Invisible Identities: When the Person Before You is Not Exactly What they Seem

Kristal Brent Zook
5 min readJun 24, 2023

I must admit, I paused when I got a resume from Braidan, a cheerful and well-mannered graduate student in our MA Journalism Program at Hofstra University. I’d never hired a white male research assistant before. None had ever applied.

But I could see that Braidan was different. He was an amiable, tattooed dude from my home state of California; a self-described member of the “surfer-slash-football” crowd at Santa Cruz High School. I knew something about the eclectic vibe of Santa Cruz, having received my Ph.D. from the University of California there. I could easily picture Braidan’s high school, which he said was so diverse that even the Norteños gang members were a mix of Caucasians, African Americans, Latinos, and Polynesians.

He nodded enthusiastically as I told him about the reporting I was doing on multiracial millennials, and what would be expected from him as a graduate researcher.

“That’s so interesting, he said, smiling.

Then he hit me with this.

“Because…I mean, I guess you could say I’m mixed-race too.”

I stared at him more closely.

“My father is half Japanese.”

Of course. The instant the words came out of his mouth I saw it.

As we chatted, he pushed back his shirt sleeve to reveal a tattoo across his biceps. He’d gotten it at 17, he said, just before leaving the West Coast for college in New York. He and his then 20-year-old brother and their father went together, the three of them permanently imprinting an Irish symbol of loyalty, family and integrity onto their bodies.

The image, a Claddagh, was from his mother’s side of the family, he said. But the men in Braidan’s family had switched it up, replacing the heart in the middle with a Japanese crest — a nod to his grandmother’s maiden name, Takahashi, and a circle with a flower, to represent his father, so that both sides were represented. Just as in the bedroom of his off-campus apartment on Long Island, Braidan had hung two flags: one Irish and one Japanese.

I learned that his father was born in Nagasaki on a military base, to a Japanese mother and German-Polish father. At ten, Braidan traveled to Japan for the first time, just as his older brother had done at that age, and as his younger sister would later do.



Kristal Brent Zook

Award-winning journalist/professor; race, women, justice. My latest book is #1 in New Releases for Mixed Race/Multiracial! Order @