is the daughter of Sandoval County Commissioner Jay and Kelli Block, who was adopted from Korea as a small child by an American family.
Block’s exploration of her Korean heritage has not been easy, she said. She recalls listening to Korean pop music and wishing she understood the words.
“I wish I knew more about the Korean culture than I do,” she said. “Sometimes it kind of feels like I’m forcing it, like it’s a cultural connection that’s not really there but I’m trying to make it there just because ethnically I know I still have relatives (in Korea) probably.”
Given the current national political talk on what being an American truly means, Block is proud to have what she calls a hyphenated identity.
“I think with the political sphere being more divisive … (by) having a hyphenated identity some people will complain that, that’s un-American, that you shouldn’t have a hyphenated identity, that you should only identify as American, but I don’t really agree with that,” she said. “I think that having a hyphenated identity, like, it’s kind of the American dream; you might come from somewhere else or you might come from a different ethnic background, but you know, wasn’t that what the melting pot was supposed to be?”